top of page

Self-care or Self-indulgence?

Thoughts compiled by Cynthia Gill MA, LMFT.

Recently it came to my attention that some people confuse self-care with self-indulgence. This doesn't surprise me, given the atmosphere we're surrounded with. The Zeitgeist, German for "spirit of the age," encourages praise for false things. I call this "false self-esteem," and it leads to self-indulgence. Let me explain.

Too often we're praised for nothing. For doing something that is very easy. Someone says "you're amazing" to you, and we like it. If someone affirms us for something, we are encouraged. It supposedly builds our self-esteem. But is it true or false self-esteem? False self-esteem comes when we praise ourselves for doing a not so good job. When we look at ourselves in the mirror and say, "You're beautiful, you're strong, you can do this." But there's no evidence, and it's not grounded in truth.

(But if you look in the mirror and say "God has made me beautiful and strong. God will give me the ability to do this," that's true! We need to look at God's mirror, not our own. Not what other people think. Not what we've been told about ourselves in the past. God has a different perspective. We need to pray every day to "see ourselves as God does.")

False self-esteem is too often taught to our children. "You can do anything you put your mind to." "You can be anything you want to be." It involves a self-focus, and a sense of invincibility that is seriously overstated. There is a 100% chance that the person will be disappointed later in life, when they find out that they can't "be anything they want to be." Especially without much effort.

Self-focus leads to narcissism, which is not healthy for anyone. Telling a person that "You are awesome, you are amazing" without saying something specific that they're being praised for contributes to this self-focus. Or else the person just doesn't believe it. Unfortunately, many people today have a higher view of themselves than they deserve. (Rom. 12:3)

An example is grades: American kids rate themselves more highly than their age-mates in other countries, yet they have some of the lowest scores. Why is this? They've been fawned over, they receive trophies for doing nothing spectacular, told they're wonderful all their lives, and therefore it doesn't matter how they perform. The "kids" have become young adults now, with children of their own.

Allow me to quote from Jean Twenge in The Narcissism Epidemic: “Did you know that there are four legs that false self-esteem, also known as Entitlement, rests on?”

1) The permissive parenting and self-esteem focused education. Fewer boundaries are set by families, and teachers tell kids that they are "stars" and "winners" even as performance stays stagnant.

2) The media culture of shallow celebrity. Celebrity culture tempts people with the idea of fame- fame awarded for attention drawn to themselves rather than actual accomplishment.

3) The Internet: it's a conduit for individual narcissism. It allows people to present an inflated, self-focused view of themselves to the world and encourages them to spend hours each day contemplating their images.

4) Easy credit, which makes self-focused dreams become reality. It serves as a personal Fairy Godmother who makes wishes come true.

All this leads to a sense of entitlement. "I deserve a day off. I deserve a pedicure and a manicure and a massage..."

Two generations ago, the phrase "me-time" had not even been invented yet. Mothers didn't feel entitled to take a day off, to go out shopping, to get themselves coffee and a new dress... They sacrificed for their families. Gave up their rights.

What has changed?

I believe the four things mentioned above have changed us more than we like to admit. Let's look at what the Bible says abut self-esteem, to have a good foundation for launching off into a discussion of self-care.

When we're praised, it needs to be for one of these:

For being honest, kind, vulnerable. For showing hard work, responsibility, creating something of value. For showing self-control.

1) Honest, kind, vulnerable. This is easier with good friends. Yet, many of us struggle with the vulnerability part. Brene Brown has written a lot on that, I'd encourage you to read what she has to say. Kindness, honesty, and vulnerability require humility. Not an easy thing to develop, but possible. Be honest and kind when you don't feel like it, for starters. Discern with whom you can be vulnerable with but be sure it is someone!

2) Hard work. Work humbles the soul (Ps.107:12). It's good for us! Now there is dignity in working hard. Most people don't enjoy their jobs, only a small fraction of us do. Yet, we are proud of ourselves when we work at a job whether we enjoy it or not. This includes housework.

3) Producing something: art, music, creative endeavors of some type. Creative endeavors take work, perseverance, and constant improvement. It also takes the courage to be imperfect. It's very gratifying to work hard at something, and then have other people say "wow, that is beautiful!" But it many times isn't fun to keep on practicing; we'd like to have it sooner rather than later.

4) Responsibility. Responsibility involves a conscious choice, maybe one that isn't fun! It's a sign of maturity if we accept responsibility. We're not just thinking of ourselves (our default mode), but about other people. We have been taught to do a good job at something, and that feels good when we do it.

5) Self-control. Self-control must be cultivated. "He who neglects discipline despises himself' (Prov. 15:32) Hang out with people who are self-disciplined. "The ability to exercise restraint or control over one's feelings, reactions, passions." (Webster) It is also doing things we know we should do, even if we don't feel like it. "Work first then play" is an example of self-control. How many of us are on our cell phones when we need to be doing something else?

The foundation for victorious living is knowing and understanding who we are in Christ and what it means to be a child of God. If you believe you are hopeless, worthless, defeated, or unwanted, your life will be characterized by defeat, despair, and depression. All the "self-care" in the world will not heal it. You can get a massage and a pedicure, and it will temporarily feel better. But like any pleasure of this world, it will not solve the problem. And meanwhile, others (your children) may well suffer.

In contrast, if you view yourself as God does - loved, chosen, wanted, and valuable - it frees you to feel joyful, accepted, significant, and secure. You'll have more self-control because you have hope. "The one who has this hope in him, purifies himself, as He is pure." (I Jn. 3:3)

Let's go after true self esteem, not false self-esteem. Then we'll recognize the difference between true self-care and mere self- indulgence. Let's begin understanding who we are in Christ! Read and absorb God's Word. Pray, including reflectively, humble yourself before God, fellowship and worship with other believers.

So, is this clearer why we need to discern between self-care and self-indulgence? Humility is the key. Our hearts are easily deceived. (Jer. 17:9) Ask ourselves, if we are producing some of these things: honesty, responsibility, creativity, kindness, vulnerability, hard work, and self-control. THEN decide if you deserve to take the afternoon off and go


One caveat: I DO believe in self-care! I get massages every month, take 2 mile walks every day, swim, eat healthy, drink lots of water, don't over-extend myself, and take one day off a week. I'm not advocating that we don't engage in self-care! Please hear my heart. I understand that some in this generation might be more fragile, (I'm a grandma).

Start where you are. Reflect, consider what you need to change. But, please, don't get condemned by what I've written here. It's for building you up, not tearing you down.(II Cor. 13:10) For urging you onto greater discernment. Balance between self-care and self-indulgence.

Loving God and others as we love ourselves.

For further assistance, please call 763-566-0088 and speak to our Client Services Coordinator or stop by the NewPath Mental Health Services office at 8401 Wayzata Blvd., Suite 340, Golden Valley, MN 55426 to find out about services you are interested in.


bottom of page