Self care vs. Self indulgence (What’s the difference?)

A woman with red lipstick smokes a cigarette while holding fries and a cheeseburger, showing self indulgent behaviors

The discussion around self-care is always evolving.

Taking proper care of yourself and the many ways to do so, has become even more popular since it became a driving force of keeping people from getting burned out during the pandemic. But it is no surprise that some people have pushed doing things in the name of self-care too far. Social media and the culture of instant gratification pushes boundaries even farther and have confused some on what the difference is between self care vs. self indulgence.  

In order to answer that question we would have to look at each topic separately, and then together. 

What is self indulgence? 

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary the definition of self indulgence is the excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own appetites, desires, or whims.

In simpler terms it means you do something that may be temporarily gratifying, without thinking about the consequences to anything or anyone else (including ourselves).

It is a quick fix for an instant reward. 

What are some self-indulgence examples?  

A few examples of self-indulgence are:

1) Hitting the snooze button 

When we hit the snooze button in the morning, all we are thinking about is the temptation of the chance to get a few more precious minutes of sleep. We don’t consider how that decision is going to affect our day going forward. Will it make us late for work or school? Will we miss our bus? Will it throw our whole schedule out of whack? 

2) Overeating 

Many times when we overeat, it is because the food is delicious and we just want to keep eating it. It has nothing to do with our body sending signals that we may still be hungry or need more food.  

3) Buying something you don’t need 

Have you heard of the cliché of someone having a mid-life crisis and buying that sports car they have always dreamed about? Purchasing something that isn’t practical, like a two-seater luxury car that your family of six can’t fit in, is a perfect example of self-indulgent behavior. 

4) Doom scrolling on social media 

I’m sure all of us can relate to having a few minutes to kill and deciding to see what is happening on social media, and before long we don’t know where the time has gone, hours have passed and it’s dark now and no one in your home has made supper. We didn’t get anything productive done.

We just wasted time on social media because we felt like it. 

5) Staying up too late 

Here is another one that I must admit I am guilty of. Staying up way past when I planned on going to bed because I decided to watch one more movie. Or one more Tiktok (which of course turns into 50). Or I lost track of time on social media again. The choice to stay up instead of getting the sleep that I know I need to be more productive was a self-indulgent one. 

6) Watching hours and hours of our favorite television show 

Pretty sure this entire post has become a personal attack against myself, but just like above, there are plenty of other things I could choose to do with my time that would be good for me, but vegging out and wasting time in front of the tv may not be the best choice at that time. 

What is self care? 

Self-care is the practice of taking action to protect or improve your own well-being and happiness.  

I like to think of it as physical acts of self-love. 

What are some self care activities? 

1) Getting adequate rest  

When we are well rested, we are better prepared for our day and any challenges we may face. Our moods are a whole lot better too. 

2) Exercising 

The benefits to getting exercise are endless, but I think we can all agree there is mountains of indisputable evidence that exercise is just plain good for us, and that our bodies, and minds, need it.

3) Setting healthy boundaries 

By telling people no when we need to, or setting boundaries against things or people that we have identified might cause us pain or stress, we are protecting our emotional and mental health. 

4) Organizing finances 

This one might not be the first one that comes to mind when you think of self-care, but getting your finances in order, and doing things like creating a spreadsheet to track overspending, or starting a savings account are all things that take care of our financial health. 

5) Journaling 

There is something extremely cathartic about writing and journaling. Getting to process your thoughts and feelings and then write them down can help you get to know yourself much better, and can also help reduce stress. 

6) Taking a long walk 

After a long and stressful day it can be tempting to want to go home, put on your favorite television show, or scroll your favorite social media app to distract yourself and avoid thinking about your day. However, there is something about taking a long walk outside surrounded by nature that helps sooth part of the soul that social media can’t. The fresh air and the exercise, like mentioned above, are also great for you.  

How are self-indulgence and self-care different? 

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence is the intent behind the action. With both self-care and self-indulgence, decisions are made. However, for something to be classified as self-care, it needs to be something we do because it is good for us, and it will improve our lives in some way. There is a lasting effect on us. Our mood improves. We relax. We are more organized.  

With self-indulgence, it is the opposite. We make a decision just because we want to. We want that instant gratification, and unfortunately, these types of actions can end up causing us more harm than good. We are exhausted throughout the day. We neglect our responsibilities. We are late for work. 

That doesn’t mean self-indulgence is the bad and tempting thing you just really want but can’t have, and self-care is the thing that is good for you and you do because you absolutely have to or know you should. 

There are many self-care activities that you probably can’t wait to do and that you enjoy. That can feel self-indulgent at times. Getting a pedicure, spending a day at the spa, or taking a hot bubble bath. All those activities can feel self-indulgent, but the intent behind those activities is to take better care of ourselves or to relieve stress and relax. 

Can self care become self indulgent?  

There are times we can participate in self-care activities that start out with the best intentions but then become self-indulgent. If we start to use self-care as a coping mechanism and something to distract us from our problems instead of the tools to help us deal with them, then I think self-care becomes a problem.  

But again we need to determine the motive behind our actions. 

If I am taking a bath a few times a week to help relax after a stressful day at work, or a particularly difficult workout class, that is self-care. 

But if I am taking a bath several times a week to avoid talking about my marriage problems with my husband, that is self-indulgence.  

Everything in life is a balancing act, and balancing the thin line between self-care and self-indulgence is no different. 

If you liked this post you should check out:

Scroll to Top