Tag Archives: self care

Self Care and Relationships

My guess is that if you have good self esteem and a sense of self worth, then you’ll be more confident about when to step away from people. I’ve been paying attention to my own processes around this in recent weeks and have noticed some patterns I thought it might be helpful to share.

If something goes wrong and I express distress, there’s a small window where things can be ok. If the other person comes back with care and concern then I can work things through and it’s usually fine. Now, if I was watching a friend in this situation, and they expressed distress and the person who had caused it doubled down on them, I would have no qualms saying ‘get out of there, this person does not have your best interests at heart’. When it’s me, other things happen.

I think it’s my fault. I think I’ve done something wrong and brought it upon myself. I think it’s fair and deserved. Probably I wasn’t trying hard enough or giving enough. I should make more effort to be patient, generous, accommodating and forgiving. So when someone hurts me, if they don’t back off from that quickly I can end up trying harder to be nicer to them and feeling like a total failure while I’m doing it. I’ve got to the point where I can see myself doing it and I know it’s not good for me, but I still can’t stop the thoughts that come.

I find it difficult to step away from people. Even when I know they are harming me, a feeling of guilt can stay with me for years afterwards. I’m working on this. There are a lot of unhelpful places my brain goes when people double down on hurting me. It builds my expectation that any expression of distress on my part will be met with further punishment. I fight against feeling that people will hate me, blame me and want to knock me down for daring to say ‘ouch’. I find it really hard to trust people not to hate me.

Even when I’m not triggered into all the places this takes me, it remains in the mix. I’ve got to trust a person a great deal to express distress to them. I’ve got to value a person a great deal to give them the opportunity to double down on me. When it’s people I barely know, I just slink off – because I can manage that much self care, and the stress of raising discomfort with people is high.

When people respond to distress by telling me why it’s my fault, or justifying it, that sends me off to some really dark places. It brings up other, older, nastier hurts that I was told were my fault, one way or another. I can become unable to escape from those memories in the short term. Classic PTSD triggering.

I want to be someone who is reliably kind, patient and generous. I want to forgive everyone’s mistakes and shortcomings and I feel a deep sense of obligation to be nice to people who hurt me. I also know that this way lies madness, in a rather literal sense. I know that if I stay in there for too long with someone who keeps hurting me, I will end up in serious trouble. Self care means saying no to people around this stuff. If I put my own comfort first, saying no the first time someone doesn’t respond in the way I need them to would be the way to go. But the weight of the guilt is terrible.

I have a hard time accepting that I cannot be a good and kind friend to a person who triggers me and makes me ill. I feel like a failure every time I run into that. I feel like they are entitled to more from me. Even though I don’t have that to give. I want the people who care if I am hurt, and I want to feel entitled to only really deal with people who care about me, and not to feel obliged to care about who don’t reciprocate, but there’s a lot of old training to deal with here and it will take time.


What does self care even mean?

The encouragement to ‘practice self care’ floats round the internet a lot. Sometimes it rather feels that if you are still ill, still struggling, it might be your fault for not doing enough of the self care things – I doubt I’m the only one who feels this on a bad day. Self-care is a rather vague sort of notion and the prompt to undertake it rather assumes that what’s needed is fairly easy, or obvious… and often it isn’t.

If you only have mild problems, or only have one problem, then it can be easy to identify what would help. However, when you have multiple problems, what eases one can exacerbate another. Is loneliness making you depressed? But would going out to spend time people trigger your anxiety, or cost energy you don’t have, or are you in too much pain to do it? Then there’s no easy self-care answer to be had.

Trying to find the balance between being active enough to maintain some kind of health, and not wiping out your resources, is an ongoing issue for many people. Part of the trouble is that you don’t know upfront how far you can get. Will some physical activity ease the loss of energy due to depression, or lead to a panic attack that wipes you out entirely? Will the improved circulation from moving about help with healing, or will the aching muscles cost you too much? The big one for me is always, get on the trampoline to sort the dysfunctional lymph glands, or rest the sore muscles. I hurt either way, the question is, which will be worst, which outcome can I least afford? I don’t always get it right.

Sometimes ‘self care’ means trying to figure out the way forward that will hurt least, or deciding which hurt you can most afford. I’ll take body pain if I can gain some ground for mental health, most days. Except on the days when it’s the body pain causing my brain to shut down, or leaving me too open to panic.

Self-care is a lovely idea. If it’s easy to do, then the problems aren’t that big in the first place. If you can fix yourself with a few days off, a nice bath, a walk in the woods – then you were not in massive crisis to begin with. I’m glad for you, but please don’t assume that’s a measure of how anyone else is doing. And if you’re on the other side of this – if no matter how you try to look after things you can’t get on top of your problems, it isn’t your fault. Not everything can be fixed. Not everything can be healed and put right with enough care and attention. Sometimes there isn’t enough self care possible to change how things are.

Also, sometimes self-care isn’t the answer because people need caring for. If someone is over-worked, over-burdened, doing too much emotional labour, being put under too much pressure – it should not be on them to also save themselves. Pushing people towards self-care can be a way of avoiding feeling responsible for them. Sometimes, the answer is to get in there and ask what would help. Take some of the weight off their shoulders. Don’t leave them to fight all their own battles (sexism, racism, ageism, fat shaming, abelism and all things of this ilk are exhausting and take a real toll). Don’t imagine that telling someone to practice self-care is actually helping them – it’s just well meaning noise. If you want to help, make sure they have the space, the time and the resources to practice self care, because without that, telling a person to fix themselves is just adding to what they have to bear.


Meditation for self care

Meditation is generally pitched as being good for us – slowing down, calming our bodies and minds, but there are all kinds of benefits that might be less obvious.

You have to make time for meditation. If you can’t find ten minutes in a day for some quiet and solitary time, there is a major problem in your life. Everyone should have space for some quiet downtime. If there is no space for meditation, this flags up that you need to take a good look at where your time is used and reclaim some of it. You can’t do self-care if you don’t have time for yourself.

You might find that when you sit down to meditate, mostly what you have to do is work through all the noise in your head. This is not meditation-fail, this is self-care. If it turns out that what you need most is some processing time to get to grips with your thoughts and feelings, go for it. Sit quietly and just let it all work through. Focus on giving yourself as much time as you need for this – it is important stuff and will help you. If your head is full of things you need to process, actually sitting with it will do you far more good than trying to suppress it in order to meditate.

When you hold quiet space for yourself, it can give you chance to notice things. It may not be until you stop that you notice how tense your shoulders are, or how weary you feel. If attempting to meditate raises body issues, then again, this is not some kind of meditation fail. It is an opportunity to find out about your own needs and may flag up to you what your body requires. Listen to yourself.

Also, if you know about pain in your body and you don’t want to spend time with it, that’s also fine. Use guided visualisations and pathworkings to take you away from bodily pain and give you some respite – if you can. It doesn’t work for everyone. If trying to meditate only makes you feel worse, then prioritise self care and do something else with your time – draw, journal, listen to music – whatever suits you. Meditation is not for everyone, and making yourself do something that doesn’t work for you is not self care no matter who else says you should experience benefits.

Many meditation guides advise against doing meditation lying down or in bed at night because you might go to sleep and not do the meditation properly. However, if your primary need is for sleep, meditation is a tool you might be able to use to get there. You do not have to do meditations for their own sake, you can do them to help you sleep.

It’s easy to be persuaded that we’re supposed to meditate in certain ways to get specific spiritual effects. However, if your mind is in overdrive and your body in pain, trying to force a meditative state may be of little use to you. If the process of meditation shows you things about what you need, follow up on those needs. It’s what you need most. The key to self-care is to be able to make space for it in the first place – those of us who struggle with it are often struggling to get started more than anything else. Meditation may open a door for you, enabling you to better see what you need. Sometimes meditation is best used not as an end goal itself, but as a means to an end – as a way of making space for yourself, checking in with your needs and working out how to take better care of yourself.


Paganism and Self Care

There are a number of things about Pagan paths that can help us with self care and living in gentler, more viable ways.

Firstly, this is not a life-transcending path. We aren’t punishing our bodies for spiritual advancement. We don’t have traditions of self-harm as spiritual tools. If you look at the lives of our European Pagan ancestors you can see easily that the majority were after rich, joyful, rewarding, happy lives, with enough mead and merrymaking and art, and food and fun. To live as a Pagan is to live fully, while embracing what this life has to offer.

Secondly, this is not a martyrdom tradition. We do have our stories about dying heroically but there’s no sense that sacrificing yourself in some pointless way has any spiritual value in it.

Thirdly, our bodies are part of nature, and as followers of nature based religions, this is a good place to focus for matters of self care. If you aren’t caring for nature as it manifests in your own body, you’re missing a thing. Self care brings us to all the most fundamental things of our living bodies – sleep, food, water, rest, exercise, what kinds of physical contact we need, fresh air, tree time…

To care for your body, and to take care of nature as it manifests in your body, it is necessary to push back against pressure to work more, longer and harder. Earning more and consuming more won’t lead you towards self care. A quieter, simpler, more peaceful life where you can take care of your simplest needs is key. Slowing down, resting more, having more time for yourself is essential. If you are experiencing in-work poverty this can be a hard cycle to break, but if you can meet your basic needs plus some, it’s worth looking at whether the extra costs you more than it gives you.

There’s a beautiful circular-ness to all this. If we slow down to take better care of ourselves, we consume less. A gentler life is almost guaranteed to be a life of lower carbon consumption. When we take care of nature within ourselves we are likely to change our lives in ways that take care of nature outside of ourselves. Every time you walk instead of driving, you benefit your body and the natural world. Every time you eat raw plant matter, or drink water rather than fizzy pop from a bottle, or sleep rather than staying up late staring at screens, all of nature is served by this.

When you shift your life so that you honour nature in yourself, and thus take better care of nature around you, it moves you a lot closer to living as a full time Pagan.


Lessons in self care

A change in the routine can really flag up the things that work, and the things that do not. When you mostly do the same things day to day, it isn’t always obvious what affect any given activity or strategy really has. A bit of chaos can be rather educational. Here are some things I’ve learned recently about what works for me. I have no idea how any of it would work for anyone else, so ignore what doesn’t suit and cherry pick anything you think might be helpful…

Quiet, dark spaces for sleeping in really aren’t negotiable for me. Without a peaceful and secure sleep space, I sleep badly, and everything else is much, much harder.

When I am exhausted I become emotionally overwhelmed. Everything becomes too much and threatens to make me cry. I need space and quiet time to rebalance myself. People I feel close to can help, but dealing with strangers gets really tough.

No amount of looking good makes it worth the toll taken by a day in uncomfortable clothing, or shoes.

Sometimes, doing nothing at all is wonderful.

Everything is easier when I’m in the company of excellent people.

Social media does me no harm at all. I feel no benefit being away from it. Too much crap in the news, and getting embroiled with trolls and drama llamas does me no good at all. Using social media to while away time when I’m bored or low isn’t good for me. The key is to use it well.

Good things also take time to process. Events require rest and recovery.

Populating a blog with 500 word pieces every day takes a lot of effort, so this week I may be writing smaller, pithier things. Sometimes, less is more.


Self Care and Self Esteem

For people with low self esteem, self care is not something that automatically seems important. When you don’t feel much sense of self worth, putting your needs first is difficult. If everything else around you seems more important than you are, taking care of yourself is hard, and maybe you won’t get round to that until you’re too sick, exhausted, burned out and broken to have any option but to stop.

At this point, helpful people telling you that you should take better care of yourself can feel like further proof of how useless you are. Of course if you’d been any good you’d have done all the things AND the self care and wouldn’t be letting everyone down by falling over… So let me suggest that if you want to help someone who needs to do a better job of self care, telling them off or making them feel useless is likely to push them the other way. If you want to tell someone else that it is their fault they are crashing and burning, think carefully about what this might do to them.

For some people, there’s an extra layer of horribleness here. If you’ve dealt with abuse, then you may well have learned that doing anything for you is dangerous. If you’ve been verbally or physically punished for taking care of your own needs, or ever trying to put your own needs ahead of those of your abuser, self care may feel dangerous. There may be mental health backlashes when you do try to care for yourself. You may experience a great deal of anxiety around self care – and if you haven’t examined the mechanics of why that happens, you might not know it isn’t because self care is a bad thing when you do it. Facing down old memories to build a new perspective is hard work and something to do gently.

If this sounds like you, let me mention that everyone deserves to have their basic needs met. If you feel fear, queasiness, distress, or frozen up in face of the idea of self care, there’s probably something in your history that has badly undermined you. However, with time, and care and gentleness, you can rebuild, and looking after yourself can stop being a fearful thing. You are entitled to that.

It’s easy for people who haven’t been round something like this to get frustrated, and cross, with people who struggle in this way. People who cannot take care of their own needs can be frustrating to deal with. It can be horrible watching someone march grimly towards their next inevitable crash. But none of that makes it a good idea to get angry with people who struggle on this score. Telling someone off will only reinforce their low self esteem. Blaming them for the vicious circles they are trapped in will only add to their low self esteem. Broken self esteem is a serious affliction. Blaming a person for the consequences is like blaming someone who injures themselves sometimes because they have poor co-ordination.

Encouragement is good. Reminding people of what they are worth, and that they deserve not only the most basic of life sustaining things, but also nice things, is good. Showing up and being and doing the nice things can also help. Doing it once doesn’t magically fix everything. If you want to help someone climb out of a hole, that takes time, and a lot of care to help offset where there’s been a shortage of care. Patience is key here. Broken self esteem is a much harder fix than broken bones and takes a good deal longer.


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.