The Myths of Self Care. How to be nicer to yourself, starting now.

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“When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small.  My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.” ~ Kim McMilllen

Self care seems like a simple of concept, yet it really isn’t is it? I find it to be challenging for us all, especially those in helping roles (parents, teachers, nurses, personal trainers, the list goes on). I used to be the worst at self care. For years I watched my clients on to see their goals and put myself on the bottom of the totem pole. By 2011 I was burnout, injured, and resentful.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my job. I find great joy in connecting with others and seeing them on towards health. But thats almost the problem. I love helping others a little too much. Put yourself last enough and eventually you reach a breaking point. And thats what happened to me. I broke. And then I woke up.

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At the start of 2012 I declared it the year of “Self-Love”. I recruited a team of experts and friends to help support me to reach my personal and professional goals (much like my clients do with theirs).  At first, making myself a priority was incredibly scary; partly because it takes courage to be self-compassionate. It requires you to release control and acknowledge that you are imperfect, that you too need support in being the best version of you. Rather than struggling with the unreachable goal of perfection, self-compassion requires you to let go of your resistance to your own humanity and go with it instead. Working through my “Year of Self-Love” I discovered that in order to love yourself first you have to get rid of any limiting beliefs that may be holding you back. Here are some of the “Myths of Self-Love” that can prevent you from giving yourself the care you need and reaching your full potential:

Myth 1: Self-compassion is selfish.
In our culture, we are taught to care for everyone except ourselves. Self-compassion can thus be seen as selfish, that taking care of yourself means you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing: taking care of someone else.
Reality: Caring for others requires loving-kindness and authenticity. If you haven’t created those traits for yourself, how can you give them to others? I found that through caring for myself, I was a better coach, friend, daughter, sister, and person. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but you truly can give more to others when you are taken care of. “Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.” ~Parker Palmer

Myth 2: Self-compassion is indulgent.
You might be concerned that being nice to yourself just lets you off the hook and encourages you to be self-indulgent.
Reality: Self-compassion is about your health and well-being while self-indulgence is about getting anything you want when you want it without thoughts of well-being. Self-compassion is about noticing and being with your pain. Self-indulgence is about numbing and denying your pain. “Self-care is not about self-indulgence. It’s about self-preservation.” – Audrey Lorde

Myth 3:  Self-criticism is what motivates you.
Self-love is often devalued in our culture, instead we often use self-criticism to motivate us to reach our goals. Self-criticism works to motivate us to a certain extent, but it creates a lot of trouble in doing so: fear of failure, thoughts of not being good enough, and fear of humiliation, just to name a few. Self-criticism also provides you with the illusion of control. If you just worked harder, looked prettier, or acted nicer, you could achieve that perfection you’ve been seeking, right? You know the answer to that question, but the pursuit of perfection and the lure of control are hard to shake in our attempts to care for ourselves.
Reality: While it’s possible the inner critic developed to help you reach your goals, it’s not the only option. We have many ways to keep ourselves moving forward, we really don’t need a critical voice in our heads to do so. We don’t need to be internally nagged and disparaged to accomplish things. Being self-compassionate gives you the confidence you need to motivate yourself in a positive way.  “You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” ~Louise L. Hay

Myth 4: Self-compassion is wimpy.
In our individualistic society, you are supposed to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and tough things out. Be kind to yourself? Quit being such a wimp!
Reality: Actually, self-compassion serves to heal and strengthen you. It is, in fact, the strongest and most resilient among us who have the courage to be kind to ourselves.

These are just a few of the myths that can prevent you from praticing self-care. Can you pinpoint limiting ideas you have about yourself that keep you in a cycle of putting yourself last?

REALITY CHECK. How to start taking care of yourself:

1. Acknowledge your desires and needs.
You have likely been conditioned to ignore, deny, or suppress your personal wants or needs due to believing any or all of the myths above. Practice noticing your personal desires and gently give yourself validation that they are real and deserve compassion. Do you have the desire to spend more time with friends? Do you want to work with someone on improving your fitness or nutrition? Do you want to take up a hobby or spend more time relaxing? What is it that you want to be real for YOUR life (not your friend, client, or daughter’s life)? Is there something that you always wish you had the time to do? Make it happen now. And make it happen for YOU.

2. Treat yourself as you would a friend.
Think for a moment of how you think about and talk to yourself. Now think about how you talk to your friends. How do you treat them? It’s likely you treat yourself much worse than you would a friend. Speak gently to yourself. Be understanding. Don’t tolerate negative or critical self-talk. Talk to and treat yourself as you would your friend. Here are all of my tips on “taking out the trash” and learning to speak kindly to yourself, an extremely important element in self care.

3. Remember that you are human (a beautifully imperfect one)
Even if you are going through a challenge or you make mistakes, does that mean you shouldn’t be kind to yourself? No. It means you’re human. And all humans are flawed, make mistakes, and are deserving of compassion. Perfection doesn’t exist, let go and learn to love your beautifully imperfect self.  “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” ~ John Steinbeck

4. GET SUPPORT.  A good support system is a vital element to self-care. Yes you can accomplish things on your own, but you can reach your full potential when you have a team to support you. Who helps you take care of YOU? A gardening analogy is most appropriate for this question. Some flowers and plants thrive in temperate zones and others in different conditions. We, too, need to be in tune with our own nature and know under which conditions we do our best. In what life situations do you thrive personally? Who are the people who energize you? Do you actively put yourself in situations where you are building your skills and experiencing the growth you want? For example, a person who wants to become a writer should consider taking writing classes, go to readings, and be in places that stimulate that type of creativity in her. Get the social support you need to truly be cared for.
5. Practice Daily Acts of Self-Love: Every day actively do small acts to show yourself care. Here is a list of 100 ways to nourish your mind, body, and spirit.  This is not a checklist – only a list of suggestions. Feel free to take the ones that speak to you and ignore the rest. Make self-care a daily action item on your to-do list.

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My life truly blossomed once I took action and made self-care a priority. My “Year of Self-Love” allowed me to save myself from burnout, gain self-respect, and truly LOVE my life. However, it is an ongoing process that takes consistent dedication, commitment, faith, work, and sweat. You have to learn to value yourself, which means fight for your health and happiness. With so many limiting cultural beliefs working against us we all need support. Join me in working towards a world that encourages others to love themselves. The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others, the self-care revolution starts with YOU.

Bottom line? be yourself, love yourself, accept yourself, respect yourself. If you or someone you know needs some help getting to this place, please pass along this post and share the self-care encouragement.

Love to you all,

Caroline

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