The word “self-care” has become so common its almost meaningless. What do you think when you hear “self-care”? What do you mean when you say “self-care”? Do you know what your friends or therapist means when they say it? If you are interested in what I mean when I say “self-care”, read on.
When I say “self-care” I mean care of “the self”. Care of my whole person. Care of all of the parts of me. Care of my angry teenager-self, my sad toddler-self, my perfectionistic 20 year-old-self and my exhausted mom-self. It means I am working to love myself in the same way my Creator does, even the immature, emotional, unhealthy and selfish parts of me. It means I am working to practice unconditional love of myself because feeling safe and loved births growth.
When I first started practicing self-care, I just did the relaxation exercises and my built in healthy routines. This worked well enough. As life got a little more complicated, I found myself leaning towards self-discipline–doing the healthy (but hard) coping skills, but screaming for a little break! Life became somewhat overwhelming (I got sick) and I started to give myself a much-needed break, but I can see I fell into self-indulgence–reaching for the quick relief rather than the healthier choice too often. Now, I realize there is a time for all forms of self-care and the only way to know which one is best, is to listen and attend to myself. To give myself the kind of individualized attention I give to others.
There is no black and white rule-book in this type of self-care. This type of self-care has nothing really to do with massages and getting nails done. This type of self-care involves listening to yourself, knowing yourself and working in a integrated way with yourself to make the best decision possible for the whole system of YOU. I think Rachel Walker’s 5 attachment needs (as written about in the wonderful “Trauma and Recovery Handbook”) give us some good ideas for where to start in our journey to take “Care of Self”.
- Attune, see and know self
- Reassure and comfort self
- Delight in self
- Protect self
- Support self to explore and try new things
Can you show up for you–all the various parts of you–in this way?
I think it may be helpful to learn some EMDR language to help elaborate. Bear with me, my field has some funny words. In EMDR training, during the segment about Structural Dissociation we learn about the Apparently Normal Self (ANP) and the Emotional Parts of self (EP). I think this is really helpful language for taking about Care of the Self. Imagine you have a wise, loving, nurturing and protective ANP who is running a meeting 24/7 with all your EPs. It is the job of the ANP to stay curious, unconditionally loving, listen, but also stay firmly in charge of the self. So, for example, when you have an angry EP (who feels like a teenager) and wants to “cut that a-hole off” while driving. The ANP can lovingingly step in and say something like “Thank you so much for pointing out the injustice just done to us. Its true, that was not right and being angry is normal. However, I wonder if there is a more productive use of our anger here. There really is nothing that we can do to that driver to defend yourself against this injustice, this is just one of the things that happens while driving. Maybe we need to scream in the car, maybe we need to listen to angry music, maybe we just need to feel our anger and be validated. Whatever we decide is best, I want you to know that I see you, I validate you and I am sorry this injustice occurred.”
You can see that as you practice this “Care of Self” the outcome will be different every time. It involves really listening to all the parts of self and taking a very individualized approach to each situation. This is how I believe my God listens to me, this is how I try to parent my kids, its time I gave myself the same attention.
What are you feeling? What do you want? Listen.
What would be comforting? Listen.
What would feel really protective right now? Listen.
What would make you feel supported to explore? Listen?
I love you as you are. Caring for you is so much fun. You are a rare delight!