It’s taken me a long time to learn that self-care isn’t only about things you do for yourself like taking a bubble bath (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Self-care is actually about changing your mindset to prioritise yourself in your own life…treating yourself with love and compassion, creating boundaries and making empowered choices, and filling yourself up first.
“It’s self-full to be first, to be as good as possible to you. To take care of you, keep you whole and healthy. That doesn’t mean you disregard everything and everyone. But you want to come with your cup full. You know: ‘My cup runneth over.’ What comes out of the cup is for y’all. What’s in the cup is mine. But I’ve got to keep my cup full.” – Iyanla Vanzant
Self-care has been one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn in my life thus far. Having grown up in a world and society that raised me to be a ‘good-girl’ it felt wrong, like an act of defiance, to consider my own needs, let alone take action towards them. Despite knowing what I know, being an educated woman, and an advocate for women’s empowerment I have struggled to break out of my conditioning to please others at the expense of my own wellbeing.
Even with much ‘work’ on myself, it wasn’t until recently that I realised how deep this programming runs and how this disease-to-please pattern was still evident within me. I knew I needed to go deeper to shift the ingrained thought patterns and behaviours that would lead me to run to rescue others, yet disregard myself in the process – blinding me to a myriad of empowering options and choices around me.
I wondered what was really stopping me from making different, empowered choices. I wondered why I felt the need to do so much more, be depleted, run on empty, self-sabotage (we do this by undermining ourselves, not looking after ourselves, acting in a way or making choices that cause harm or hurt ourselves), feel like a victim, feel used, be last on my list in order to feel I had done a good job or been a good friend or daughter. I wondered why in order to be ‘good’, I needed to feel so bad.
I initially turned to research self-care strategies and rituals for myself, however, as I began to explore further, I noticed that many women around me were complaining about the same issues. I then had a string of coaching clients crippled with the disease to please and in self-wounding patterns. It was as though now that I could see this pattern playing out in full-effect within me, I began to see it everywhere around me – my reticular activation system was hard at work bringing me a mountain of evidence that lack of self-care amongst women was an epidemic!
The golden nugget from my research into self-care was this notion of ‘finding it hard to receive’. The more women I spoke to, the more I realised that doing more, giving more, being more were all manifestations of externalising our value. To many women, our value somehow lives ‘out-there’ and we can only ever grasp it by doing more for others, giving more of our time and energy without necessarily being asked, and enslaving ourselves to living up to an image in our head of what we think we ‘should’ do and how we ‘should’ be.
According to Psychologist Dr Frances Praver, “too many women are modern day martyrs – they give too much, suffer too much, burden themselves unnecessarily, and blame themselves when things go wrong. When women weigh themselves down by the needs and desires of others, there is a slow, silent death occurring – that or they will explode.”
Whilst it has been life-changing to embark on this journey, it has also been excruciatingly difficult for me as a people-pleaser – where my every instinct is to save the other/please the other, often at the cost of my own wellbeing, sanity and safety.
I have learnt what it really means to take care of myself and honour myself. It doesn’t mean we need to throw away our bath bombs – luckily, as I love skin-care and pampering. It simply means that honouring our SELF – our higher self, our true self is deep-seated and lies far beneath the surface. We can’t become self-empowered through bath bombs alone, but we can become empowered and confident and step into our personal leadership when we prioritise our self.
Choice arrives when we not only give ourselves an opportunity to tune into what we really want (this alone can be a big shift if we have never given ourselves permission to ask ourselves this question and sit still long enough to hear the answer) and then to honour it. For me, choice is like a gift that arises whenever I give myself permission to be honest with myself – to say no when I do not want to say yes.
Understanding what true self-care means is definitely a helpful first-step but we then need to apply it in order to transform…..and applying it is a life-long journey of practising and building new ways of being and living in the world. We allow ourselves to make a different choice, an empowered choice, and then another…Our lives are created one choice at a time.
What choices will you make?