So many of us feel guilty about taking time for ourselves. The very words self care or self nurturing sound selfish. We feel guilty and selfish because we don’t understand the difference between self care/self nurturing and self indulgence. Self indulgence is similar to narcissistic behavior. What is narcissism? The online American Heritage Dictionary defines narcissism as a “psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem.”

During our growing up process many of us did not get the nurturing that we needed. This nurturing is a combination of touching, holding, empathy, time and attention, validation, respect, understanding, praise, acknowledgment, freedom, all the things we require to grow up mentally and emotionally healthy. Maybe our parents were too busy for us or they were critical or withholding. Possibly they were even emotionally or physically abusive or neglectful. What we received from our parents is what we learned to give ourselves. So if we did not receive love, we did not learn to give love to ourselves and sometimes we didn’t even learn how to give it to others. Now as adults we may have this huge “hole” inside us that we are never able to fill.

Improving your life, life makeovers, reinventing yourself- whatever you want to call it, must start with some attention to self nurturing. We need to make sure we are receiving the empathy, time, attention, validation, respect, etc. from someone. If not from others, then we need to provide it for ourselves. Otherwise we end up trying to compensate for what is missing in our soul with self indulgence in which we develop compulsions or addictions. We might get involved with cocaine, binge on cheesecake or ice cream, or binge on a shopping trip and buy more clothes or jewelry that we do not really need. Maybe we get our soothing from smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol. We may search for an adrenaline rush through gambling, X-sports, or a real sports activity that could be physically dangerous. Unfortunately, “You never get enough of what you don’t really want.” These are all substitute activities that we hope will fill that empty hole inside us. Some of these activities are more harmful than others. Most people see the danger in drugs and gambling.

Smoking doesn’t seem quite as socially unacceptable as drugs and alcohol abuse. And binging and being a “shopaholic” aren’t usually recognized as addictions. What all these activities mentioned in this paragraph have in common is that they are addictions, they are self indulgent behaviors and they end up with a cost to be paid. Remember, all these self indulgent activities give you pleasure up front and then leave you with a price to pay later. That is one way that we can identify them as being self indulgent.

In contrast, self-nurturance is both physically and psychologically healthy and will create more happiness for us. We’re not giving ourselves a “quick fix” that we may regret somewhere in the future but are addressing inborn needs. If our lives are delivering boredom, pain, drudgery, or some vital need deep inside us is not being addressed; then we need to go back to discovering what our true values and passions are and if the majority of our time is spent on activities that reflect those values and passions.

If you are caught up in a cycle of attempting to satisfying your needs through self indulgence instead of self nurturing, you need to start a life makeover or begin reinventing yourself in some small way. Start small with baby steps. Do some self investigation and determine what it is that your REALLY need. That is what you need to give yourself rather than the overeating, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, or whatever.

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