I was appalled when I was introduced to this concept. How on Earth could anyone claim that putting myself before others was a good thing, let alone the MOST CARING thing I could do!?! The concept defied everything I had been taught for as long as I could remember. I would have rejected it out of hand, had I not already agreed to abide by the Standards of Presence during the course I was taking.
It wasn’t easy, but I stifled my reaction and listened to what the teachers had to say. As I listened, it became clear to me that not only did the concept make good sense, I had been introduced to the concept previously and had entirely missed it.
They say that we have to hear something seven different times from seven different people before it will sink in. I hope it doesn’t take as long for you as it did for me.
Self-Care vs. Self-ish
First of all, let’s differentiate between self-care and selfish: self-care is about making sure you are taking care of your own needs before you attend to the needs of others; selfish is about taking care of yourself to the exclusion of others.
To a recovering codependent like me, that was a fine line. The more I recover, the more obvious that line gets. In case you’re recovering, too, I’ll explain it the way I originally heard it, years ago
Life is like a bank account. My capacity to give is directly related to the deposits I make. If I don’t make sufficient deposits into my actual bank account, I will suffer consequences such as bounced checks, overdraft fees, the eventual closing of my account, and damage to my credit score.
The way that translates into life is that if I’m giving to others without taking care of myself, I suffer exhaustion, resentment, damaged relationships, and a reputation for being, of all things, selfish!
Yes, when I “give” from emptiness, others can sense it. There is fear attached to giving from an empty place. The giving is not genuine, because there is nothing to support it, and others start looking for an underlying motive. It comes across as manipulative and (gasp!) selfish.
Darn. That wasn’t ever my intent! Yet, that was how I functioned for several decades. The hindsight is clear.
Where Do We Learn to Give From Nothing?
I can’t speak for you, but I learned it from someone who learned it from someone, and so on. My mother desperately wanted to be loved. She spent her 90 years on this Earth trying to get love. She manipulated, wheedled, controlled, cajoled, tantrummed, and so on, trying to force others to love her. Of course, it didn’t work.
She bought into the Codependent Promise that if she just loved others enough, they would eventually love her back. She taught that sick belief to her children, raising another generation of unwitting codependents. The fact that it never yielded the results she needed didn’t stop her from trying. She stubbornly plugged along because it was the only way she knew.
She wasn’t getting love, her bucket was empty, so the love she was giving wasn’t very real. It didn’t come across as love, to me or to others. Even when I was small, I was afraid of her and didn’t feel loved.
That didn’t stop me from following the same patterns. They were the only ones I knew, until I finally deeply listened in class that day.
If self-care is the highest form of care, it would probably be helpful to know what it looks like. As I was writing this article, I stopped to fix myself some lunch and go see my chiropractor, even though I knew it would mean missing my deadline. After all, how can I authentically write an article on self-care for others if I’m not taking care of myself? What deep value will my words have if I am not living them?
For me, self-care means really listening to what I need, whether it is the adult me, or some younger part of me that has not fully healed. Self-care means lovingly listening to myself on all levels, not criticizing or censoring my thoughts and feelings. If something feels wrong, self-care requires that I respectfully give my attention to that part and investigate. Making myself wrong and/or ignoring my needs reinforces the patterns I was raised with. Respecting and honoring my needs instills safety and self-care in my internal culture.
The unfamiliarity of self-care is exactly why it felt so foreign and wrong from the beginning. It is simply unfamiliar. My neuropathways aren’t used to being used that way, so my internal “highways” start throwing up “wrong way” signs. Thankfully, I can choose to be conscious and continue my practice as it begins to feel more natural while the pathways are more consistently used.
Here are some self-care practices that feel good to me:
Warm soaking baths
Wearing soft clothing
Making my bed
Connecting with friends
Noticing what I love about my body, mind, spirit, emotions
Brushing my hair
Spending time with my Inner Child
Spending time with my Sacred Self
Going to bed early
Staying up late
This is not an exhaustive list by any means. What are some of your favorite ways of expressing your self-care? I’d LOVE to have you add your favorites in the comments. Together we can create a culture of self-care!
“Self-Care as the Highest Form of Care” is this week’s featured class in the Wednesday Webinar Series. For more information, please see the Calendar.
First-time attendee discount! Use this link to take your first class at Half Price!