There is a lot posted about self-care these days on social media. In an age where stress levels are higher than ever and the to-do list NEVER get completed by the end of the day (unless it’s an abbreviated version), self-care is vital.
However, some of us have been raised in circumstances where looking after ourselves as a priority feels kind of selfish. It could be a warped religious notion that one must be completely selfless and “trust” that you will receive the care you need from others or from God; a sense of guilt being always present when you attend to your own whims and desires. It may be that you were informed, in word or action, that you were unimportant or worthless when you were little, leaving you feeling really uncomfortable with self-care.
You’ll know if this is you when it’s your birthday; you’ll probably feel uncomfortable about the fuss made over you, especially when it comes to receiving generous gifts. You will most likely try to match the gift-giving in some way in order to feel more OK about gift-receiving.
Over the years of working with people in my many roles, I have found that it is busy Mums who are most likely to neglect themselves in order to care for their loved ones. I will often ask clients who are Mum’s how much time they spend each week focused on caring for themselves, pampering themselves or looking after their wellbeing.
The answer has many times come back as “Less than an hour.”
I think a lot of self-care doesn’t happen because what drives it is self-love. For these sacrificial Mums, not caring for their kids would seem abhorrent, they love their kids and would never neglect them. Somewhere along the line, they have lost touch with the truth that we are all inherently lovable.
A person may develop certain traits which make it harder to feel connected to them or feel empathy for them. These traits are most likely defences against experiences of being unloved earlier on in life.
The newborn baby probably didn’t arrive with these traits, though genetic factors may be at play. From what I know, most traits which create barriers that prevent love are the effect of nurture.
French spiritual teacher, Arnaud Desjardins wrote, “There are no bad people, only badly loved people.”
Developed defences prevent those individuals from close contactful relationships, which in turn can lead to them being judged harshly as difficult or awkward. Even the most troubled souls who have walked the planet and caused immense harm were not born evil or bad.
As the French spiritual teacher, Arnaud Desjardins wrote, “There are no bad people, only badly loved people.”
So, for most of us, I think the kind of self-care we need to offer ourselves is the kind one would offer to a young child; the kind of self-care that would nurture the mind and spirit of that child. This kind of self-care is gentle, supportive and affirming.
Don’t we have enough criticism coming our way already? We live in a commercialised world which pumps out messages about our value being based on what we possess or how we appear. If you try to feed that hunger for love with new things, you will always be hungry.
I know I say this a lot, but if you find those negative, critical thoughts are getting on top of you and preventing you from developing, see a professional. It could be the best money you ever spend. What price would you pay to become the person you want to be?
That said, some self-care needs to feel uncomfortable.
You can read earlier posts about my thoughts on growth, failure, capacity vs demand etc. There are some things I have been learning over the past two years which is helping me recognise that some forms of self-care have to “hurt”.
For example, if you are in your 50s or beyond, your muscle mass will be slowly diminishing at the average rate of approximately 10% every decade. It’s a process known medically as Sarcopenia. It was once thought that this process was an inevitability but evidence from Masters athletes, now in their 70s, shows us that we can maintain the quality of our muscle tissue as we age to a much greater degree than we thought.
By pushing the body really hard and doing it regularly.
How does that relate to self-care?
If we did really care for ourselves, we would consider the most important things, like health (including mental health) a priority. And you just can’t maintain good health without making a regular concerted effort. Most of us love eating crappy junk food because it is full of fat, salt and sugar, foods that we are primevally “programmed” to desire. It is much tougher to eat healthily than to eat badly, especially when so much tasty junk food is so cheap!
A similar principle applies in aspects of life such as relationships, career and finance. To care for yourself in a rounded way involves pushing yourself and, to a degree, a certain amount of discomfort.
Some self-care needs to be tough and some needs to be gentle. Both can feel very uncomfortable for very different reasons.
If you’re avoiding gentle self-care, you will burn out, become exhausted and demoralised. If you’re avoiding tough self-care, you are hindering your opportunity to grow and develop.
As always, awareness of this process is important. Knowing yourself through reflection, contemplation and the wisdom of learned teachers will open your eyes and enable you to find the right balance for you right now.
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Wellbeing… it means different things to different people but one thing is for certain, it means a lot to everyone. We all want to be well, healthy, full of vitality and joy. But life is sometimes tough and there is no such thing as a pain-free life.
Learning to live well, despite the tough times, is key to being happy and fulfilled. This is what this blog is all about.