Great Escape

When Self-Care Turns into Self-Sabotage

Bubble baths and massages can do more harm than good

Melody Wilding, LMSW
GEN
Published in
6 min readAug 10, 2018

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Art: Ryan Hubbard (Images via Getty)

IIt’s safe to say that self-care is having a moment. More and more, it seems like everyone is espousing the importance of sleep, saying no, and “treating yo’self” as much as possible.

As a social worker and coach, I talk all the time about the importance of self-care. Many people scoff, roll their eyes, and tell me they don’t have time to meditate for 20 minutes or extra money to spend on yoga and massages. Fair enough. I, too, used to think that self-care was all about taking a day off and getting a pedicure. It’s understandable, since we’ve been fed a very narrow view of what self-care actually is — the pursuit of “me time” — by companies eager to sell us on wellness retreats, bath bombs, and expensive gym memberships.

Just because something feels good doesn’t mean it’s helping.

Self-care can include these luxuries, but it’s better defined as self-management activities designed to enhance your well-being. Self-care is any habit, practice, or action that is under your control, deliberate, and self-initiated. In the 1980s, the World Health Organization first described self-care as “the activities individuals, families, and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health.”

Since then, self-care has become a national obsession—one that has rightfully caught on as a way to cope with the ever-growing demands of modern life. But self-care can go awry when it becomes work in and of itself. It becomes problematic when we use immediate gratification as a balm for stressors instead of addressing their root causes.

The Fine Line Between Self-Care and Self-Sabotage

Just because something feels good doesn’t mean it’s helping. Very often, self-sabotage masquerades as self-care. We misuse strategies to numb ourselves. Instead of restoring our well-being, we turn to travel, fitness, food, and shopping as ways to escape the exhaustion of daily life. We try to run from a bad relationship, an uninspiring job, disappointment over unmet goals —…

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Melody Wilding, LMSW
GEN
Writer for

Author of TRUST YOURSELF. Executive coach to Sensitive Strivers. Human behavior professor. Featured in NYT, NBC, CNN. https://melodywilding.com/book