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.
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.