The Practice of Self Care
Author: Valarie Bittner M.A. CPC
WHAT IS SELF CARE? Self care is essential to our health and well-being, and can include any activity we do to intentionally and deliberately care of our well-being – physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Although it’s simple in concept, self care is something easy to overlook. It re-fuels us rather than takes from us. Self care is not selfish, and considering our own needs and attending to them also allows us to care for others. Some examples of self care could be feeding ourselves well, getting enough sleep, practicing limits and boundaries in our commitments, time with loved ones, and doing things for enjoyment and relaxation. In essence, when we’re practicing self care we’re living a balanced life, in line with the things are most valuable to us. Self care is choosing to care for ourselves from a place of worthiness, rather than attempting to perform at what we perceive to be the “shoulds” of life, in an attempt to feel worthy and good enough. We know a lot of these things, and can often give great advice to others about self care - like the importance of rest and setting boundaries, letting go of comparison to others, allowing for rest time, etc. The problem is neglecting to talk about the things that get in the way of doing what we know is best for ourselves, and bringing to light the things that keep us from practicing for ourselves the same great advice we give to others. We can get caught by traps and barriers that prevent us from practicing the self care that we know we need. There’s no “3 tips” or easy steps to mastering this, it requires a commitment to look honestly at what gets in the way and a willingness to challenge the barriers and traps we fall into. THE TRAP OF PERFECTIONISM VS SELF COMPASSION The pursuit of perfection is one barrier to the practice of self care. Perfectionism is a self-destructive belief system that fuels the thought “If I can do everything perfectly, I can avoid painful feelings of blame, judgement and shame.” We attempt to feel good enough by earning it through achievement and approval – doing things perfectly and pleasing others perfectly. Perfectionism is an unattainable goal, which sets us up to inevitably fail at this pursuit and sets us up to feel blame, judgement and shame, no matter what we do we can’t be perfect or please everyone all the time. The pursuit of perfection is addictive – when we do inevitably experience blame, judgement or shame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough, and become even more entrenched in our pursuit to do everything perfectly and just right. Perfectionism is the ultimate fear – people pursuing perfection are afraid that the world is going to see them for who they really are and they won’t measure up. Perfectionism is a shield – we carry it thinking it will protect us from being hurt, but it protects us from being seen. Pursuing perfection hampers achievement and is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, life paralysis and missed opportunities, because the fear of failing and not meeting others expectations can keep us from pursuing and going after opportunities. We can let go of perfectionism and replace it with self compassion. Self compassion is similar to having compassion for others - first we notice others suffering, then we feel moved by it and inspired towards action to help. When we’re compassionate we also offer understanding and kindness to others in their difficulties, failures, and imperfections or inadequacies. Self compassion involves responding to yourself in the same way when you’re having a difficult time, are confronted with a personal failure, or notice or are reminded of something you don’t like about yourself. Embracing self compassion means that instead of ignoring your pain, rather pausing to acknowledge “this is really difficult right now,” and asking yourself “how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?” We can’t always be or get what they want. Suffering is inevitable and part of the shared human experience. We all have times of suffering. When we try to deny this truth our suffering increases in the forms of stress, frustration and self-criticism. When we practice acceptance of this truth we can approach times of suffering with self compassion. You can ask yourself: How does the pursuit of perfection hold me back? What am I afraid of letting others see about me, and attempt to hide by trying to be perfect? What’s one thing I’m willing to do to practice self compassion? THE TRAP OF SHAME VS VULNERABILITY The trap of shame is another barrier to the practice of self care. Shame is the belief that something we’ve done or experienced makes us flawed and unworthy. Shame is different than guilt - guilt is a healthy response to doing something that goes against our values and resolves when we expose it, seek forgiveness and do what we can to make amends. Shame says “I am bad” and guilt says “I did something bad.” Shame causes us to want to hide, which then causes it to grow. Shame thrives in secrecy. We can challenge shame and replace it with vulnerability. Vulnerability involves uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure, and is the feeling we get when we step out of our comfort zone. Practicing vulnerability can feel uncomfortable. We might try to avoid vulnerability by striving for perfection. Being vulnerable is courageous and involves the willingness to engage rather than withdraw, and to dare and risk failing. Being vulnerable is the willingness to be authentic and seen for who we are without pretending or hiding. Some examples of vulnerability could include saying no, asking for help, sharing our feelings, asking for forgiveness from someone, being accountable, doing something you’ve never done before or aren’t sure you’ll be good at. What feels vulnerable will be different for different people.
You can ask yourself: How am I protecting myself from being vulnerable? What prices am I paying when I hide or withdraw? What’s one thing I’m willing to do to practice vulnerability? An active support system is a great way to practice self care. Your support system might include your treatment team, family members, partner or friends. Participating in a support group with others who can relate to the recovery journey can be another great way to connect with others to receive and offer support. Westwind now has a private Facebook group called “Westwind Support Community” which is available for all our current and past clients, as well as anyone seeking support in their recovery.
Use this group to…
Share tips to keep your recovery in focus!
Share your accomplishments, goals, challenges, gratitudes and strategies in your recovery journey.
Hear words of encouragement and insight from others who are recovered and in recovery.
Share your pro-recovery art and creative writing.
Improve your self care practice today!