Tag Archives: Self Care & Wellness

Self-Love or Self-Care

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Is there a difference?

September is Self-Care Awareness month. The observance was added to the national calendar in 2017. This year, quick internet search turns up numerous 30-day challenges for both self-care and self-love this month, but are the two interchangeable?

Not really. When you approach health and wellness from a mind, body, spirit model, self caring behaviors are more about outward actions and the realm of the physical world and our body. Whereas self loving behaviors are more internal, working in the realm of emotions, or the intersection of our thoughts and feelings and therefore of the mind and spirit.

It’s possible to give yourself excellent self-care without self-love. I’m sure we all know at least one person who fits this description—successful, powerful, well-off, never settling for less than the best of everything—nothing is too good for them, and nothing is ever enough. They are caught in a frantic pursuit of always need to achieve more and have more.

On the other hand, can you love yourself without self-caring behaviors? I don’t believe it’s possible, not if you truly love yourself.

As adults, we often we often equate self-care and self-love to parenting ourselves. A parent can certainly provide for all the physical care and comforts a child needs, while still being emotionally distant or cold—but not necessarily cruel or hurtful.

Yet, it’s impossible for an emotionally loving parent to neglect their child’s need for care and happiness. So much so that some parents indulge their children, finding it hard to set limits (possibly setting the stage for the adult described above).

Certainly, when talking about the human mind and emotions, there are as many variations of the so-called norm, as their are people. For the sake of argument, and disregarding aberrant behaviors, I think it’s safe to say that self-care, without self-love is only half the equation.

Decades ago, when I first began writing as the MAD Goddess, focusing on self-care in midlife and beyond, my pet peeve was the market driven push to equate self-care, especially for women, with high-priced self-indulgence (it was one reason my alter ego manifested a MAD Goddess—another that it was shorthand for Middle AgeD).

The U.S. marketing machine is a powerful influencer. Mention self-care today and it conjures the image of pampering and indulgence of every kind, whether high-cost or do-it-yourself. While these treats might be a well-deserved gift to yourself, they tend to be more of a bandaid, or a glamour, than any kind of true self-care.

Image by Kai Miano from Pixabay 

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that women (at least of my generation and those previous) struggle with true self-care more so than their male counterparts. Men tend to put a higher priority on claiming time for their leisure pursuits, whether it’s an entire morning for a golfing foursome, or just 20-minutes of solitude to read the news.

There’s no arguing that a massage, a mani-pedi, a facial, a warm bubble bath, or slathering on a luxury skin serum, are all enjoyable, relaxing experiences, and help reduce stress. But this kind of self-care is short term at best, not to mention cost prohibitive for many. Further, the popular marketing hook, “because you’re worth it,” sends the toxic message that those who can’t pay the high price point, are not worth it—undeserving of even self-worth.

True self-care begins with self-love. It begins with asking yourself what you need for a more balanced, satisfying and healthy life, and then listening to the answers. It requires attentive care to your, physical, financial, intellectual and emotional health and wellness. It’s about doing what’s best for you even if, or especially when, others won’t.

I think one mistake we make is expecting self-love to be easy. Being loved feels great, right? What could be so hard about giving that to yourself? One reason is believing that love doesn’t count if it comes from yourself. Think about that for a moment. If the loving care you give to others is good for them, why isn’t it just as good for you?

Another reason is that love isn’t just something you say, or feel. Love is what you do, it requires actions that are sometimes an effort. In fact, there are times that loving somebody can be downright hard work.

How much of your loving behavior for family and friends requires effort? A good deal of it, I bet. How much are you requiring from them? If you find yourself thinking or saying it’s easier to just do it myself, to go without, or to put up with it, eventually you’ll be doing it all, getting nothing, and putting up with everything.

Is it really easier to do all the housework yourself because your spouse, or roommate, or kid doesn’t do it right? Hell yes – for them! And don’t think they don’t know that.

When you fall into bed, exhausted every night, does it really feel easier on you to let your kids’ bedtimes slide, rather than setting expectations and doing the work of establishing routines and enforcing boundaries so that you could have an hour or so of quiet time every evening?

Are you making and taking opportunities to love your self, or are you always putting others needs ahead of yours? We frown on the selfish narcissist always putting themselves first, but honestly, is it any worse than the opposite extreme—the self anointed martyr perpetually sacrificing themselves on the altar of service to others?

With the exception of your own parents (maybe, if you were lucky to get good ones), given normal life circumstances, nobody is going to make your needs a priority if you don’t.


I don’t know what marketing genius came up with the catch phrase “women of a certain age” to soft soap those of us in midlife and beyond. I only know it never caught me. To embrace the MAD Goddess within is not about a number. It’s not about turning a certain age, it’s about reaching an age of certainty.

Yet here I am, never more uncertain about my life and its unfolding from here.

My husband survived the “Widow Maker” five years ago this month. That is the name cardiologist’s use to describe a blockage in the left descending anterior artery, or the main blood supply to the heart. The odds of surviving such a blockage are astronomical. The odds of living five years beyond aren’t much better.

Twice since then, I have followed a siren blaring, light flashing ambulance to the nearest medical facility, preparing myself for the worst news they could give me upon arrival. Both times my husband spent five days in cardiac intensive care and months afterward recuperating to his new normal, a bit more diminished each time.

He’s been good at beating the odds all of his life. He’s that guy that everybody says has a horseshoe in his back pocket. I just hope the horseshoe is facing up and still holding a good portion of luck, because the odds are really starting to stack up against him.

In two days my husband is undergoing triple cardiac by-pass surgery. Five years ago, they told us he was not a good candidate for this surgery, but now he has three additional blockages (along with the original and a second that were each stented five years ago). Without the surgery, his cardiologists believe he won’t last the year. If the surgery is successful he’ll be given a new lease on life.

What the doctors don’t say out loud, what nobody says out loud, is that there is almost as good a chance that with the surgery he might not make it another day. His diabetes, his COPD, his compromised immune system all combine in a perfect storm of complications raging against his chances.

Losing my husband would mean the loss of many things to me. With his condition putting a premature end to his working life, he is my constant companion and I his. As any wife of a retired man will tell you, too much togetherness isn’t ideal. But with the Grim Reaper stalking our thoughts, it’s far easier to let little annoyances go.

There is more, though. His physical limitations not withstanding, we like (or liked) the same activities and our impetus to do or not to do matches up. Two people can both enjoy bowling, or cycling, or playing cards, but if one wants to do it every waking moment and the other is a once a week kind of player, it’s not a match.

We like to watch the same movies, we like the same restaurants. When we travel, we agree on destinations and what sights we want see when there.

In the bigger picture, we share the same values and goals in life. But, perhaps most important of all, because we are not clones of one another, we respect and support our differences. I hate to use the worn out cliché, but it is true that he is my best friend. He has my back, always.

Like we said when we made it official, for better or worse. And believe me we have had our share of worse. Not just the misfortunes we have no control over, like his health, but the kind of bad that we create ourselves through our own human failings. We have faced off with each others’ ugliness and when the dust settled, we were still standing – side by side. We know things about each other that nobody else in this world knows.

Which brings me to the most important reason he is my best friend; I trust him. Not just to keep my secrets –  I trust him with every aspect of my life. So though we’ve only been married for ten years, though we were both married before and know that there can be many loves in one lifetime, I know that with this man I beat the odds and found my soul mate.

It’s uncanny how many times our paths crossed before our eyes (windows to the soul) finally connected. We grew up just four blocks away from each other. We attended the same grade school, though he was ahead of me. We discovered (after finally meeting), that we had in fact attended many of the same celebrations – weddings, birthday parties. We once even sat at the same banquet table completely unaware that of the others’ presence.

In three short days from now, if my life is to continue without him, I have no idea where the path will lead me. His absence will cause tremendous changes, not the least of which revolves around financial security. I quit my job four years ago to spend more of the time left to us with him. In retrospect it was a bad choice, but one I will never regret.

I have put myself in a donut hole. Our income has been his SSDI. My small contribution from creative pursuits amounts to fun money – an annual vacation, a new sofa, maybe a regular car payment. A long, long shot from a living wage.

Because of our age difference I am not yet eligible to receive survivor’s benefits if he dies. It’s right and logical; if I were at least sixty I would be close enough to retirement age that good old Uncle Sam would give me a buy on this one. As it stands, I have five years to go before qualifying for early retirement, more than twelve before I reach my own full retirement age of 68-plus.

Knowing this I spent some of the past four years improving my job skills and earning a degree. Knowing this I have also put my toe in the water of re-employment, sending out resumes and applications for openings in my field. I have not advanced to even one interview.

Scary. Very, very scary. Whether it is the economy, the dismal job market or my age working against me, I am standing on the precipice of being hurled over the cliff into poverty.

My step daughter and a friend have both experienced similar misfortunes in the past year, each losing their husbands to cancer. Each of these women were forced to make the choice of being full time care-giver to their husband at the expense of their job, the expense of their financial security, the expense of having their own health care insurance to fall back on. Each of these women were literally forced by their employers to choose between their jobs or caring for their dying husbands.

It seems unfair. It seems heartless. It seems we are forced to choose between our own best interests and what is best for our husbands and right by our marriage vows to stand by them especially in sickness.

I made a bad choice for my future, but the only choice I could live with. Anything beyond that is uncertain.

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