When you can’t do self care

You watch someone work, and work and burnout, and try to keep going. You try to help them by encouraging them to take better care of themselves, and it doesn’t get through – which is frustrating and off-putting. What do you do? I write this as both someone who has struggled with self-care and someone who has wanted to help others who clearly have the same sorts of issues. There are reasons some people can’t do it and respond badly to being told they need to.

Depression, which tends to cause feelings of low or no self worth, and any other self esteem issues make it hard for a person to feel like looking after themselves is worth doing. The idea of putting yourself first can cause huge feelings of guilt, shame, and failure. Thus a recoiling in horror at the suggestion of taking a day off.

For people living in abusive situations, or who have a history of being abused, it can feel, or actually be unsafe to take care of yourself. Even taking your own needs into account may provoke hostility, verbal abuse, criticism, mockery, being told you are selfish, lazy, useless, not taking proper care of others. You might have someone in your life who will take any excuse to work themselves into a state of anger, and from the anger may come physical violence. What happens if you are exposed to anything like this is you can take on the idea that it is your selfish lazy fault that has caused the perfectly reasonable anger and violence. So you learn to ignore your needs because it is safer to pretend you don’t have any.

For anyone with abuse issues, encouragement to self care can be a panic trigger. It’s really hard to deal with from the outside because it makes no sense to anyone who has not had their right to be a person stripped from them.

The best way to help, is to go in with logic. Here are some tried and tested thought forms.

Burnout is inefficient, if I rest now, I won’t burn out.

I will produce a better quality of work if I am less tired. My concentration will be better.

I am investing in being able to work sustainably and being able to meet more of my commitments.

It’s like putting fuel in the tank so you have something to run on.

A person who is able to stop, draw breath, rest and take care of themselves – even if they think they’re only doing it so as to work better – will slowly improve their self esteem. Once you get off the hamster wheel and aren’t running all the time it becomes easier to think rationally. Exhausted people are not rational, generally.

A person who can’t do self care because they’re in too dangerous a situation needs to realise this and get out. Telling them will not always help much. Support them in feeling worthwhile. Don’t tell them what they should do – that just undermines their already battered self esteem. Tell them that you care about them and want to see them well and thriving, and perhaps they’ll tell you why they are afraid of self-care. Always remember that for an abuse victim, the most dangerous time is the time when they try to leave – this is the time a person is most likely to be subjected to violence or even killed. It is always worth getting advice and support from the police for a safe exit.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “When you can’t do self care

  • Bookworm

    Thanks for trying to help all of us who’ve suffered. Every word rings so true. I’ve been ‘safe’ for years now but still struggle to justify my existence to myself sometimes.

    • Nimue Brown

      that lingering feeling that a life needs justifying… because it is such an impossible task to set yourself. Who are we even trying to prove this to? who is keeping score? Its a minefield, to say the least.

      • Bookworm

        In my case, being disabled the onslaught by DWP and the Tories against disabled people has reawakened fears that were dormant most of the time😢
        A double whammy.
        TY for your posts they do help ×××

      • Nimue Brown

        sorry to hear you’re up against all of that, and glad the post is useful. I don’t know much first hand about that as a fear source, but I do know that fear simply makes illness worse, that stress is the enemy not only of healing, but of keeping on an even keel. It’s a sick and evil system at the moment.

  • lornasmithers

    I’ve struggled on and off for my life with what I’ve only recently realised is ‘introvert burnout’. I didn’t realise I was an introvert as I can summon the courage to perform poetry in public and often take the lead in organisiing things. However I’ve been aware I find any social occasion and particularly anything I lead on incredibly draining. Since discovering this I’m learning to limit my social interactions and things I take on without guilt and making more time for things I can do alone (well not in human company at least!) without burning out.

    • Nimue Brown

      i think there are a lot of introvert performers out there – and yes, that over-peopling thing is very familiar to me. I need both hermit time and people time, I’ve always felt I was both an introvert and an extrovert….

  • bone&silver

    Very caring post, thank you

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