We’re all familiar with the ideas of “self-love” and “self-care.” Whether it’s taking an aromatherapy bath with essential oils, remembering to drink your green smoothie, or prioritizing your workout schedule, in many cases, self-love and self-care are positive and empowering ideas that really do bring relaxation, joy, and wellness into our lives. However, while it’s important to take good care of ourselves, the way our collective emphasis has shifted so much to the self is really doing more harm than good.
In recent years, the wellness and self-care industries, among others, have run with the idea that we should celebrate self-love. Rather than trying to please, impress, or take care of others, we should focus on taking care of our own needs and our own feelings. Just like the familiar instructions we hear on every flight before take-off, we ought to “put on our own oxygen mask before assisting others.” As true as that may be, this mentality becomes less harmless when we take it to an extreme. Imagine if not only did we put our own mask on first, but we then brushed our hair, fixed our makeup, took a selfie, and made a quick phone call before we remembered that the person next to us couldn’t get their mask on properly on their own.
Although their message may be sugar-coated, here are a few lies that those preaching self-love and self-care mindsets might be telling you.
Lie #1: Indulging in Self-Love Is Always Innocent
The self-love industry tells us that it’s healthy and important to take care of our needs and honor our feelings. We should do our daily yoga practice, only buy local organic food, and cut out any relationship that “isn’t serving us.” We should feel able to treat ourselves regularly, call in sick if we really feel like we need a day off, or only answer our mom’s phone calls if we’re in the mood.
This way of thinking is so widespread in America that one in four adults has cut contact with at least one parent, as we seem to prefer to sever ties rather than see the best in others and work toward resolutions and boundaries that work for everyone. Of course, some relationships truly are too toxic to tolerate. It appears, however, that we now have a much lower threshold for what we consider toxic, rather than seeing idiosyncrasies, quirks, and even occasional conflict as things that come with any human relationship.
As we go about these cleanses in every area of our lives, it’s very hard to separate what might be innocent self-love from things like vanity and selfishness. Is it the yoga itself, or the picture we post on social media of us looking great in our yoga pants with our wheatgrass shot that really matters most to us? Furthermore, the boundary between consumerism and self-care, and between elitism and self-love, are incredibly blurry, as things like replacing coffee with mushroom “coffee,” taking multiple daily superfood vitamins, and blocking out hours of time to journal and meditate really aren’t accessible to everyone.
When we put caring for ourselves in opposition to caring for others, we miss the opportunity that other people give us to be something better than what we can be on our own.
Lie #2: You Should Always Be Your Top Priority
What we’ve lost in trying to regain a sense of self-love is the bigger picture – we have lost each other. When we put caring for ourselves in opposition to caring for others, thinking that that’s the only way we can truly love ourselves, we miss the opportunity that other people give us to be something better than what we can be on our own. Yes, we do need to fulfill our own basic needs, and we also ought to indulge in pleasure and comfort from time to time too. It’s when our focus is so on ourselves and our immediate sense of what we feel and what we think we need that we lose track of both empathy for others and an understanding of what is really good for us in the long term.
For instance, if we take this sort of self-love to an extreme in a romantic relationship, there would be no reason to commit to someone. Our priority would be keeping our options open in case we fall deeper in love with someone else down the road or in case things just aren’t feeling right someday. We also probably wouldn’t choose to have children because of the 24/7 self-sacrifice involved in raising and caring for them while they’re young. In both of these cases, though, we’d actually be losing out on what’s truly best for us – a stable, loving, long-term intimate relationship and to see our nurturing efforts come to fruition in relationships with our adult children as we grow old. We’d also, in the case of the romantic relationship, be harming someone else by always putting ourselves before them, in the very relationship that should build them up the most.
Lie #3: You Can Never Have Too Much Self-Care
There is, of course, a time and place for focusing on yourself. I can be a people-pleaser and once fell into a caretaking role in a relationship that cost me several years of my life. As I was finding my way out of that situation, I really needed to learn to love myself and to be able to get in touch with what my own wants and needs were because all I could see were someone else’s wants and needs. At that time, it was helpful for me to be involved in the wellness industry, to listen to empowering self-help talks online, to see a therapist, and to put my focus on myself for a while.
If you feel like you’ve never done this, and tend to prioritize everyone but yourself regardless of the situation and harm to yourself, you may benefit, like I did, from an extended dive into self-care and self-love before you can balance things back out. The idea, though, is that we should balance things back out. While we do need to be wise enough to take care of our own needs and to notice when someone might be taking advantage of our desire to give, our instinct to connect with and care for others is a good thing.
If your phase of prioritizing self-care has turned into more of a lifestyle than a phase, you might want to reexamine things a bit. I would ask myself, is all of this self-love, this following my feelings as my compass, making me happy? Is it leading me somewhere positive?
Focusing too much on yourself makes your sense of self-worth as elusive as a mirage because there is no true validation to be gained from catering only to yourself.
Lie #4: Focusing on Loving Yourself Will Make You Happy
What I’ve found is that focusing too much on myself for too long is actually not uplifting. Focusing too much on yourself can strain your relationships, as you make even the smallest decisions like when to respond to a text on how you are personally feeling in the moment or whether or not to cancel plans the day-of based on if you got a more interesting offer to hangout from someone else. It also makes your sense of self-worth as elusive as a mirage because there is really no limit to what you might feel that you need or desire and no true validation to be gained from catering only to yourself.
That’s because we’re not built to only care for ourselves. We’re built to care for each other. Serving others, whether it’s taking care of small children, volunteering in our community, or helping out a friend or neighbor in need, is actually what brings us fulfillment, joy, and purpose in the long run. Putting others before ourselves in a healthy way is what truly calms our nerves, as our sense of contributing something to the world fills us with meaning. Just like choosing to work hard rather than follow your own fleeting pleasure will ultimately bring you a better future, choosing to focus on loving and nurturing others will ultimately bring you a future full of love, connection, and a better opinion of yourself.
The self-love industry may have gotten a few things right, but it’s also taken a few things too far. As it brushes off concern for others as less important than caring for ourselves, this kind of self-love can fall into selfishness, vanity, and patterns of behavior that ultimately don’t make us happy.
That’s because this mindset ignores our deep yearning to connect with others. We have a longing for communion with others for a reason. Tied to our conscience, it keeps us grounded in empathy as we aim to do what is right not only in our own eyes, but in the eyes of others and in values that are greater than ourselves. Sometimes, that will mean making compromises in relationships, showing up when you don’t want to, or putting yourself on the back burner for a moment for someone else in need.
So, yes, keep taking care of yourself. Take really, really good care of yourself by honoring not only you, but your relationships, your community, and your connection to what is greater than yourself.
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