Playback: Is Your Self-Care Hurting You?

Post-workout recovery brownie and glass of milk

Recently, a client session turned to that trickiest of tricks, self-care gone awry. You know, those little things you do for yourself that feel good, but only for a moment.

Our conversation reminded me of this piece I wrote some time ago, and I wanted to share it with you. It originally appeared in an email newsletter in August 2008.


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If you’ve been hanging out in the personal growth world, you already know that self-care is important to your well-being – particularly in our uber-busy, chaotic lives. But, what if your self-care is hurting you?

“Wait a second,” you say. “If it’s self-care it’s gotta be good. Right?” Not necessarily. Sure, your planned self-care is probably wonderful. A wonderful massage, a cup of tea in the garden, reading a wonderful book, a hike on a beautiful trail. All these can rest your body and rejuvenate your soul.

How Self-Care Goes Awry

But what I’m talking about are those little on-the-fly things we do to treat or bribe ourselves. Think about what you do when you’re feeling run down and you need a little boost. Do you grab a cookie or a coke? Buy that cute little bag you’ve been eyeing? Zone out in front of the TV or computer?

Pay special attention anytime you hear yourself saying, “it’s okay, I deserve it.”

Yes you do deserve to be wonderfully cared for, but this kind of self-care is like loving a pair of shoes that gives you blisters, and wearing them anyway.

The real problem is that once or twice won’t really make a difference. But when we get into habits of treating ourselves in ultimately destructive ways, that’s when you start to notice extra pounds, bigger bills, lost time and guilt.

Big ugly guilt.

It Can Sneak Up On You

Let me share with you just how insidious this kind of habit can be. There’s a piece of zucchini bread sitting on my counter right now. It looks so delicious, and I know it will taste amazing because my friend, a professional baker, made it. But, I haven’t wanted to indulge.

Now get this. I’ve been working on this article for a while, and it’s just not getting finished. So what did I do? I bribed myself with that zucchini bread. “As soon as I finish this article, I can eat the bread,” I said in my head. “We have a deal!” I replied to myself in my head.

The crazy part, I didn’t even realize what I was doing until the conversation in my head was over and the deal was made. Hello irony! And also, hello, I’m my own best client!

So what about you? What do you do that feels good in the moment but hurts you down the road? What would you rather do?


1. Think about your self-care habit gone awry.
(I buy myself trashy magazines and zone out while I’m reading them. Then I feel guilty that I wasted the money on them and ignored everyone/thing else while reading them.)

2. When was a recent time you did it? Put yourself back in that moment. What were you feeling?
(I was tired and wanted to think about someone else’s problems for a while.)

3. What did you really need in that moment?

4. What would have been a different way to fulfill that need?
(Taking a few minutes in a quiet place take a few deep breaths, and maybe even write down a few things I’m grateful for.)

Try running through this a few times to become aware of your self-care habits that are hurting you. Then, when you’re ready, try it out in the real world. I’ll be taking the zucchini bread over to the neighbors as I go for a walk and enjoy having completed this issue of the newsletter!

Photo: A homemade brownie and glass of milk. This time, I ate one and shared the rest.


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