Self love or self care is like a movement these days. It’s everywhere. Why the heck is it so hard? Aren’t we called the culture of self-absorbed narcissists? We should be the best at taking care of ourselves right? Beneath self absorption is a very vulnerable longing for love with very individual obstacles to receiving and taking it in.
Likely our self absorption is providing a kind of care that isn’t care. Is self love looking outside to a guru or even a therapist who will tell us what to do and how to take care? Maybe we can buy some flowers or a new pair of pants and that is self care or that is the way to love ourselves? “I need a fabulous vacation and then I will feel nurtured and cared for and replenished,” right? “I just need a lover and then I will feel cared for” or “that chocolate” or “that glass of wine” or “three hours in front of the TV to chill” and the list goes on. Sometimes doing any one of these things is self care but without checking in we can’t know. Imagine giving someone who is thirsty a bowl of grain – a lovely gift, but it doesn’t quench their thirst.
Our second big obstacle to loving and caring for ourselves is our own past. For many the first reaction to this “self love” thing is a kind of eye roll and beneath that a lurking sense of shame or “hmmm the fact that I don’t love myself must mean there is something wrong with me.” Or “I have to earn love, I can’t just give it freely to myself” or just denial of our vulnerable longing for care and love.
What other obstacles from our past must we trudge through? Maybe we want other people to care for us and the idea – conscious or unconscious – of actually having to pay attention to ourselves brings up big feelings because we don’t want to be responsible for our well being – we want someone else to do it. We want to go back to the pleasant memories of childhood when all our needs were provided for. Alternatively, loving ourselves puts us in direct touch with the pain, anger, grief, and blame for what we never got in childhood and so we turn away from loving ourselves. Or, maybe quite simply, we have a bad habit – we have been moving so fast for so long we have forgotten how to slow down and notice and care for ourselves.
Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be,
because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose,
and then where are you?
Self love and self care is the capacity to go inside and feel who each of us is in the present without analyzing or judging, noticing all of our experience and meeting discomfort with a kind word or thought and meeting joy with kind recognition and celebration. “Oh sweet heart, you feel left out. Let’s just feel it and breathe and not judge” you say to yourself. Or “You did a great job. You can be big and happy about it. Good for you!” or “I want do that differently next time. Shucks…I mucked that up and I am still loveable.”
Self love and self care is a noticing what is happening inside with deliberate attention, slowness and curiosity and asking “what do I need right now and what would be good for me right now?” and listening…. and waiting… for the reply coming from inside. If an obstacle comes in, notice and see if you can feel its roots and offer compassion and wait like a mother waits with her crying child. Self love and self care is also about taking into consideration well being in a larger context. Slowing down and asking, “What do I stand for? What do I want to create in my lifetime? What are my priorities? What tends to get in my way?”, and then making sure our present action is in line with what we intend. Along the way there is always discomfort in larger and smaller doses and lovingly we can practice meeting each “ouch” with care. Over and over we stop what we are doing to give ourselves our full and kind attention forever. This is self care.
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Traci is a therapist and the CEO of PSYCHED & Managing Director of Sidewalk Talk. Her therapy work is centered around working with couples and individuals working on their relationships. Her many years in corporate life make her a good match for executives and leaders.