Does ‘Toxic Self-Care’ Exist?

Scrolling down my Instagram timeline, I came across two images of cartoons practicing self-care.

One cartoon showed a person wearing sneakers and a sweat band sitting in front of a plate piled high with fruits and vegetables and a bottle of water. The cartoon shared, “Eating healthy food then headed out for a run!” Their eyes were wide and they were smiling.

The second image was of a cartoon in a bathrobe and a towel around their head. The cartoon was laying down on a couch, with a face mask on and their phone in their hand. Their eyes were not nearly as wide as the first cartoon. They looked tired and out of energy.

Below these cartoons, the caption exclaimed that the “right way” to do self-care was to stay active. The caption explained that the “wrong way” to do self-care is to lay on the couch and be lazy. The takeaway message from this post was that “wrong way” to do self-care is actually considered toxic self-care.

shallow focus photography of man wearing red polo shirt

Photo by Nathan Cowley on

I scratched my head at this post. I was confused. I just could not see the harm in resting, as this cartoon depicted. Nor do I find being active all of the time to be the “right way” to take care of yourself either. A lot of our self-care plans include time for resting and physically taking care of our bodies through exercise.

There are many ideas and judgments associated with the practice of self-care. Some folks view the practice of self-care as laziness, self-indulgence or a preoccupation with self.

For some, there are cultural and social implications connected to the practice of self-care. Historically for some cultures, self-care is sometimes not considered time well-spent or there were consequences to taking care of your mind, body and spirit.

Early on in the gmichelle blog posts, we defined self-care as the intentional practice of taking care of your needs. These needs can be mental, social, emotional, physical, spiritual, etc. This means that if you need to rest your mind and relax your body to recharge, that is a-okay.

So that brings us to the question: does toxic self-care exist? Is there a way for us to “take care” of ourselves in ways that are harmful and not helpful?

In my humble opinion, no. Toxic self-care does not exist. Because self-care is, as the name describes, the act of caring for yourself. Therefore, engaging in unhealthy, harmful or not helpful behaviors falls under a different category entirely.

man wearing white tank top

Photo by fotografierende on

In an effort to bring awareness to the benefits of self-care and its significance in our ability to have healthy relationships with ourselves and others, its imperative to filter through some of the misconceptions about the practice of taking care of yourself. There are ways to notice if your current self-care plan in not meeting your current needs and reviewing and updating your self-care plan on a regular basis can help you do this work.

Be mindful of reading messages (or coming across cartoons!) that do not connect with your values of self-care. If you run into declarations of what the “right” and “wrong” way to practice self-care is on this World Wide Web, I hope you too will tap into your curiosity and reflect on what self-care means to you.

Do you believe toxic self-care exists?


  1. meandmystitch says

    Yes, I believe overindulging in certain self-care can be toxic, like overeating, too much alcohol and entertaining ourselves beyond our means can be toxic. There may be another name for outside of self-care by people use it that way. What do you think?

    • Michelle says

      I think you are right! Folks may call unhelpful, avoidant or over-indulgent practices ‘self-care’, but if the practice is not positively meeting your needs, it’s actually not self-care. It’s helpful to name our behaviors and recognize the differences. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Ali says

    Only if it negatively impacts on others. Like drinking to the point of intoxication around other people and using an excuse of self-care. Anything can become warped in the wrong hands. If you are reflecting on what you do, then it is unlikely to be toxic.

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