The concept of self-care and self-soothing is one that I explore a lot in therapy sessions. A hat tip to the fact that although therapy can be powerful, it is a mere 50 mins out of 10080 in a week.
Many people believe that self-care and self-soothing are something they cannot do and will never be able to do. Like many things, I believe these are skills that can be learnt (and that to be able to do them independently, we must first internalise the experience of being cared for and soothed by another).
Like many things, I believe we should have been taught these skills when we were young. That we develop ideas about our worthiness from the way we are treated by those around us. This happens in infancy but is also influenced by our current relationships and how our wider culture reacts to us. For those of us from minority identities, whose way of life and very existence has been unwelcome, looking after ourselves becomes even more important (and even more difficult). Hence Audre Lorde’s infamous:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”
And whilst this probably isn’t the post to go into this in detail, I also believe that in a different (better) world our communities and institutional social support would leave far less emphasis on the ‘self’ in self-care*.
Anyway, I was writing about Partner….
‘I’m talking frozen pizza, sweatpants on
Loading up the next “Dance Moms”
No one’s calling me today
I won’t answer anyway’
So you’ve added ‘do self-care’ to your to-do list, scheduled in a bubble bath and downloaded Enya’s greatest hits, job done, right? This is the point where things start to get a bit more complicated and the seemingly simple act of self-care reveals itself to actually be a series of complex interlinked tasks which can be very challenging, particularly to trauma survivors/ those who have experienced Childhood Emotional Neglect:
- Self-awareness/body awareness (Noticing what’s going on for you right now. How are you feeling? Are you tired? Lonely? Annoyed?)
- What do you want right now? (To run away from your feelings as quickly as humanly possible? A good doom scroll on Instagram? To e-mail your boss back and tell them to set themself on fire?).
- What do you need right now? Is this the same thing as what you want? Are there some significant downsides of indulging in your ‘things I want’ list? If so, can you tolerate the discomfort of parking your knee jerk impulses in order to not torpedo your entire existence?
- Do you ultimately believe that it’s ok to meet your own needs? That you’re a person deserving of care and comfort and nurturance?
If any of these items feel particularly challenging, this is the point where I suggest speaking to a therapist might be useful.
Also, for the record, sometimes we all pick the ‘unhealthy’ option to cope with difficulties, and as long as you’re not significantly harming people (yourself included), give yourself some slack. Do what you need to do to get through. The shame around being ‘bad’ often creates a negative cycle where you feel worse about yourself and then feel even less desire to treat yourself as someone who is worthy of care and compassion. Also, in many instances, removing even ‘unhealthy’ coping strategies before you’ve put in place new ways of dealing with distress can be a bad idea.
Anyway, I’ll leave Partner with the last word:
‘We’ve all got different problems, and different ways to solve them, but I hope you have a place where you feel ok’
* and it’s probably even less the post to go into the fascinating (but head melting) ideas of folks like Dan Siegel who problematise the whole concept of self as a dangerous fallacy. IntraConnected is on my reading list, along with approx. 50 million other books, so watch this space for a review in roughly 10 years’ time….