Is Treating Yourself Positive or Negative for Your Mental Health?

Treating yourself can either be a healthy act of self-care or a serious mistake. Why is this? Find out here.
Is Treating Yourself Positive or Negative for Your Mental Health?
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Some people believe that treating yourself implies being consumerist, materialistic, vain, or undisciplined. On the other hand, others believe that it’s absolutely necessary, an act of self-care and a sign of mental flexibility. The two positions provide weighty opposing arguments. In fact, research studies tend to be equally balanced in support of both viewpoints.

Treating yourself isn’t, in itself, other good or bad, positive or detrimental. The key lies in the intention with which you do it, the moments you choose, and the reasons that lead you to reward yourself or not with these small gifts. Let’s take a closer look.

Woman shopping for clothes, showing that treating yourself can be positive.

Treating yourself is necessary

The famous psychologist, Walter Riso, in his magnificent book, Enamorate de ti (Fall in Love With You) clearly illustrates how small treats are essential to build your self-esteem. That’s because you’re a physical being, inhabiting a physical space, so you must also demonstrate self-love in these spaces of reality. It’s not enough to love yourself, you have to have to prove it.

When parents await the arrival of a child, they prepare everything for their baby to make them as comfortable as possible. Consequently, they choose their clothes and decorate their bedroom with the utmost love and care. Because they want to provide a beautiful environment for their new arrival.

In the same way, when someone comes to visit your home, you make a fuss of them. You provide your best sheets and towels, crisply laundered. You buy and prepare your guest’s favorite food. In fact, you do everything possible to make them feel appreciated and welcomed.

However, you’re not always so attentive when it comes to treating yourself. For instance, you feel that you can always wait as your own towel isn’t that old yet. Or, that it’s an unnecessary expense to order food in a restaurant just for you, and that having a manicure is simply an exercise in vanity.

Nevertheless, it’s through these small gestures that you show self-love and take care of yourself. In fact, by not indulging yourself because you feel you don’t deserve it, you end up neglecting yourself and undermining your self-esteem.

Beautifying your home or your body doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being vain. Buying those pants that you like doesn’t signify you’re consumeristic. They’re acts of self-care.

Treating yourself covers up your unhappiness

On the other hand, you must be cautious concerning the reasons that drive you to treat yourself. Intent, motivation, and background are really key here. Because there are many people who use the external to cover up, avoid, and ignore the internal.

You probably know someone who covers up their emotions by overeating. Or someone who tries to alleviate their feeling of a lack of control by buying compulsively. Or one who’s become obsessed with their physical appearance in order to avoid facing their lack of self-esteem.

Treating yourself, as a habit, isn’t a good way of managing feelings of emptiness or uncomfortable emotions. Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat your favorite food occasionally as a small treat. However, eating it automatically when you feel anxious, sad, or irritable is an inappropriate self-regulation strategy.

Along similar lines, buying that item of clothing that you like without feeling any remorse for the price or without questioning yourself a thousand and one times if you really need it, is an act of improving your self-esteem.  On the other hand, buying in an uncontrolled way and in order to mitigate your uncomfortable inner feelings will only bring you negative consequences.

When you act without conscience, on impulse, and without taking into account the long term, you end up doing more damage to yourself. That’s because the immediate satisfaction you feel from indulging in this way soon turns into guilt, along with the emptiness you already feel.

Woman thinking about her whims

What are your motives?

In short, the key is to find a balance. Don’t be excessively rigid, demanding, and inflexible with yourself. At the same time, avoid chaos, lack of control, and impulsiveness.

Ask yourself the following questions. What motivates you when you decide to treat yourself? Are you avoiding treating not rewarding yourself because you don’t feel worthy of it? Do you feel the need to shop, eat, or beautify yourself to silence your uncomfortable emotions?

Finally, by all means, treat yourself, but do it consciously, motivated by self-love and the desire to enjoy. Not to cover your shortcomings.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Riso, W. (2012). Enamórate de ti. Grupo Editorial Planeta.
  • BLACK, D. W. (2007). Revisión del trastorno de compras compulsivas. REVISTA OFICIAL DE LA ASOCIACIÓN MUNDIAL DE PSIQUIATRÍA (WPA)5(1), 14.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.