Self-Love vs. Self-Care: The Difference and Why it Matters

Quick question:  Self-love vs self-care, is there a difference?  Does it matter?  The answer is YES!  There is definitely a distinction between the two and understanding that distinction can change your life.

It’s important to understand that you can practice self-care without the presence of self-love.  Kind of.  You can THINK you are doing great with self-care, but in truth, if it’s not backed up with true self-love then you are only reaping watered-down benefits.

Self-Love vs. Self-Care written at top with curly haired brunette hugging herself and smiling

So let’s dive in and do some defining here, shall we?

What is self-love?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers up three definitions of self-love  that go like this:

  1. An appreciation of one’s own worth or virtue
  2. Proper regard for and attention to one’s own happiness or well-being
  3. Inflated love of or pride in oneself (narcissism, conceit)

I think in our world, too many people only focus on the third definition and have trained themselves to believe that self-love makes you an arrogant, selfish piece of crap.  I wholeheartedly, and with a massive passion, disagree!!  So, to be clear, when I reference self-love (in this article and throughout my entire blog), I ALWAYS mean the first two definitions listed above.

Having an appreciation of your own worth and having proper regard for your own happiness and well-being is not only NOT selfish, but it is also absolutely imperative to your existence.  It is the difference between SURVIVING life and LIVING life.

This is personal to me.  I spent years of my life getting up each day to simply survive one more day. I would get up, struggle through the day, go to bed and get up to do it again.  I lost my joy, my peace, and my passion for life.  Every day was a struggle, and it took all I had to put one foot in front of the other and just survive.

I don’t recommend living this way.  It took a huge toll on me.  During this time, I was still giving everything I had to my husband, children, mother, and employer.  However, when my day was done, there was absolutely NOTHING leftover to give myself.  No love, no compassion, no kindness, no respite.  Nothing.  Not only did I lose my sense of love for life, but I also completely lost myself.

When I started to explore this idea of self-love, I will be honest, I was in the “that’s SELFISH” camp.  I believed to put any emphasis on my needs, desires, or concerns was completely selfish and unwarranted.  I had spent over a decade in a church that reinforced that concept, so believe me, “self-love” was NOT something I worked at or believed had any place in my life.

One day I woke up and realized I could not go on this way anymore.  I just couldn’t.  I came to a point of thinking, “Is this IT?  This is as good as it gets??  Like, why bother……..”  No, I wasn’t suicidal, I just truly didn’t understand the point of any of it if it was always going to be this hard and this unfulfilling. 

At that point, I started to think, “There has GOT to be something I am missing here”.  That is when my journey of self-discovery that led to self-love began.

I came to understand that self-love was TRULY about believing you are worth something.  That is a BIG struggle for many of us.  Self-love means taking care of yourself, and protecting yourself, even if that means telling people no sometimes.  Self-love means you don’t have to sacrifice yourself to make others happy.

And here is the real kicker:  Self-love looks different for everyone.  What is an act of self-love for me may not be for you and vice versa.  We are all different.  We have different needs, expectations, and standards.  So, while I may have a whole list of things that feel like self-love to me, only three on that list may resonate with you.

And that’s perfectly okay!  I am going to list a few things here that define self-love in my world.  Please view the list as a springboard for your own list.  Feel free to borrow some of mine, but more importantly really think about what YOUR list should contain!

Examples of self-love:

  1. Speak kindly to yourself

No, seriously, wait a minute.  I want you to think about your last internal conversation.  What was it like?  What did you say to yourself? 

I used to have a LOT of internal conversations that went like this: “You are such a failure.  You suck as a mom, you suck as a wife, and you’re fat.  You are a total piece of useless waste.” 

Yeah, my internal dialogue was not a fun place to be.  And sadly, I BELIEVED what I told myself.  If your internal dialogue is even remotely close to what mine used to be, my friend, you must start changing that RIGHT now.  It is definitely hard, and it takes effort, but you CAN do it. 

Every time you start to hear that negative voice in your head, just say, “STOP!  I may not be perfect, but I am worthy of love”.  It’s a place to start.

  1. Setting boundaries

As women, we can be particularly bad about always putting everyone’s needs before our own.  We are largely trained by society to believe that it is both necessary and highly moral to do so.  Especially women of a certain generation.  Ahem. 

It REALLY took me a long time to understand and BELIEVE that I did NOT have to do everything asked of me by everyone around me and that didn’t make me a horrible person.  That may sound stupid to some, but if you struggle with this, you know EXACTLY what I mean. 

It was SOOOOO liberating the first time I said, you know, I don’t want to do that, and I didn’t!  And I didn’t beat myself up for two days telling myself I was an awful person for saying no.  It was exhilarating!

These are only two examples of what self-love can look like.  This is a BIG topic and I will definitely take a deeper dive into the subject soon, but today, I really want to talk about self-love vs. self-care, so I want to keep moving on.

What I hope you see is that self-love is about protecting and loving the essence of who you are.  It is a big, deep pool of really looking inward and embracing yourself as you are.  It is honoring yourself even with your shortcomings and quirks.  It is honestly believing that you are worthy of love, especially your own love, just exactly as you are.

So then, the next logical question is:

What is Self-Care?

Going back to Merriam-Webster, self-care is defined very simply as:

  1. Care for oneself

I like to think of self-care as the ACTIONS I take to care for myself.  Here again, very often self-care is demonized as vanity meant only to indulge yourself.  I couldn’t disagree more.  Self-care is the act of making a conscious choice to care for yourself in the same loving manner that you care for those around you in. 

This was also not ever on my to-do list.  I took care of my family, tried to be there for my friends, and tried to give 100% each day at work, but never did I ever believe that it was okay to put myself on the list for a little self-care.

That was a huge mistake.  Are you making the same mistake?  Are you going through your days pouring out of yourself to everyone around you and ignoring the cries from your own soul begging for some attention?

aqua background with writing that says focus on yourself

Listen, ladies, engaging in self-care is NOT selfish.  It is NOT indulgent.  It is NOT neglecting others.  It is literally pouring some gas in your tank so that you CAN continue to give to others.

Self-care means more than taking care of your physical needs, though that is certainly important.  It also means really looking at yourself as a whole, body, mind, and spirit.    You have to make sure that you are nurturing all of yourself.

This concept was totally foreign to me for a long time.  I thought self-care meant a bubble bath and that was that.  Now, let me be the first to say, I LOVE a bubble bath!  I am not taking anything away from that.  LOL

However, that is NOT all that self-care is.  I was shocked at the change in my life that came when I started to focus on my mind and spirit.  Like, I had no idea that was a thing!!

I have started several practices in my life that I have found to be PARAMOUNT to my self-care regime.  I am going to share just a few of my favorite self-care activities here.  Remember, these are things that are important to ME, but may not be right for you.  Just use this list as an idea generator.


I have begun to actually listen to my body.  Nope, I am not nuts.  But when I actually slowed down and began to LISTEN to what my body tells me, it has become SO much easier to find ways to practice self-care.  Right now, I am loving finding gentle ways to move my body that don’t cause great pain due to my fibromyalgia. 


I started really paying attention to how I talk to myself.  Remember the internal conversations I talked about earlier?  Yeah, those were seriously no good for me.  I now take great care to make sure that my self-talk is healthy and encouraging.


Look, for years I believed meditation was evil.  (That’s a topic for another post.)  Anyway, I have recently found that not only is it NOT evil, it is amazing.  I find ways to fit mediation in regularly now.  Even as I sit here typing this post, I have meditation music playing in the background.  It is so soothing and relaxing that it calms my spirit in a very real way.

That is one example each of how I am fitting self-care into my daily life.  If you would like a more detailed look at self-care ideas, I have you covered!  ?

So, at the end of the day, self-love vs. self-care, are they different?  Yes.  Can you practice one without the other?  Probably.  But my oh my, when you put them together it is a home run.  My best advice is to start somewhere.  If you struggle with either self-love or self-care, that’s okay.

Just pick one small thing this week that you can work on.  Give yourself permission to read a book for 20 minutes undisturbed.  Look in the mirror and tell yourself you are amazing.  You don’t have to change everything overnight.  Just pick one thing and start there.

If I had to sum it up quickly, I would say this:  Self-love is how you FEEL about yourself.  Self-care is how you TREAT yourself.  They are different but equally important.

Drop me a comment below and let me know how you practice self-love and/or self-care! 

In the meantime, my friend, remember that you are worthy of your own love and care!!

With Love and Acceptance,


Similar Posts

One Comment

  1. Teresa, your message really resonated with me! Thank you for the reminder that Self Love/Self Care is vital to living our best life. I look forward to reading more of your principles that allow us to just be true to ourselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *