What does it mean to take care of myself?

My favourite way of saying good bye is “take care of yourself”. Now and again people ask me: “what do you mean by that, what does it mean to take care of myself?”. Good question, perfect for a little analysis.

Here’s some posible reasons for the confusion around self-care:

1. You think it is an act of selfishness if you put yourself first.

This is one of the most common misconceptions people bring in the therapy room.  They say they put others first as they don’t want to be perceived as being selfish (or narcisistic). It is very often just a justification for the lack of self care and an abandonment of self. Co-dependency thrives in this environment when you gravitate around the other (partner, parent, child) forgetting about your own needs.

2. You see no clear boundaries between narcisism, selfishness and self-care.

Where does one stops and the other starts? Not an easy taks, right? So, here’s how I do it.  I use the “my benefit, not against the other” rule. To clarify if your action will be selfish or just self-caring ask yourself these 2 simple questions: 1. Does this benefit me, does this fulfil my needs? And 2. Is this against someone else (or even yourself)? If the answer to this second question is Yes then it might be a selfish action.

3. You do not know what self care is about.

Perhaps you lived in a dysfunctional environment in your first years of life, dominated by fear, unpredictability, abuse or neglect. Adults that have not learned to take good care of themselves when they were little lead sometimes lives dedicated exclusively to others.

So, what would be a good way of taking care of ourselves? Is it just being safe in a shelter, protecting ourselves from accidents and having food on the table? Self-care is about more than survival.

Firstly, it’s about nourishing and honouring your body with good rest and sleep, natural foods and drinks, movement and exercise, relaxing baths and massages to keep it toned and energised. It also includes showing respect for its ageing and transformation and avoiding unhealthy and excesive makeup, starvation and alterations through surgeries only to satisfy the false profile of beauty promoted by the current fashion. Since your physical body is an important part of your identity, you might be tempted to use your body to attract attention and validation from the outside world. That is the oposite of self-care. Getting in touch with your body, embracing it, accepting it as it is and making changes without disturbing its natural functioning is a sign of self-care. 

Secondly, your mind is a programme placed by others into your brain. It holds beliefs and learned behaviours that have been coincidental to your life. They are part of your identity, but they are not you in the same way you are not them.  Using your mental space with care will require to let go of the 80% torturing negative thoughts you entertain each day. It will also mean to be less self-critical and self-punishing and embrace a  more self-caring and self-compassionate attitude towards yourself and your life. You can purify your mind and rewire your brain with new ideas and actions  that change how you feel inside about yourself, others and the world. With practice, you can also learn to become the observer of your mind and control your life from behind the mind.

Thirdly, a good sign of self-care is to reconnect with your soul or spirit, whatever you want to call it. When you live mostly out of consciousness you are generally disconnected from your body too and you let your mind-software run your life by default on automatic pilot. From that space it is most likely that you live in tension, confussion, distress and inner pain. To change this and feel at peace you can practice a form of meditation to help you reach awareness of your wholness, including your body, mind and spirit. 

Lastly, your social conditioning has shaped you to become who you are today and as a result you developed a sense of relating with yourself, your family, others and the world. It took you some learning to get to this version of yourself today, and it will take some unlearning to strip yourself from what is no longer needed or aligned with this real you, as well as some new learnings to guide you become who you really want to be. It is a sign of self-care to routinely check with yourself where you are at, how you feel in your body, mind and soul so you can open yourself to joy and happiness.

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