In my early attempts at self-care, I believed in the fantasy that I could perfectly take care of myself. However, in my years of working with myself and my clients around self-care, I’ve learned that there is no such thing as perfect self-care. Instead, I’ve found authentic self-care, which is anything but perfect. Authentic self-care must be practiced bit by bit, with great determination. Of course, we need support from other people along the way.
I’ve also learned about self-care “blocks,” my shorthand for anything that seems to keep us from practicing the self-care we desire. I see some blocks as personal. We may not be familiar with many self-care practices or have the resources or time to practice them. Some of us may not even feel like we deserve to care for ourselves.
I believe that a lot of self-care blocks have societal aspects, too. For example, in a culture where taking sick days is frowned upon, we receive the message, again and again, that there isn’t time or space for our self-care now—but there might be later, if we work harder. (This societal block is why I so often go back to this quote from Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”)
Rather than something that we “should” do, I hope we can begin to see self-care as a framework that helps us stay true to our values. When used as an internal compass, the practice of authentic self-care almost always ensures a creative generosity that ripples out much farther than its initial impact.
I believe that only by creating a collective movement of human beings dedicated to practicing authentic self-care will we ever create a world that values and cares for all people. Here are a few snippets from my book selfcarefully.
Self-Care and Vulnerability
Brené Brown has transformed my view of vulnerability. While interviewing people about shame, she realized that some people withstood the damaging effects of shame better than others. Those people, who she calls “wholehearted,” embrace their imperfections rather than trying to make them go away. They use the power of authenticity and vulnerability to create meaningful connections.
Like many people, I wasn’t raised to value vulnerability. My parents organized their lives around not sharing difficult emotions. As I got older, dominant culture demanded I be a certain way as
a woman. I always tried to be the “together” one in my relationships, often hiding my real feelings. Because I was too afraid to be outwardly vulnerable, I sacrificed the authenticity and connection I craved.
Now, I try to live my life from a place of vulnerability. I take a lot of risks in my relationships and my work. I speak my true opinions as often as I can. I’ve learned that, as powerful as it is, vulnerability rarely feels good as I practice it. During times when I feel very vulnerable, I try to add in extra self-care such as taking time to journal about my feelings, picking a few tarot cards, or going to bed a little earlier.
I’ve also learned that I need to practice vulnerability in a safe space. For me, it’s been a bit of a process to understand who is and who isn’t safe. Checking in with my body helps a lot. My body relaxes in the presence of people with whom I feel safe, and I can almost always trust this relaxation.
I think the moment has arrived for all of us to make a commitment to feeling our feelings, opening up to others, and taking risks when they align with our values (and when we feel safe enough to take them). If we want to change and grow, both as ourselves and as a world, we need to appreciate the vulnerability in ourselves. We need to create safe spaces for everybody to practice its power.
Self-Care and Reparenting Yourself
After working with many women around their self-care, I began to notice a pattern. The women would start to put themselves to bed earlier and wake themselves up with gentle, loving routines, like stretching their bodies or drinking a mug of hot lemon water. Then, a whole flush of emotions would come up about their relationship with their parents. As we worked through these feelings they began to find a lot of healing and sometimes even forgiveness. I began to realize that these women were reparenting themselves through self-care.
As I understand it, when we are young, our parents are responsible for all of our bodily and emotional care. Some of us got the good stuff—the patient, loving, fun parents. But others,
like me, had the parents who were really struggling with their own lives and didn’t always have a lot of extra care to give away. I certainly experienced love and care—but I also remember rushed mornings and conflict-ridden bedtimes. As an adult, I felt stuck in these patterns, and it seemed so hard to take care of myself, almost like it was wrong. When I finally pushed through the resistance and began caring for myself, I gained more confidence. I realized that I could love myself, regardless of other people’s feelings about me.
And yes, with time, I’ve even begun to forgive my parents. I see now that they were just doing the best they could—and that I don’t need to repeat their patterns. Staying angry with them only holds me back from the love and joy I desire in my life. Growing up means I finally want freedom more than vindication. This has made my life so much richer on every level.
I’m always amazed by the healing that self-care opens up. When I see how much self-care helps me open my heart and enjoy my life, I feel inspired to take care of myself, no matter how hard it feels in the moment.
Self-Care and Caregiving
When I was single and starting my business, I wondered if self-care could really help those who were actively caring for others. The routines and perspectives I offered helped me stay strong and flexible through life’s challenging moments. But would they help caregivers? Within the daily realities of putting another being’s needs in front of your own, did self-care have a place at all?
Then I became pregnant. Immediately, I knew that if I abandoned my self-care, I would lose my source of resilience. From a deep place in myself, I knew that the more I gave myself, the more I would be able to give my son. So, while Jonah grew in my womb, I gave myself coconut oil massages, ate nourishing food, and set new boundaries in my relationships.
Now that my son is born, my self-care varies. Sometimes, I take a bath while Jonah is at daycare. Then, I turn on my computer and try to do some work. Other times, all I can manage is a cup of tea and a few deep breaths while he’s having a fussy day at home. Even if it’s something tiny, the self-care really does work.
More than a year into parenting, my perspective on self-care hasn’t changed at all. I was right about the self-sacrifice—I’ve had to give up more than I ever could have prepared for. But I underestimated how much self-care could help me be resilient within so much selflessness.
Self-care also helps me appreciate the sacrifice—and how much it connects me to humanity. I see that all parents struggle to care for their children, and I recognize that the struggle is more difficult for those who don’t have access to the resources that make my self-care practices possible. Further, I see that we are all caring for others, whether they are our children, our aging parents, or the friends that lean on our strength. This understanding gives me more compassion and respect for the hard, often unrecognized work that is so important to the health of our society and the future of our world.
Self-Care and the Shadow
I grew up in a Christian Science church (where my grandparents went) and then a new thought hippie church (where my mom finally settled). Both traditions agreed on the power of positive thinking. From early on, I was taught that “thoughts held in mind produce after their kind.” If I was in a bad mood, it was my responsibility to change it.
Learning to work with my thoughts has been immensely helpful. I’ve become skilled at digging myself out of very painful thought spirals. However, aiming for positive thoughts also set up the polarity that being in a good mood was good and being in a bad mood was, well, bad. Over the years, these beliefs have caused me to engage in a lot of spiritual bypass and overall, deny the power of my shadow.
I understand the shadow as the often-unconscious aspect of myself that holds the accumulated difficult emotions and experiences of my life. I pushed those memories and feelings into the shadow because, at the time, I wasn’t given the space to express the hard parts of being alive. Denying them never made them go away. Rather, they’ve continued to arise and influence my behavior, often puzzling the intellectual part of myself who still feels committed to positivity.
Self-care taught me the importance of feeling all my feelings, even though it’s never easy. This means crying my eyes out or staying in a rage until the anger dissipates. Working through these pockets requires the self-care of journal-writing, calling a compassionate friend, and when I’m calm enough, expressing my negative feelings.
I’ve found that when I can work mindfully with, and through, my shadow, it frees up stuck internal energy and gives me access to the parts of myself I’ve denied. With practice, I’ve embraced my shadow and found that my temptation to engage in self-destructive behavior lessens. I’ve learned that just like in real life, my shadow will follow me everywhere. The work, I’ve found, is to bravely turn around and embrace its wisdom.
Art design by Maria Habib.
Gracy Obuchowicz, author of selfcarefully, helps people transform their lives through the practice of authentic self-care. Read more about her work here.