Self-Care & Self-Compassion.
An over-saturated topic that often leaves one feeling annoyed and overwhelmed when talking about it. We have all been told to take better care of ourselves. We all know the phrase “Put your own oxygen mask on first”. No one needs me to say it to you again. It would be like assuming that someone who smokes needs to be told it’s bad for them.
And yet, compassion fatigue, resentment, neglecting one’s mental and physical health and the inability to put one’s self first contribute to the highest rates of burnout, chronic health issues and more.
So…what gets in the way?
Problem: The misconception about what self-care is.
Self-care is about caring for yourself. In general, it stands for anything you do that is good for you. It is about self-compassion, self-efficacy and enhancing your self-esteem.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. No, self-care isn’t only about doing less, listening to Enya while painting your nails and relaxing in a bubble bath. For some of you, that is what it means, but it is not the answer for all of us.
Sometimes it is about doing more. Doing more of what you love. Saying “yes” to the things you want to say yes to. Taking the leap and doing that “thing” you have been longing to do for years.
Sometimes it’s about getting your hands dirty. Playing in the dirt. Hiking up to a beautiful peak or rearranging your home to open up the flow of creative energy.
Sometimes it is about saying “no” - letting go of relationships, roles and ideas that no longer serve you. Walking away from the band-aids that you have been putting on deep wounds that need to heal.
Sometimes it is about making the hard choices that we may not “want” to do but know may give us greater freedom - getting off of social media, giving up drinking or substances, quitting a job that stifles our joy or taking that first step to put ourselves out there again, even if we have been burned before.
I love what Joseph Cardillo, author of Body Intelligence says - “Self-care isn’t just about treating yourself—it’s about improving yourself, which is what truly makes us feel good about who we are.”
So as you think about what it means to build a practice of self-care, I want you to extend your thinking beyond the preconceived notions you all have. What do you want to do? Who do you want to be? What do you have to be willing to let go of to get there? And then you start there.
Problem: The lack of understanding of what self-care actually does for the mind and body.
In addition to enhancing one’s productivity, cultivating greater self-esteem, allowing greater empathy and consistency in one’s life and just feeling all around “better”, self-care literally changes your body chemistry.
Self-care releases oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “cuddle” or “feel good” hormone. This hormone has historically been understood as enhancing feelings of connectedness, love and compassion and what’s awesome is the more it is released in response to self-care activities, the more you feel those things towards yourself. Plus, oxytocin release has been correlated with improved sleep quality, a reduction of cortisol in the body, enhance your immune system and more.
Now, as if you need more rationale for self-care after hearing about that, the more you practice self-care, the more you hardwire new patterns in the brain that are less negative and/or self-destructive. It is a principle referred to as “Acting as if…”. The more you act as if you believe you are worth it, the more your brain starts to build connections to believe you are, in fact, worth it.
Awesome, right? And to me, the idea I can eventually get to the point that I no longer shit all over myself every time something doesn’t go “right” or I “let someone down” is motivation enough to keep working on my own self-care practices.
Problem: Shame is a bitch and leaves us feeling like self-care is a luxury, something we “shouldn’t” do.
I work with clients all of the time who constantly focus on supporting others, pushing back against me when I try to factor them in to the equation with harsh labels of "selfish" and "self-absorbed". The belief is deeply embedded in their brains. They cannot put themselves first, even for a moment, because it would go against their values and beliefs and activates their deep-rooted shame thoughts that if they put themselves first (or even equal to others) then they will actively be threatening their connection and belonging with others and in the world. And so, they put it off. They put themselves last to try and alleviate the fears shame enacts within them as they strive to be the “best” they can be for those around them. And I get that.
But, shame is a dick, a very convincing dick. And I, too, have listened to him for years. I mean, I am in a profession focused on putting the needs of others at the forefront every day. And then I leave work and go into a life where I have perpetuated the notion I can do it all, for every person, and require nothing in return. A farse with such a deep history that changing it now seems impossible. And, if I dont, what is the cost? To what end does this lead us to give shame the reigns to our lives?
For me, that cost has been even greater feelings of shame, exhaustion, resentment, disconnection and severe loneliness. I feel shame whenever I can’t “keep up” with those ridiculous pressures before me and assume that wanting to put myself first or expecting others to show up for me is wrong.
And guess what? It never ends up leaving me feel like a better or more fulfilled person. I actually have seen relationships struggle because I burn myself out to the point I can’t be there for them or end up pulling back from them and isolate until I can show up again. And what do you think that leaves me feeling. Yep, you guessed it. More shame. Catching on? Shame keeps us trapped in a repetitive cycle of self-destruction as long as we let it.
So what choice do we have?
I want to assert the notion that being selfish is not evil or unkind. Taking care of our needs, nurturing our dreams & getting clear on our why is imperative to be able to be the best version of ourselves we can be. Sometimes, it cannot be about the other people in your life. Sometimes, we have to dare to dream of a world where we, too, are a factor. Because when we don't, we are setting examples to people around us that they, too, "should" not put themselves first AND reinforce to people in our lives not to expect to factor us in. And do you know what this breeds? Exactly, the shame cycle.
And so, I leave it to you. What would it look like to allow yourself some time to be "selfish". What effects might you experience if you gave yourself permission to show up to your life more fully?
I would love to hear about your self-care practices, goals, and ideas! Feel free to email me so we can help keep each other accountable! What am I doing? This week I am in Hawaii, taking time and spending it with friends and family and disconnecting from all of the “shoulds”. I know they will be anxiously awaiting me when I get back to Portland, but for now, they can fuck off.