A friend texted me this week to ask whether I thought her recent obsession with beauty, specifically make-up tutorials on YouTube (and practicing said skills on herself), was self-care or self-indulgence. My response was that I thought it was self-care until you take it too far, and also that even if that interest (or any other interest or hobby) took away from time spent with her family that still didn’t necessarily make it self-indulgence.
My theory on self-care is this: there’s a spectrum that on the left features selflessness (see here my deranged martyrdom), in the middle is self-care, and on the far right is self-indulgence. Selflessness is pretty easy to define, and I can almost guarantee you’re probably doing it a great deal of the time. As women specifically, we fall into habits of putting other people first because it’s easier. We’ll get to our needs later, we say, but somehow we often never get there. We are often better at internalizing other people’s preferences and seamlessly using that information later, rather than asking them what they want or need. Sometimes, we put those preferences ahead of our own preferences because making people happy and content makes us feel happy and content. There should be nothing wrong with selflessness on its face, except that over time, the parts of you that make you you leak out and we lose ourselves.
Self-indulgence, on the other hand, seems like it should also be easy to define. We can all think of times that we’ve been indulgent and can certainly identify when other people have been guilty. To help you identify self-indulgence, try out this little quiz:
- You’ve had a long day at work. The first thing you do when you get home is pour yourself a glass of wine and sit down in front of Netflix. Is this self-indulgent?
- It depends
- You’ve had tickets to your favourite band for months. Your husband announces at the last minute that he has a work dinner and he really needs you there with him. You go to the concert anyways. Is this self-indulgent?
- It depends
- You go for a run every morning before work, leaving your husband to get the kids up and ready for the day. Is this self-indulgent?
- It depends
If you answered ‘c’ for all questions…you’re totally right. It truly depends on the circumstances of your everyday life, the relationship you have with the people in it, and the things you do that make you feel good and bad. If drinking a huge glass of wine after work every day is making you feel like crap by bedtime, maybe it’s not such a good idea. But if you need to sit down quietly with a beverage and a ‘Friends’ episode for 22 minutes after work every day to re-balance your equilibrium so you can be ready to take on the rest of the evening? That sounds pretty delightful.
Putting your oxygen mask on first doesn’t mean letting other people suffer. It means putting yourself first so that you can be in the best position to take care of yourself and others. It’s a constant personal negotiation with lots of moving pieces that get moved around every day. If your husband has the flu, maybe your morning run is self-indulgent that day. But maybe it’s your non-negotiable and he’s just going to have to keep it together for you for 30 minutes while you run.
Self-care is a lifelong experiment. Sometimes you’ll get it right. Sometimes you’ll get it spectacularly wrong. My feeling is that if you can achieve balance in the macro, then those micro moments don’t matter quite so much. Your kids may not remember who got them dressed for school every day, but they will remember that mom’s a runner.
Your homework this week is to identify something you’d like to spend more time doing, be it yoga, sleeping, reading, or whatever, and play around with how much feels like too much. At what point does time spent on that habit feel like it’s actively taking away from other parts of your life in a negative way? We might have to flirt with danger, or in this case self-indulgence, and know what it feels like so we can find our happy place in the realm of healthy self-care.
Thoughts or opinions on this? You know where to find me.