Self-Care is an Inside Job
Have you ever wondered why we’re so bad at self-care, why taking care of ourselves is so difficult for us human beings, and not simply inborn? Every week, another book comes out on how to take better care of ourselves. So why are we not getting it?
For one thing, our self-care approach in this culture is made out of the wrong fabric, or if not the wrong fabric, one with the wrong texture. We’re taught that self-care is an external process; it means getting a massage, making time to eat lunch sitting down, taking a walk, putting on our oxygen mask first. All are valid self-caring actions which serve our wellbeing. And yet, a far deeper and richer level of self-care exists, one which is not about externally doing for ourselves, but rather about being with ourselves, internally, in a particular kind of way.
The most effective self-care is not about what we do for ourselves but about how we are being with ourselves, the kind of company we keep inside, the flavor of the conversation we conduct with ourselves inside our own minds. The self-care that profoundly changes our life for the better involves creating a relationship with ourselves that’s infused with kindness, support and curiosity. True self-care, as the word implies, is about genuinely caring about and for how we actually are.
This being variety of self-care, relating with ourselves in a friendly and supportive manner, is not only not encouraged in our culture, but often quite discouraged. In fact, we are afraid of what would happen to us, who we would become, how we would be judged—if we were to value ourselves and suspend the judgment and impatience with which we relate to ourselves. So, what is it about developing a kind and compassionate relationship with ourselves that’s so threatening?
Am I Selfish?
While most of us would claim that we’re pretty good at caring for ourselves, when it comes to actually treating ourselves, internally, like someone we care about, now that feels selfish for sure. How selfish of me to spend time thinking about me, what I need or want, when so many people don’t have that luxury! The fear of being judged (by oneself and others) as selfish is what keeps many people from treating themselves as they would a friend, or asking for kindness from others, even when they desperately need it. As one woman responded when I simply asked her how she was feeling that day, “It’s always about me me me! Too many people have no one to ask them how they are!”
We’re afraid that if we care about ourselves, there won’t be any caring left for others, as if caring were a finite commodity. That is, if we take the time to pay attention to our own experience, we will become so self-involved that we will end up only interested in ourselves, so egotistical that we will stop wanting to ever be kind to anyone else.
In this belief system, our compassion for others is just a façade of sorts, something we do to seem like a good person. We’re desperately afraid of who we would become, were we to relate to ourselves with friendliness, as if just a taste of our own sweetness would unleash the true narcissistic monster within. The truth is that it is only when we feel well taken care of, when our feelings have been properly heard and cared for that we have adequate caring resources to offer others. When our well is full, we are our most self-less and can fully experience our goodness, our inherent desire to be of service.