“Taking care of myself doesn’t mean ‘me first.’ It means ‘me, too.” ― L.R. Knost
Healing takes time, and so does learning how to give ourselves the self-care we need. Over the decades, my idea of self-care has transformed. For me, self-care includes respecting my personal boundaries. Self-care is multidimensional too.
The difficulty with self-care, especially as a female, is how society perpetuates and abuses women as the caretakers of just about everyone. We genuflect to this role as quickly as the sky holds the sun and moon. We feel it is almost a righteous passage to give and give until there’s nothing left to give. At least, this is my take and what I was taught.
However, self-care is much deeper than I had anticipated. It’s taught me I do have a say, and I can say no. I have limits, and limits are good. I have learned not to step over my own personal lines to accommodate someone who drains me of my emotional space. It is my responsibility to set limits.
“Make good boundaries your goal. They are your right, your responsibility, your greatest source of dignity.” ― Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.
Signs that I’m not giving myself the self-care I deserve and need.
1. When I am exhausted and irritated by one more request, I will snap. I’m not proud of my reaction either, and afterward, I will feel terrible. But after a lot of doing this to myself, I know I need to step back from fixing, doing, cleaning, and keeping everyone else happy.
2. Not taking enough breaks between one responsibility and moving onto the next. As a highly sensitive person, it is crucial for me to have transition times. Usually, I will go with the flow and juggle inordinate amounts of tasks. However, this only works when I am cognizant of my emotional bandwidth and take breaks. When I don’t take breaks, I break down.
“We are forced to make choices and set priorities, but being very conscientious, HSPs often put themselves last. Or at least we give ourselves no more time off or opportunity to learn new skills than anyone else. In fact, however, we need more.” ― Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.
3. Feeling obligated to say yes, when I really want to say no. This is a hard one for me, but I’m getting better at listening to myself. One thing I’ve noticed is how my body is reacting. My stomach hurts, I’ll have frequent headaches, or my nightdreams are about intruders. All of these are warning signs telling me to stop and listen to my self-care needs.
Ways that honor my high sensitivity and promote deep and loving self-care:
1. I limit my time on social media. This is hard for me because I enjoy the connections I’ve made over the years. However, I also notice I can’t keep up with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, et al. without feeling drained.
2. I write in my journal. Nearly every morning, I pull out a 15-cent spiral notebook and write. Last Spring, while the world was undergoing a global pandemic lockdown, I revisited the book The Artist Way by Julia Cameron. Her weekly instruction, guidance, and questions, I believe, saved me. Page after page of self-doubts, hurts, unhealed wounds, and inner criticism covered the blue-lined pages. Releasing more and more pain and giving room to the hidden gems of my soul’s words and her voices.
3. During the height of the pandemic and now, I keep in touch with a small group of trusted friends. Whether we meet virtually, in a chatroom via messenger, or occasionally in person, those friends are irreplaceable. They’ve seen me at my worst and still love me. I know, without a doubt, our relationship is embedded in a holy place of mutual respect and caring love.
4. I treat myself to simple pleasures like fresh flowers, an oat milk latte, a glass of red wine, a walk with Nature. I give myself time to tend to my garden. Over and over again, my garden reminds me this is my source of unconditional love. This is a space of safety.
5. As a mental health therapist, I also believe it is vital for my well-being to attend my own personal therapy. In these sessions, I’m held with positive regard, tenderly challenged, supported in a helpful way knowing this isn’t a friendship but a therapeutic bond reflecting with me.
6. I carve out ample time to write poetry, prose, and essays. Medium has become my writer’s home. I have incredible respect for the writers and editors I’ve met here. Each day we share our innermost feels, we give advice, reduce our writer’s self-doubt, we lift each other too.
“Self-care nourishes us; it breathes new life into us, energizing and rejuvenating our very being,” as Galit Birk, PhD, editor of Being Known, writer, coach and soon-to-be licensed therapist, writes in her June writing prompt.
Dr. Birk understands the enormity and necessity of how self-care is our right and different for each of us. I’m honored to call her a friend and a role model, giving me this opportunity to write here and to solidify my definition of self-care.
Originally published in Being Known via Medium: The Art of Self-Care: Listening, accepting and honoring our needs
Carolyn Riker is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in private practice. She is also an author of three books. Her most recent book is "My Dear, Love Hasn't Forgotten You."