I’m a Psychologist – And I’ve Had It With Self-Care

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Okay, maybe that’s not fair. I haven’t had it with self-care in the sense that walking, sleeping, making out, eating good foods, being with your people, practicing a hobby, and treating your body with some kindness are all great and wonderful things. 

So is binge-watching trashy television and eating lots of chips and guacamole. You are worthy of love and care. You are worthy of prioritizing that care.

But somewhere along the line, the idea of self-care has gone off the rails, becoming a cure-all for every human ill and somehow yet another thing women feel like they are failing at.  More than a year into the pandemic, a couple of hours alone and a mani/pedi are probably not going to have you feel fully refreshed and restored. That is not because you are “failing at self-care”; that is because you are human.

Maybe we could just agree on a few things (pretty please):

1. You cannot fail at self-care. 

By definition, it is about you nurturing and taking care of yourself. This is not a thing that gets a grade or can be failed, any more than your children can fail at being loved. When your babies are sick, you hold them and love them and take care of them. You do this because you know they need and deserve your love and presence. They don’t fail at being taken care of if they’re still sick even after your snuggles and lavender. Our kids are worthy of our love and care, even if it doesn’t “fix” things, and so are you, mama.

2. Self-care is not a substitute for community. 

Like many of you, the last year of our family’s life was exceptionally crappy and challenging on many fronts. In the midst of that, we were the recipients of tremendous care from so many people. Gift cards to Starbucks, N95 masks, meals, unpublished numbers to the doctors my kid needed, and people who showed up in my yard to talk were all incredible gifts of care that others offered. 

Even as I think back on all those gifts, I get a little weepy. Our small (and big) acts of showing up for others matter more than I think we realize. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that suggesting that someone who is deep in the weeds “practice self-care” to feel better is, um, less than helpful. Instead, if you’re thinking of someone who needs some care, maybe think of how you could be a part of that care. And, if you are overwhelmed and struggling, perhaps, instead of beating yourself up for “not being good at self-care,” you could reach out and ask for some support.

3. Self-care doesn’t cure being human. 

While doing activities that nurture our sense of well-being is a good and important endeavor, it never has been or will be a cure for living in a world that has some real pain.  If you are grieving, there is wisdom in being gentle and kind to yourself, but you are still probably going to be sad. That’s okay. 

If you’re newly single, it’s probably a great idea to schedule some time with a good friend, and, if you’re still lonely at the end of that time, that’s okay too. If you have a newborn, you are going to be tired and maybe a little haggard. An actual human being is depending on you to live, and that’s just a lot to adjust to. It is so much responsibility that a nap and a shower will likely not leave you feeling fully refreshed. That is most definitely okay.

What I’m trying to say is that we need love and care – from ourselves and others. 

It’s a basic part of our human wiring. But, spa days, eight glasses of water a day, an exercise program, journaling, and scheduled quiet were never meant to be magical detours around life’s inevitable losses and challenges or the feelings that come with those experiences. The thing we most need is compassion for ourselves and others, because sometimes life is very hard, and it is okay if you are still feeling that, even after you take up yoga.

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