I get tired of seeing self-proclaimed self-care gurus peddling a useless brand of self-care to women. And yes, I mean women in particular because most of the “self-care” hokum I see out there is primarily targeted at us.
They tell us the path to self-care is to buy this ridiculous looking LED face mask, this overpriced skin serum, these body shapers that make your waist look so incredibly snatched. Evidently, self-care mean’s spending money.
I’m not here to knock a good old retail therapy sesh. There is nothing wrong with indulging in things that make us happy, bring us joy, or enable our lives to be easier to more comfortable. And there is absolutely a time and place for that stuff! But I think it’s irresponsible for these gurus — or, worse, these multimillion dollar brands — to tell us that this is what self-care is. In reality, it’s just indulgence.
There is a deeper kind of self-care, a truer one. It involves doing the hard stuff, the uncomfortable and prickly stuff. It’s the kind of self-care that can be truly transformational in mind, body, and spirit. And that’s something a bubble bath simply could never do. This brand of self-care involves setting boundaries, communicating our needs, and showing up authentically. It involves doing battle with our inner demons — our traumas, our addictions, our people-pleasing, and our lack of boundaries. It could mean going to therapy, having a hard conversation you’ve been putting off, asking for the promotion you deserve, or finally ending a relationship that has run its course.
All these things, these deeper types of self-care, involve discipline.
But a life built only around discipline is just as useless and vapid as a life built only around indulgence. An overly indulgent life is comfortable but stagnant. An overly disciplined life is productive but joyless. If we are going to engage in the kind of self-care that can achieve a balanced, productive, and joyful life, we require both.
True self-care, then, is where discipline and indulgence intersect. The kind of self-care that has the power to transform must maintain a healthy balance between doing things we love and enjoy, and things that push us and make us grow. I’m still unsure how to strike that balance. I guess that will be a part of my lifelong journey toward meaningful self-care and personal development. The way I see it right now, I try to think of the indulgent aspects of self-care as rewards for my efforts in the disciplined aspects of self-care. The bubble baths, the face masks, the spa days, those are a balm to soothe the aching soul after the hard work of setting boundaries, having hard conversations, and showing up authentically even when I feel self-doubt. They are the yin and yang, the duality of what it means to take care of myself well.
Whatever you’re doing towards your own self-care, I hope you are finding balance. I hope you are working to do the hard things as well as the easy things. I hope you believe in yourself enough to do the things that take discipline. And if you don’t yet, I hope you’ll commit to working on that. Self-care is a journey, a lifelong path toward self-awareness, understanding, and acceptance. Take the first step, and the path will appear.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.