Self-Care: from the Root
"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection." ~Buddha
In this fast-paced world we live in and with folks living high stress lives, having high demands at work, dealing with dysfunctional families, and the rise of drug use/misuse- it’s no wonder so many have sought meaning and awareness on “self-care”. What activities or things can you think of on the topic of self-care? Most likely taking a hot bubble bath, talking to someone, doing yoga/ exercise, starting a meditation or breath practice, going to an excotic or relaxing place, taking a day trip, doing an activity you enjoy, etc. While all these things are great COPING SKILLS (activities that help you deal with what’s going on and may even help you to relax) they are not necessarily activities that will prevent the reason why you’re seeking self-care to begin with!
By definition, ‘self-care’ means to literally take care of yourself- pretty straight forward, eh? So basically, it could really be anything that you are doing to take care of yourself. This expands our horizon just a bit from the above list, and to get straight to the point (because I don’t want to fluff up this post with remedial stuff that may or may not interest you), I believe one of the hardest and toughest choices we have to make as part of ‘adult-ing’ is making decisions that are going to serve us well and towards our ‘higher’ good. This is a long list of decisions/ items, but most recently to me it has manifested in my personal and work relationships and the time I invest in them. It is crucial that we surround ourselves with those that will help us get on a better path of self care. This will most likely require you to BUILD a life that you want to live and BUILD a life that doesn’t require so much self-care.
My Journey with Self-Care
For the last eight years of my life I devoted myself (yes, I was single most of that time and had the time to give!) to taking care of others in community mental health setting (in a jist, mostly medicaid recipients who also had problems with drug use, trauma, and poverty). Because of the nature of this type of job, it is high up there with one of the most stressful (but also rewarding) jobs one could have. From working in one of the most drug-infested areas in Philly, having to work evening/ weekend hours that allowed little time for a social life, high exposure to vicarious trauma (exposure of hearing trauma stories), having financial stress of being told each year a clinic may have to be shut down, and having clients on safety plans from thoughts of suicide, where one eventually succeeded- this was the last straw for me. All therapists are human and have emotions; hearing about this stuff affects us regardless of how other counselors want to convey, often showing up as bullet-proof. Reality check- all counselors need to own up the effects of doing this work. The motto “not taking stuff home” sounds good, in theory, but from a humanistic perspective it’s unavoidable! In addition, having to deal with what I call “systemic trauma” from dysfunctionally run organizations- yes, us therapist and supervisors/ administrators of therapist are human too and not perfect at all. We don’t always receive the emotional support from administration as we would give to our clients and this often ends up in a very dysfunctional systemic triangle, where the therapist is in the middle- as if we didn’t need more stress! These can be a taboo subjects that many mental health professionals will deny to their death bed. After almost 8 years of surviving these systems, I became really good at self-care, knowing when to be diplomatic, and setting boundaries. During this time is when I discovered breathwork- for which I am eternally grateful, because honestly I don’t know what I would have done without it. Just as easily as I absorbed some of my client’s stuff (HSP/ empath here) I was able to release it just as quick with breathwork; so it was perfect for me. Here is the double catch though, it didn’t help to resolve the ROOT of the problem, which means that I kept absorbing and had to keep doing breathwork to maintain a manageable level of stress while taking care of my emotional self.
From the ROOT
The self-care that we know now is basically like weeding your garden; you can buy chemicals to kill them or get rid of them- but will need to repeat frequently, OR you can pull the weeds from the root and hopefully have less weeds to pull next time. As I mentioned earlier, doing hot baths and such is not a bad thing, I am not suggesting you stop any of that. I am suggesting you take a deeper look at what is going on in your life know that increases that stress threshold for you. Is it financial? Or are you letting your mind/ thoughts bully you? Or maybe your childhood taught you a belief or value that no longer serves you?
Have you ever heard the phrase “fill your own cup” or “take care of yourself first because no one else will do it for you”? It’s relevant here because this universe we live in is based on a never ending cycle of energy coming in and flowing out from you, so if you keep giving it away without taking the time to refill your own cup, how would you ever thrive? You may be able to get the bare minimum done but then be completely exhausted and depleted by the end of the day.
For anyone that likes to support or help others, if this is you- I can tell you right now you probably will give, give, and give regardless of what the other person shares with you. This used to be me years ago, until I learned that if I didn’t give of myself to EVERYTHING, I actually felt more grounded (centered) and less chaotic. I started tuning-in with myself and listening to that internal gauge that would let me know when someone was more of a ‘giver’ and more of a ‘taker’. I became more cautious of my giving around these ‘takers’- and limiting friendships with them. I would be clear with them about what I can and cannot do- setting boundaries can be a little scary at first, especially if you’re used to being a “yes” person, but be patient with yourself; there’s a lot of power in saying ‘no’ and sometimes it takes time to be comfortable with that. There is a fine line between helping others and enabling others- but you have to find out for yourself where that line lies. After doing this process for a while, I noticed that when I did things for others, it was to truly give with authenticity; whereas before I gave because I wanted others to love and accept me- and this right here, is where the ROOT lies for many. If you ever have to give anything to anyone so they will accept and love you more this is a HUGE red flag, the dysfunction at the heart of manipulation. If someone truly loves or cares about you none of the material things should matter- where you go, what you do or say, or what you give to them because love is the best gift you can give others and yourself! This is true self-care from the root, LOVE.