“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an
act of political warfare”Audre Lorde
Self-care is what we traditionally think of - the tangible things that we see represented in the media, memes, or commercialized reminders that have commodified the most basic needs on Maslow's infamous hierarchy. For me daily/weekly it is writing this blog, photography/exploring MetroParks, reading, playing video games, tennis, cooking/eating food, cleaning/doing laundry, talking to friends/family (writing letters), listening to music, going to movies or watching TV. Between those things I actually hit most of my wellness wheel (check it out here), which speaks to why I often feel rested, stable, peaceful, and self-aware. In deciding those things that you do to make you feel good ask yourself: what brings you peace; what makes you feel good about yourself; when are you at your best? It is absolutely imperative to figure out the things you can accessibly do for self-care. And it's important to note that self-care is an individual exercise. Not everyone does it the same, AND not everyone has the time, resources, or opportunity to do it. Gold foil face masks, pizza, and Netflix might work for/be available to you but for others a warm shower, quick haircut, or a significant conversation might be where they are. Spend five minutes brainstorming a list of things you could do to take care of yourself as simple as sleeping 7-8 hours, to as complex as composing music. Pick out/create a list of three to five tangible things that you want to commit to doing for self-care. Then start doing it, as often as you are able.
Self-care is also: addressing your own problematic behaviors and striving to be/do better; removing toxic (not just challenging) people/situations from your life; holding yourself accountable for what you do & what you say (apologizing authentically when you cause harm, hurt others/yourself); doing your own self-work (not always expecting others to sort you out) so that you can be emotionally literate and able to understand yourself. Let me unpack a bit. For me, I realized how much time I was spending pining after people who expressed little to no interest in me romantically. I'm talking hours upon hours spent trying to decipher messages, read signals, and continue conversations that were dead on arrival. I felt used and disposable. I realized I had the power, needed to take the initiative, and I had the means to address that behavior. I stopped giving my time to people who were hellbent on wasting it. I stopped in engaging with people who weren't clear with their intentions. I stopped focusing on why other people didn't want me, and instead focused on why I was worthy of the love, affection, and compassion I strove to show others.
There is a difference between toxic and challenging people. I had a friend in college who I had to disconnect from because every time I left their presence I would find myself doing dangerous comparisons, doing negative self-talk, and internalizing their vindictive criticisms of me. Self-esteem, self-worth, and self-value have to come from ourselves, and while our internal voices are our own, they do reflect what we take from others. That is not to victim blame, because there is nuance and distinction between abuse, and how we interpret or perceive how others treat us. Toxic people are emotionally expensive. They drain you of your emotional energy, leave you emotionally bankrupt, and do little to nothing to reimburse, refill, or restock your emotional labor. They co-opt your time, energy, effort, headspace, etc. and leave you feeling exhausted, debilitated, or poisoned. People who challenge you can make you feel bad but their intention/impact is benevolent - it is to help you grow, change/strengthen your viewpoint, or to move you forward. Challengers support your cultivation, sow back into your life and emotional account. They also are not always in an adversarial role. If someone is a constant antagonist in your life, and that is the only part they play then it might be time to write them out of your life story.
Self-accountability is of the utmost importance. When, not if, I mess up it is on me to do what I need to reconcile with others, but firstly myself so I can move on. When we do not take responsibility for our words/actions and their impact on not just others but ourselves we burden ourselves with the weight of unresolved issues. Forgiveness for me means first forgiving myself for making a mistake, for hurting someone, for being imperfect. It is giving myself grace. It is being kind to me. It is knowing that I am worthy of forgiveness. It is a commitment to not repeating the same behavior or use the same speech. It is being dedicated to change. It is then outwardly expressing that same sentiment to those who have been impacted. Here's a whole post on it (forgiveness) but in short - a sincere apology is "I am sorry I did ..." or "I apologize for saying this ___." It is not "I'm sorry you were offended" - it's "I'm sorry I hurt you." It's taking ownership of what you have done/said instead of blaming the person victimized. Apologizing must be supported by a change in behavior, without it, apologies are empty. Apologies do not automatically earn us reentry into the lives of those we hurt. We are not obligated to permit people back into our vicinity if we don't want to. Self-care is reckoning with ourselves to liberate us from the baggage of unfinished conflict.
I cannot stress the importance of emotional literacy enough - specifically becoming literate in the language that is you. Read that sentence again and think about that. Here's a whole post on learning to embrace emotions and vulnerability. We go through our lives and oftentimes have not stopped, meditated, or reflected on what it means to be us. We are the sum of our identities (social and personal + the intersectional contexts that impact us), abilities, experiences, and ideologies/beliefs. Who are we? Who do we want to be? What made us this way? Why are we like this? Emotional literacy is distinct but related to emotional intelligence in that literacy is something that can be taught, learned, or shared. It is a skill that can be gained versus intelligence is thought to be inherent or fixed. You can learn empathy, compassion, kindness, just as much as you can learn to actually process through the trauma you've endured, the pain you've experienced, and the sorrow you have survived. Pain can be power. Sorrow can be strength. Loss can be light. As we are able, we can re-frame trauma for resiliency. Emotional literacy is figuring yourself out - however you need to. It is sitting in your stuff (all of it, good, bad, and everything in between) and sorting it out, organizing, compartmentalizing, processing, gleaning what you can, and letting go of what you are done with. It is realizing what you gone through, said, or done, and both its importance in your life, and to others. It's knowing your own story. It's making peace with yourself. It's emancipating you from your imprisonment of your thoughts or feelings. It is not being bogged down by denial, guilt, neglect, or nostalgia but embracing reality. It is doing that self-work to understand yourself, and not dumping that work on others. It is also knowing your limits, when to ask for help, using your resources, and getting professional guidance in dealing with what you need. It's counseling, therapy, spirituality/religiosity, etc. instead of expecting family, friends, or partners to psychoanalyze you. It is becoming well-versed in you. It also doing your best to understand the emotions of others.
"Self-care is also not arguing with people who are committed to misunderstanding you." Ayishat A. Akanbi. On that list of tangible things you want to do for self-care, add one or two behaviors you want to address. Then add one person you want to share your whole list with who can keep you accountable. That's how you build your self-care regimen. Self-care can be revolutionary and rejuvenating when done consistently, and with purpose. Self-care must be part of your daily routine. It is crucial to enduring the hardships of life. Without self-care we are not at our best; we are not our most us; and we are not able to who we were meant to be. Self-care is not selfish, it is recognizing that your well-being must be taken care of before you take care of others. Perpetual selflessness leaves us ... without our selves. Take care of yourself, truly because you matter, you are worthy, you are enough, and you are needed. X
*I have a whole guided presentation that this post is based on about emotional labor, practicing authentic self-care, and storytelling for resiliency complete with more resources, activities, and ways to practice. You can download it here. Please be sure to cite your sources, and let me know how it goes by emailing me here (firstname.lastname@example.org).