Self Care Can Be Unpleasant

Like a lot of mental health concepts, the notion of self-care has fallen victim to marketing sharks of the luxury product business & romantic, dreamy Instagram memes. The therapist in me becomes quite riled up every time I see self-care being equated to pampering.  IT IS NOT.  If a glass of wine, bath bomb and a manicure could improve mental health and improve your self esteem, it would’ve done so already.  Self-care that revolves around luxury and pampering is a manipulative marketing gimmick that causes us to measure ourselves to yet another impossible standard. (I’m looking at you, luxury spa industry!) 

Oooh, and I really do loathe the advertising slogans that lead us to believe self-care = self love  and then they try to sell you a face mask, lip balm or wine.  Numbing myself out and spending money I don’t have on stuff I don’t really need is the opposite of self-care. It’s also not lost on me that  implied within that kind of advertising is the message that I’m really not caring for myself if I am not meeting some unattainable beauty standard. There is no actual care in any of that. 

By definition self-care means doing something that actually takes care of you.  It meets a need or want that you actually have. So, the first step in effective self-care is identifying what you really want and/or need. This can be hard.  It requires us to be honest with ourselves and own our truth.

No one has ever entered into my therapy office complaining about the lack of bath bombs and maincures in their life.  Here’s what I hear people say they really want: 

  • Better boundaries

    • “No, Mom, we won’t be home for Christmas this year.”

  • Learn how to say “No!”

    • No is a full sentence that you can deliver unapologetically.

  • Stop being a people pleaser

    • See above.

  • Letting go of perfectionism

    • Reality Check:  It’s impossible and no one wants to be around it anyways.

  • Letting go of anger

    • Feels good in the moment, but can be catastrophic in the long run.

  • Get off the couch more

    • The inertia of inactivity can be consuming, but it can be overcome.

  • Get over the ex

    • Delete his/her number from your phone. And old texts.

  • Come up with a financial plan and stick to it

    • Stick to the goal, not the shiny thing in front of you.

  • Stop being ruled by emotions

    • Name it, watch it and be informed by it.

  • Walk away from toxic situations and relationships

    • “I’m not going to be answering work emails after 6:00 pm anymore.”

  • End bad relationships

    • “This relationship has run its course.”

Nary a bath bomb, face mask or some other special treat makes the list.  What people genuinely want usually cannot be bought.  It is an action we must take.  Buying something is easy.  Taking action is hard. It may require us to put in effort and open ourselves up to the possibility of pain and heartache. 

The above list isn’t all-inclusive. I didn’t list all of the day to day things that can be self-care; going to the grocery store, contemplation time, cleaning, doing laundry, going to the gym, etc. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture.  Like a lot of stuff in life, it’s the small stuff that means a lot. When you find yourself bogged down in day-to-day drudgery, it may help to point out to yourself how that ordinary task really is an expression of self love and care.  An example of a reframe from drudgery to self-care is, “I’m going to the grocery store so I can cook dinner and not do the drive-thru for the next couple of days.”

Self-care is very individualistic.  You get to decide what is self-care for you. If it is meeting a genuine need or desire you have and is aligned with the things you value in life, then it is self-care.  

One final thought: If you’re posting about self-care on social media, then it’s not genuine self-care. Self-care is about you, not social presence.

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