What is Self-Care? 5 Answers That Might Surprise You

Most people treat self-care like it’s beautiful. It’s the woman getting a facial, the mom taking a bubble bath, or the family on the beach vacation. Honestly, those activities all sound lovely and amazing. If I could get away from my life and had unlimited income, you’d bet I’d be doing one of those things.

There’s a keyword there, though. Notice, I said, “get away.”  What if you can’t “get away”? What if most of your life consists of chaos and crazy. Eating a donut or taking a bath isn’t necessarily going to fix the stress.

I wish. Because I could eat donuts as my life depended on it. But, there’s a reason I don’t.

Let’s look at what self-care is.

1. Self-Care is Ugly

Self-care is not pretty or creme-filled goodness. It’s often hard and requires a large amount of forcing myself to do things I don’t want to do.

I like how Brianna Wiest puts it:

Self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing.

It is making a spreadsheet of your debt and enforcing a morning routine and cooking yourself healthy meals and no longer just running from your problems and calling the distraction a solution.

2. Self-Care is NOT an escape

Sometimes we have to do the hard, ugly things to take care of ourselves. Maybe we cut out that toxic relationship, or go to that dreaded doctor’s appointment or clear the clutter from our home that is making us sick. It’s not pretty. It often goes against what we want to do–ignore, isolate, defend, or stick our head in the sand.

Self care should be stress free
Sometimes self-care looks like paying bills, goal setting, and keeping appointments.

Are you completely exhausted and spend a lot of time dreaming about a reprieve?

Do you excuse lousy eating habits, over-consumption, materialism, and spending large amounts of time by yourself because you feel you need it to function?

Do you avoid doing hard things?

If so, that’s escaping, not self-care. Having a life of self-love and self-kindness involves having a life you love, not a life you need to escape from regularly. If you find yourself in this position, you are disconnected and misled about self-care.

3. Caring for Yourself is Parenting Yourself

Are you always trying to fix yourself? Do you feel you are broken and unlovable?


If you are starting from a place of rejecting yourself and who you are, you have already lost.

If you grew up with loving parents, no matter their flaws, you probably can remember a time when they made you feel valued and loved.

What did love look like for you growing up? Hopefully, it looked like unconditional love, praise, and support. When you messed up, it was the loving arms that surrounded you and the words of encouragement that kept you going.

If you find this difficult, let me give you a virtual hug. If that’s not your experience (it wasn’t mine), then I want to think about how you can “parent” yourself.

I realize this is difficult for those of us who grew up with terrible parents. Can you learn to be the parent you needed and wanted as a child?

Here are some truths to try speaking to yourself:

Saying positive affirmations to yourself is great. When you start believing it, that’s when you can overcome your self-abasement and self-abuse.

4. Self-Care is Radical Love & Acceptance of Yourself

Did you know that you have around 50,000 thoughts a day? If you think all those thoughts, just imagine what would happen if you took advantage of that to believe in your positive qualities.

When you deem yourself as capable, lovable, and responsible, you can begin to accept yourself – flaws and all. Your imperfections make you human. Working on your flaws or weaknesses is a good thing; we should always try to be better versions of ourselves.

I struggle with perfectionism. If I mess up, I tend to say, “I’m a failure.”  What I have learned is that there is a difference between “I am a failure.” and “I failed at this task.”  Just because you didn’t succeed doesn’t mean you aren’t successful. Learn to speak the truth to yourself.

Every positive thought builds your confidence and acceptance.

5. Self-Care is Loving Your Life

You can’t love your life if you are surrounded by things that cause you stress. This could be:

  • A toxic relationship
  • A cluttered living area
  • Too much stuff
  • Not having an outlet you are passionate about
  • Not having a say in how things go
  • Not having your voice be heard
  • Living the life someone else wants for you
  • Having too many stresses and no help to overcome them

What if we built a life we loved instead of trying to escape from the one we have? What if we were brutally honest with ourselves and made a strategy to embrace the things that made us really feel alive and loved? Think about your favorite hobbies or interests, your favorite people, or your favorite places to be.

Beautiful and cute furry grey small kitty cat playing on the bed on a sunny day
Thinking about your little pet will bring a moment of joy.

For me, my favorite place to be is in my office, working on my passions. I also enjoy time with my family visiting the ocean. It’s hard for me to find much wrong with the beautiful landscape, the quiet relaxation, and the time spent working towards something I highly enjoy. In order to get to that place though, I had to remove bad relationships or extremely needy people, find a more flexible job, and remove the clutter and items from my home that made it hard for me.

What things do you need to remove? What elements would you like to add?

Self-love is taking a knife and hacking off all the things that don’t support us in some way. It is giving up on people and things that offer you nothing in return. (There’s a lot that can be said about family relationships in this area, but sometimes this means limiting your time with people who hurt you but still allowing them in your life.)

You have the power to choose better things for your life. Start small and work towards a life you enjoy and love.

The Bottom Line…

Self-care isn’t an escape. It’s foundational to creating a life that makes you happy, healthy, and whole. Sometimes that means we have to dig deep and do things that are hard. Eventually, the seeds we plant today will grow deep roots and we’ll be able to survive harsh conditions that come our way.