Self-Care or Self-Sabotage? How To Tell The Difference

Have you ever convinced yourself to do something in the name of #self-care? Watched an entire season of a Friends in one day? It was self-care! 

Let’s be real, we’ve all been there. The trouble is that it’s often hard to know whether you’re actually practicing self-care or simply being lazy.

Rest is SO important and I often talk about letting yourself take breaks, but it’s difficult to know sometimes if you actually need a break or if you need to push through and get things done.

For example, exercise is an important element of physical self-care. If you have a workout scheduled but you’ve had a stressful day and feel like taking a break, is it because your body truly needs a rest or because you’re trying to avoid working out? Of course, nothing bad is going to happen if you miss a day, but you may benefit more if you just do the workout. 

There’s a difference between self-care, self-soothing, self-indulgence, and laziness – and it’s important to be clear on what these things look like for you. Otherwise, you might be sabotaging yourself by finding excuses NOT to take care of yourself when you actually need self-care in your life.

In this post, I’m sharing some tips to help you distinguish between self-care, self-soothing, self-indulgence, and old fashioned laziness. If you’ve struggled to know whether you’ve been taking care of yourself or sabotaging yourself, this post is for you.

Let’s Talk About Self-Sabotage


Doing things in the name of #selfcare has become increasingly popular, but are you actually practicing self-care or just sabotaging yourself? Here’s how to tell if something is self-care or self-sabotage.

What is self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage is getting in the way of your own success. Rather than external circumstances preventing you from reaching your goals, it means you’re doing things that are stopping you from reaching those goals.

One of the best explanations for why we self-sabotage comes from Gay Hendricks’s book, The Big Leap. Hendricks describes that we all have limits to how much love, success, and creativity we will let ourselves enjoy.

When you’re on the verge of a breakthrough, you might fall back into old habits. You might try to push yourself back into your comfort zone when something feels difficult or uncertain (even when you feel like a good change is coming).

Related Post: 5 Signs You’re Dealing With Self-Sabotage


How does self-sabotage show up in self-care?

Self-care is so important for protecting your time and energy, but it loses its effectiveness when you start to call everything self-care.

Unless you’re clear on YOUR definition of self-care, you can end up convincing yourself that anything is fair game.

At its core, self-care involves activities and practices we engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and enhance our well-being.

Here are some examples:

Self-sabotage means doing the opposite of the thing you need. You might talk yourself out of self-care and convince yourself that you don’t need it right now or that you need to focus on work instead.

Even knowing this, it’s difficult to identify which actions are self-care or self-sabotage in disguise. Let’s talk about how you can tell the difference.

Related Post: The Unspoken Complexity of “Self-Care” by Deanna Zandt

Types of Perceived Self-Care


Doing things in the name of #selfcare has become increasingly popular, but are you actually practicing self-care or just sabotaging yourself? Here’s how to tell if something is self-care or self-sabotage.

We can call anything self-care if we really want to, but here are some common terms that people often use interchangeably with self-care:

Self-Soothing

Self-soothing (or self-pampering) involves little to no exertion from you that makes you feel better in some way. It may act as a sense of escape, especially if you’ve had a stressful day. For example, getting a manicure or watching Netflix. You might feel relaxed by these activities, but they’re not necessarily going to help you find balance or become a healthier person.

Now, self-soothing is not frivolous or unimportant. It’s good to relax! But it’s important to know when you’re self-soothing rather than practicing self-care.

Self-Indulgence

There’s also self-indulgence which involves excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s desires. Self-indulgence is a “treat yo self” mentality. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself once in a while, but self-indulgence is not true self-care (remember, self-care is about regular practices and habits whereas self-indulgence is better in small doses).

Laziness

Then we have good old fashioned laziness. Laziness is the quality of being unwilling to work or use your energy to do something. An example of this would be putting off a task (especially related to self-care) because you don’t feel like it.

Is laziness okay? If you’re avoiding something, not exactly. Doing nothing doesn’t always mean you’re being lazy. If you’re being intentional with relaxation, it can serve you well. You’re allowed to veg out and give your mind and body a break.

“Self-care only works if you’re actually caring for yourself and not just letting yourself off the hook.”Hannah Jack

Choosing Self-Care


Doing things in the name of #selfcare has become increasingly popular, but are you actually practicing self-care or just sabotaging yourself? Here’s how to tell if something is self-care or self-sabotage.

In order to know if you’re in need of true self-care, you have to listen to yourself and make the choice to do what is best for you. Your mind will try to trick you into doing what’s easiest (which is often the lazy route). That’s why awareness is key.

Everything comes down to awareness. What classifies something as self-care is ultimately the intention behind it, so you have to be aware of your own intentions.

Here are some questions to help you become more aware of your intentions when making decisions around self-care:

  • Am I making this decision to escape or avoid something?
  • Will this choice help to reduce my stress levels?
  • Am I trying to disconnect from myself?
  • Will this choice enhance my well-being?
  • Will my future self thank me or suffer later because of my actions now?
  • Am I letting my head get in the way of doing what I really need?
  • Would I be able to do the things that I need to do more effectively if I a) rest now or b) work now and rest later?
  • Am I going to feel better by doing this thing? Am I going to feel worse?

Remember, awareness is key. Slow down and ask yourself if what you’re doing is self-improving or self-defeating. When given the chance, choose the option that enhances your well-being.


How do you tell the difference between self-care and self-sabotage?

I hope this post has helped you to identify what self-care looks like in your own life. Here are some more posts to help you on your self-care journey:

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Catherine Beard
Hi, I'm Catherine! I'm here to help you get out of your head so you can stress less and focus on what matters.

8 Comments

  1. I am so glad you tackle this topic as I find myself thinking that self-care gets overused and can lose the authenticity of the idea behind it. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks, Catherine! Your posts are great and a big help. I read this one and the one about not feeling good enough and both make so much sense. These are the two things I have had problems with for a long time. Setting boundaries with other people too, because I dont feel good enough from doing so much of the right thing and not getting the right kind of feedback from people. No matter how much I show people that I am capable, it is never enough and they still act like I need constant help. It makes it hard to accept people’s help if I need it. The way you word it makes perfect sense.

  3. Ah! This post is so amazing! Self-care is an overused term these days and it is so true that everything falls under self-care. The problem is when people think ‘I deserve rest’ and start being lazy in the name of self-care without getting things done that really need to be done. Your post was on point about this issue. Well done, Catherine!

  4. Indeed, self-care is not always pleasant. I agree that it is easier to relax instead of jogging or eat fast food instead of healthy food. I do not argue that it is pleasant but irresponsible.
    The care is to give the body and mind what it needs. And it is undoubtedly necessary to find a balance.
    For example, what I consider self-care: https://ecogreenlove.com/2020/03/24/healthy-lifestyle/ as a student I have to do a lot of things, but at the same time have enough rest. Self-care for me is the same balance between what I need and what I want to do.

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