If you had asked me at any point in my life, I would have told you I’ve been taking care of myself since about the age of two. The truth is, I’ve been doing anything but taking care of myself. I’ve taken care of everyone else and as for myself, I’ve powered through. I powered through everything. Life with no dad and an abusive mother, the role reversal that happened when I was 16 and she sustained a traumatic brain injury, being a completely awkward introvert, being insecure, changing schools every two or three years because my mother needed to move, majoring in a subject I didn’t love in college, never being sure if anyone really liked me and not understanding why they would if they did, being really angry at the shit hand I’d been dealt. Then there are the major things I powered through and not well, like losing my Nana. I powered through feeling completely broken on the inside but not letting it show to my friends, coworkers, husband, family, and most of all, not to my kids.
I have made up my mind to take care of myself many times and set it aside. I wouldn’t settle for my kids not taking care of themselves. I coach my friends, family, clients and readers to take care of themselves. I write about the ways I take care of myself each day, such as taking 10 minute breaks to sit outside with the dogs and admire nature, going to the gym, drinking green shakes, trying to meditate, getting pedicures. The truth is, taking care of yourself comes from within and starts with loving yourself. How many of us can say we’re good at that? How many of us look in the mirror and love the person we see? Most of us are powering through. Our powering through life might even be to maintain the balance in a relationship where our partner is merely powering through. I can’t take better care of myself than my partner does him or herself. It wouldn’t be fair.
So when you look around, you see a world of people powering through. And it shows in the rates of drug use, addiction to shopping, gambling and credit cards. It shows in the kids who are lost because their parents are powering through.
Powering through doesn’t mean that you don’t enjoy life at all; it means you don’t enjoy it to its fullest. You love your children, your spouse, maybe even your job. You just don’t love yourself enough to indulge in self-care that does more than put polish on your toes or a new shirt on your back. You’re willingly set aside that which feeds your soul. You talk yourself out of it, make excuses why you don’t have time for it or money for it, when in fact, it’s the secret passage to everything else you want, need, love.
So, what is this soul-level self-love? It’s a few simple things.
- Be honest. Don’t say you like or love something or someone if you don’t. Don’t say you’re fine if you’re not. When you say this in answer to the question, how are you, it’s not an affirmation. Tell the truth.
- If you don’t love it, leave it. With everything. Your job, your partner, your spouse, your friends, and yes, family members. This includes volunteer work and stuff you say yes to when you really mean no. This isn’t selfishness, it’s self-care. Self-care feels like selfishness for committed givers, over givers and codependents.
- If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. Ever. You don’t owe anybody other than your small children anything and no one owes you anything. And once your children are adults, you no longer owe them anything.
- Role model soul level self-care. This is the greatest gift you can give those closest to you…family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and, most of all, your kids. People need to know, it’s not only ok to do this, but acceptable and beyond that, necessary. You might be the person they respect enough to believe it.
- Own that you already know the answer. It doesn’t matter what the question is, you already know the answer. Listen. And if you can’t hear it, you must quiet the noise. And don’t deny, discount or talk yourself out of the answer. You aren’t going to change the answer by doing any of those things; you only change yourself. And the change isn’t good.
- Stop looking outside for everything. You are enough. You don’t need validation, appreciation, recognition, pity, awards, more knowledge or new stuff. You have all you need. Everything else is icing on the cake but the cake is enough. You are delicious.
- You need to love and be loved. The Beatles said it, “all you need is love”. It was true then and it’s true now. People don’t need you to meet them where they are or change them. They need you to love them, respect them, hug them, be kind to them, inspire them. You need this too. Be vulnerable and love with a reckless abandon akin to cliff diving. The landing isn’t guaranteed, but real love doesn’t care.
- Unless she/he tells you everything, you do not know a person’s story. Therefore, you are not in a position to judge, criticize, have expectations of, or make assumptions about them. You are also not in a position to think you know what they are thinking, how they feel, or why they do what they do. What you are in a prime spot to do is to accept them for who they are, know that they have a story worth listening to, and show the compassion you would want in return, whether or not you ever get it.
- The person you seem to have the least effect on, with kindness and compassion, may be the person on whom you have the biggest impact. Show love, kindness and smiles to everyone whether you think it will be or is being well-received. Trust me when I say it isn’t wasted effort. It might not have been outwardly appreciated, but it didn’t go unnoticed. You never know ahead of time when you are going to completely change someone’s life with one small bit of goodwill.
- Never give up on anyone. And especially not on yourself. You don’t have to participate in anyone’s journey, especially when it isn’t going well, but never give up hope for them. It takes no effort on your part to pray for them and wish them well even from a distance. And soul-level self-care definitely suggests that you never give up on yourself and your own journey. All hope is not lost. Ever. Even when things aren’t going the way you want, think or need them to be. The way reveals itself if you only don’t give up.
Soul level self-care takes more practice than anything else you’ve done in your life and is most worth the work. Like brushing your teeth, it’s a daily practice that produces optimal results when done several times a day with gentleness.
You are worth it. I promise.