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Self Care or Self-Indulgence: How to Tell the Difference

Self Care or Self-Indulgence: How to Tell the Difference

Self care is a necessity for our mental and physical health. 

However, often when we make a commitment to focus on self care after neglecting ourselves for a long time, there’s a tendency for the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction.

To some extent, going all-in on self care after a period of self-neglect is necessary and healing. But at a certain point, we need to learn how to differentiate between self care and self-indulgence.

After a year of extreme self care following nearly a decade of self neglect, I’m getting better at balance and calling myself out on “self care” that is really self indulgence in disguise.


Here are the criteria I use to tell the difference:

Self care helps you to live your values or move toward your goals, while improving your overall wellbeing. It may or may not feel good in the moment, but the long term results are positive.

Self-indulgence disguised as self care is often an unconscious tactic for avoiding difficult tasks or uncomfortable feelings. It usually feels good in the moment, but over the long term it undermines your wellbeing and moves you out of alignment with your goals and values.


For instance: I practice intermittent fasting most nights. But sometimes I get ravenously hungry late at night, usually when I haven’t eaten enough earlier. Self indulgence would be giving in entirely to the hunger with no thought of the consequences - pigging out on all the junk food in the house, and then getting a terrible night’s sleep because I ate too much. Self care is choosing a moderate portion of something not too heavy and eating just enough of it to take the edge off the hunger, so I can sleep comfortably and feel rested the next day.

To give another example, I enjoy writing these blog posts, but it’s difficult and takes a couple of hours of intense focus. If I’m feeling too tired to write, I need to take a break before I begin. Self-indulgence, for me, would be putting off the work until the next day and focusing on something easy and unimportant, like answering e-mails. I’d end up way behind for the week and have to work through one of my days off. Self care, on the other hand, would be taking 20 minutes to nap or meditate and then coming back to the task, so I can stay on track with my goals.


If we’re going to live a meaningful life and be successful at the things we want to do, it’s critical that we be honest with ourselves. Next time you’re preparing for some self care, ask yourself, “Is this helping me in the long term?” If not, consider how you might shift that activity away from self-indulgence and toward true self care.


Take care of yourself,




Debra Purdy is the owner of ShopEco, a beauty and self care boutique located in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Her mission is to help you thrive through self care you can feel good about. For more self care tips delivered to your inbox and a special birthday treat, click here to subscribe.

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Debra Purdy - July 12, 2021

I’m so happy to hear that, Amy. Thank you for reading!

Amy Wettges - July 12, 2021

Please keep posting these Sunday features! I really enjoy reading them and learn something new almost every week :)

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