I talk a lot more these days about self-love and self-care than I ever used to. I often am asked what the difference is between the two. The term “Self-Care” gets thrown around frequently, and you see it more and more in advertising as a hook, which can make me a little cray.
We are all starting to get the message that we really need to take good or better care of ourselves. And this is a good thing. It’s a very good thing. Because in this “I’m too busy” world and “I’m overwhelmed by current events” epidemic, it’s really important that we set time aside to show up for ourselves.
But here’s where it gets sticky. Sometimes, what is billed as self-care really isn’t the most loving thing we can do for ourselves. Self-care ain’t always self-love.
The idea of self-care has been swimming around the activist circles for decades now. Self-care became a necessary means to maintain the energy and stamina needed to bring about social change. And in the mental health fields, the term came to refer to a process of maintaining one’s balance in a chaotic world. (Who doesn’t need self-care now more than ever, right?)
So how do I know if my mani/pedis, spa days, or juice cleanses are an act of self-love?
It all comes down to the motivation, or the intention, behind the gesture. If spending money on yourself eases some anxiety, gives you a short-lived endorphin fix, or otherwise fills a hole of need in your heart, it ain’t loving to yourself, no matter how many antioxidants are in the cup. It’s sort of like joining the gym in the name of self-care, but calling yourself a Fat F*ck every time you’re on the treadmill. Ain’t no love there.
Here are some criteria to ponder:
- If your self-care provides only immediate gratification, it most likely isn’t loving to yourself.
- If your self-care helps you and you alone, it might not be loving to yourself.
- If your self-care harms others or the planet, it is really not an act of self-love.
We are all connected on this planet, so anything I do that hurts another being is hurting me as well. Likewise, when I love on myself, others benefit as well.
The Ripple Effect
Your true self-love practices will have a noticeable ripple effect. When you show up for yourself in the most important ways it will have a beneficial effect on those close to you.
The fundamentally important ways to show up for yourself are: choosing loving thoughts and words to and about yourself, caring for your body, and giving yourself the time and space you need to fully experience your thoughts and emotions.
Creating and sustaining a practice of self-love will enrich your relationships, your work, and your creativity. You will have more energy to “get it all done” and more wisdom to know which things to ditch from that same list. You’ll be more productive. You’ll feel more personal power and a greater sense of agency. And who couldn’t use a dose of that right about now?
I’m still a little uncomfortable when I talk about self-love.
I spent nearly my entire life, like four decades, people, as a closet self-loather. I was one of those tough girls who didn’t need fruity stuff like this. In fact, if I had a quarter for every time I would have rolled my eyes at this concept, well… I’d be playing Ms. Pac-Man. For. Years. (Of course, no one talked much about self-love when I was younger, so no quarters for me!)
But here’s the thing, I didn’t really know – like, REALLY know – that I was a self-loather. On the outside, everyone thought I was just a confident, strong, independent woman. I sort of bought that lie, too.
On the inside, I was dealing with a lot of negativity around self-worth and I was experiencing a lot of shame. Thank god for Brené Brown, because I didn’t know that’s what it was until I read her books. I look back on things and I see how hard I worked, and how perfect I needed everything to be, because I was terrified someone would find out what a POS I was. (That’s Piece Of Shit, FYI!)
I knew how to check off lots of things from my self-care list. I was a pro at eating clean, I knew when I needed more sleep, I exercised, and drank lots of water. But those words and thoughts about myself that were bumping around my head… Seriously no bueno, people. If I had ever said any of that stuff to you, my friend, it probably would have ended things right quick.
Unfortunately, our culture has glorified self-loathing for many decades. But I’m super excited and heartened when I hear a new wave of young, female comedians acknowledging that self-deprecating humor is not humor, it’s humiliation. They are reminding us that we all have a choice. We can choose to think about ourselves differently.
The upside to my journey is this, however: I’m a real pro at spotting self-loathing in others. As you can guess, I see a lot of it, in varying degrees, all over the place. (You don’t have to be a pro to see how we humans are treating other humans and animals and this planet.)
If you struggle with perfectionism, or too much doing for everyone but yourself, or feel you have no time for yourself, then listen up. I’m here to tell you that all of these situations are a choice. It may feel like a hard or impossible choice, but if this professional self-loather figured it out, you can too. And you don’t have to go it alone. I’m here to help.
Want more? Check out this video where I talk with Dr. Krystal White about the difference between self-care and self-love.