We hear a lot about the importance of self-care. It’s become a pretty big industry. It’s even commonplace to be asked what we do to take care of ourselves when we are applying for certain jobs. We know it’s good for us. We want to do it, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Self-care is incredibly personal and defined on a case-by-case basis. What I might consider self-care you might consider a chore or a waste of time. When we finally figure out what self-care means to us, we run into other obstacles. We don’t have the time or the means or the motivation. Sometimes we feel that we have such a deficit of self-care that we’re overwhelmed by what we need and don’t know where to start. We just keep slogging through life because it’s what we know how to do and what we’ve always done.
Let’s take a break from all that slogging and look at some of the common issues that get in the way of self-care:
A lack of understanding of what self-care is: A good way to find out what feels like self-care to you is to explore. Ask yourself what you need and want more of in life and what you need to do to get it. For some it might be more play time. For others it might be more work time. Some of us might need more massages and nights out with friends while others might require more time to prepare meals and quiet time. Sometimes it’s more specific. Someone might want to self-advocate more in relationships needs to create a self-care plan around that. Some of us need many hours of self-care per week and some of us need a lot fewer. And it’s subject to change from week to week and age to age; what we consider self-care at 25 might be different at 35.
Defining ourselves based on what other people think: When we define ourselves and our worth based on what others think we imprison ourselves. We either deprive ourselves of the self-care behaviors we know we need or we engage them in secret, surrounding ourselves with guilt. We feel we have to steal that time instead of owning it. I know how hard this is. We live in a culture that encourages us to define our worth by how busy we are, how overworked and exhausted we are. If we have anything left to give at the end of the day we haven’t done enough. We’re not as worthy as someone who doesn’t make time for themselves.
Low self-worth: The lower our self-worth the less we believe that we have the right to self-care. We’re on a hamster wheel just running to try to reach that coveted status symbol of worth. We run ourselves into the ground. We work around the clock. We don’t say “no.” We don’t hold limits with other people. We people please. We try to fit in.
Perfectionism: We eat into our self-care time with work, chores, favors for other people. It’s hard for us to stop something mid-project or before it meets our unattainable measure of satisfaction. Sometimes it’s a little more subtle; we don’t want to start a self-care routine until we (are in a relationship, move, lose weight, are sure we have the job, etc.) This is dicey because there will never be a right time to start the routine. There will always be something that prevents us from taking care of ourselves. We’ll just keep running on that hamster wheel.
Inability to ask for help/define needs: When we introduce self-care into our lives it usually requires a change somewhere else. We need to restructure our time and this can impact other aspects of our lives and relationships. When we can’t ask for what we need we stay stuck. Not asking for help when we need it is a great way to make self-care seem like a chore. It becomes one more thing we have to get done instead of something that feels restorative and nutritive.
Shame: When we carry beliefs that we are defective, not enough, unworthy, or intrinsically bad it’s difficult for us to believe that we deserve to take care of ourselves. We’re usually too busy trying to prove our worth by taking care of others to give ourselves care. This is an insidious issue that has many faces and can show up in various aspects of our lives. It can feel nearly impossible to take care of ourselves when we’re carrying around shame.
The list looks like a pretty tall order of change to address, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s challenging. We’ll have to be willing to look at our patterns and narratives and do some uncomfortable work. It’s better than the alternative, though. It’s better than staying stuck in the pile of shame and resentment and exhaustion. Let’s get to work.
Love and Be Loved,