Self-Indulgence vs. Self-Care: What’s the Better Practice

Spending time away from our friends, family, and communities for the past year has been hard. Really hard. Trust me, I miss book club and community yoga practices as much as anyone else. Sure, all of the Facetiming and hour long phone calls have been nice, but it’s not the same as being able to interact and hang out in person. Our people are usually the support systems we turn to when things are hard, so since we haven’t had as much access to our normal support systems, many of us have started to practice more self-care to make up for it.

When our lives were a lot busier, the question we asked more often was: “How do I even fit in self-care?” Now that we have to rely more on our own care and maybe even have time for it for the first time in a long time, some of us might find ourselves asking: “Is there such a thing as too much self-care?” When does self-care become self-indulgence?

First, let’s talk about the difference between self-care and self-indulgence.

Self-care strengthens, nourishes, or develops who we are at our core. Self-care is thinking about our long-term happiness and wellbeing. It’s about focusing on our physical, mental, and emotional (and even spiritual) health. It supports us in the full expression of our essence and is important to maintain a healthy balance.

Self-indulgence, on the other hand, is something that feels really good but doesn’t have any additional benefits beyond feeling good. It gives us momentary pleasure, but doesn’t help bring us any closer to fulfilling our intentions or becoming the person we want to be.

I’m sure by now you’re wondering what these self-indulgence activities we may want to avoid are. The thing is, one person’s self-care might be another person’s self-indulgence. It doesn’t matter so much what it is that we’re doing, as much as it is the effect that it’s having on us and the intention behind the act. A self-care act one day can turn into self-indulgence if used too often.

One of the easiest ways to determine whether something is self-care or self-indulgence is to focus on how we feel before, during, and afterwards. Self-indulgence keeps us focused on our sensory experiences, but practicing self-care takes a more holistic evaluation of and communication with ourselves. Self-care ultimately comes from a place of self-compassion.

I know, I know – the line between the two still seems pretty thin. Let me explain that a little further.

Self-indulgence invites us to indulge in pleasurable sensations, emotional exaggeration, or even avoiding our feelings (or people or situations) altogether. Whereas self-care requires tuning into our bodies and emotions and looking for what our inner self needs most – yep, even, and maybe even especially, when it doesn’t feel good.

Self-care should leave us feeling more connected to ourselves. On the flip side, self-indulgence, may leave us feeling worse. If our “self-care” causes us to neglect important people or activities in our lives, creates financial burdens, or causes significant damage to our bodies, it’s not real self-care, it’s self-indulgence. This is not to say that self-indulgence is unhealthy. Life is all about maintaining balance and this especially applies to self-indulgence. It’s ok to pamper ourselves, to make spontaneous purchases, or to seek quick comforts every so often. It’s okay to go to boozy brunch instead of hitting the gym on Saturday morning. It’s okay to order takeout instead of cooking a meal. It’s good to treat ourselves every once in a while!

Self-care will help us to maintain an equilibrium by providing long-term outcomes that balance out the short-term ones of self-indulgence. As long as our quality self-care is outweighing and outperforming our self-indulgences, we can have both!

How can we tell that we might have too much self-indulgence, and not enough self-care in our lives?

Like with other imbalances, we’ll start to notice negative presences – feelings of being burnt-out, stressed, overwhelmed, and even signs of depression and anxiety. We may even notice relationships becoming strained and start to feel like things aren’t going in our favor.

To prevent this from happening, start with reflecting on the past week. We need to ask ourselves:

  • What did we spend our time on?

  • Did we feel depleted at the end of the week? Energized?

  • What quality self-care did we do? What did we indulge in?

When we answer honestly, we’ll be able to find areas where we can replace self-indulgence with self-care and create deeper connections with ourselves.