Self Care is Bubble Baths … and It’s Not.

Self care is a big thing. Everywhere you scroll, the images you flip through, the magazines on the racks. There it is – self care. It seems like everyone is talking about what self care is, and what it is not. So what is self care and why is it important that we understand?

Self care is bubble baths, hot stone massages, prosecco, JOMO (the Joy of Missing Out), sleeping early, taking a mental health day off work, walking in the woods, buying that gadget, sitting on a park bench, enjoying that chocolate cake …

Self care is simply taking care of ourselves. It is not complicated. It becomes tricky when we pathologize, label, or police what it looks like for others. Judging others is a reflection of self-judgment and that is not self care.

At the foundation of taking care of ourselves is self-awareness and self-acceptance. This means understanding who we are and what our needs are, without explanation or apology.

It sounds simple doesn’t it? In theory, definitely. In practice – well, it takes some practice. Unless you are already an actualized being. Yes, they do walk among us.

Here’s the thing.

Most people have been taught to put others ahead, to seek authority and wisdom outside, and to defer to others where their needs are concerned. We’ve learned to ignore what our body is signalling to us, what our inner voice is whispering (until maybe, hopefully, it’s screaming!), and what our heart is calling for. What else? On some level, most of us believe taking care of ourselves first is selfish. It’s not.

For self care to be effective and authentic, we must know with all our being that we are worthy and we are sovereign over our own lives. Yes, I can go to sleep at 8:30, knowing that my dog will be needing a bathroom break at 11:30 PM, 4:30 AM, and another one before we start the day for real. Yes getting that massage is not indulgent. I need my trigger points released. Or yes, my body feels like a glass of bubbly.

Self care is acknowledging that our needs matter, we matter, and we deserve to feel cared for. It’s seeing who we are, not an illusion we’d like to project into the world. Or the self others have constructed.

So it’s understanding that while that açai bowl may be the balm I need now, I have to dig underneath why I feel the way I do.  Am I saying no to the glass of Salon because I fail to see the abundance already in my life? Do I recognize I’m in a co-dependent relationship or all the ways I’m the manipulative one? Self care means calling a spade a spade and having the buck stop with me.

We weren’t taught to pay attention to our needs. We weren’t taught to listen to our bodies. We weren’t taught how to express our emotions in healthy ways. We weren’t taught how to set boundaries. We were not taught that we are worthy.

Graeme Seabrook

Self care or Squad Care?

Mellissa Harris-Perry, writing for Elle, contends that it’s squad care because we “exist in matrices of allies and friends who do this work for us.” It’s true that as she says “when we are too young, too old, too ill, too broken, too sad, too sacred, too needy, too overwhelmed, or too incapable” we need others.

Sometimes self care is not enough. It may be for all the reasons she listed. Perhaps our self care was misaligned or our perception of our needs was distorted by pain. Or we are are in an environment that does not support our needs, and even ridicule us when we start to prioritize ourselves.

Sometimes we just need to surrender control, and allow ourselves to be taken care of. To have no ego about it.

We need both self care and squad care, a spectrum of ways to meet our needs.

For Frederic Flach, MD, falling apart is not the illness we see it as; it’s just what the body needs. The illness lies in the failure to learn from the experience, reorganize, and reintegrate after stressful events. When we fall apart, we are given the opportunity to look at the pieces and reassemble what is authentic and real. And call back those soul parts we have left frozen in the timeline and in non-present spaces.

This kind of initiation can be raw, demanding, painful, confusing. Self care may falter here and there and squad care may come into play. It’s ok not to be super mom. Dropping your kids off with trusted caregivers while you have some #metime is healthy.

self care is bubble baths and it's not photo by lena-mytchyk

The key to self care is honesty. We must be honest with ourselves about the motivations behind our actions. Are we operating from a place of victimhood, misaligned values, unsupportive beliefs or from awareness, acceptance, and power?

Here are some thoughts to ponder:
  • Am I drawing boundaries or am I escaping difficult situations that require me to skill up in honest dialogue and conflict resolution?
  • Is this oh-so-delicious chocolate gluten-free cake the perfect thing for me right now? Or am I pounding it back because I feel my consciousness is high enough for me to bypass unhealthy food choices?
  • Am I taking it easy today to pause or am I avoiding putting myself out there?
  • Is this a celebration or an irresponsible indulgence to keep mask of abundance in place?
  • Is this tolerance or is this passive-aggressiveness?
  • Is this an inclusive tribe I’m building or an attitude tribe that keeps me feeling safe and important?

So what is self care?

Self care is bubble baths, if that’s your thing and it’s your way of relaxing, knowing you deserve it. That the world will not fall apart, your kids will not die, your dog will just nap, while you enjoy a soothing bath.

Self care is not bubble baths, if that’s how you are escaping your life. If our self-care takes us away from our potential and secret us away deeper into the shadow, then it’s really not self-care.

Sometimes, it’s easy to fall into seduction with what’s trendy, acceptable, “in” – that only gets us mired in other people’s narratives and agendas. We may need to buck the trend (if it’s our truth), be the lone wolf (if that’s your path), and break the rules (if they perpetuate slavery and degradation).

Finding our own rhythms and what’s real and true for us, from deep within our core, is self care.

We are the ones living our lives, in our bodies, constellated by the past, present, and future in this moment.  These fast-changing times are calling for all of us to take better care of ourselves, through knowing ourselves, so we can take better care of each other. We’re in this together so let’s helps each other access the best care, at whatever level that is appropriate, without judgment or label.

Through self care and squad care, we raise the level of presence, kindness, and joy in the world. This is how we change the trajectory of these chaotic (aka full of potential) times.