When people talk about “self care” the conversation usually revolves around things like massages, pedicures, taking a bath, or, if you’re really lucky, a nap. But Self Care is so much deeper than that. Notice that “Self” and “Care” are capitalized. That is not a grammatical error or a typo. This “Self” is referring to your CORE SELF - the part of you that is calm, confident, curious and connected. It’s the part of you that KNOWS just how to be a mom, a partner, a person in a larger world. You are born with this Self. It can never be taken away from you, no matter what happens to you -- even if what’s happened to you is awful. The “Care” is how you care about your Self. Are you treating yourself with respect and kindness?
The confusing thing is, while your CORE SELF is always there, you also have other parts of you that may believe that your Self needs protecting -- and they want to make sure that you know they are going to protect that beautiful Self – come hell or high water -- even if nothing bad is actually happening. These parts could be called “anxious” or “irritable” or “depressed” or “perfectionistic” or “controlling” or .... you fill in the blank. They all have very good intentions, and they need to know that they are valued, otherwise they will get louder and louder and you might feel as though they are running the show with a megaphone.
For example, one of the parts that often likes to be in charge in early motherhood is the “perfectionist” part. (I have a wonderfully intimate relationship with mine – I call her “Priscilla” – or “Prissy” when she’s really activated.) Prissy might get all up in arms when I see another mom who looks like she’s got it all together and I feel like everything’s falling apart. I might start saying things to myself like, “You should know how to do this!” or “You’re a smart person – why is this so hard?”
And while those are not very nice things to say to myself (really, ouch!), Miss Priss is actually trying to help me out.
So here’s a thought to ponder: what if, instead of spending a ton of energy trying to push those useful protectors out of the way, and berating yourself (totally the opposite of Self Care, btw), you spent that energy getting curious about why they are there? What would that be like? What might you learn? It’s possible you’re thinking, “Ummm, scary!? Painful?! No thanks!” But here’s the irony of it all: the more time you spend with these “less desirable” parts, the more they’ll settle down and allow you to connect with that calm and confident Self inside of you.
Think of this as the ultimate act of Self Care. You know how when your baby cries or your toddler is having a tantrum that if you really get curious about what’s going on for them by showing genuine interest, they might calm down a little bit? That’s what you’re doing for yourself. By paying close attention to your anger, your anxiety or your need to control things (again, fill in the blank), those parts of you have the opportunity to settle down and realize that there is no inherent danger, in this moment. Rest assured they’ll be there when there really is something scary afoot.
Just to drive the point home, Pema Chödrön, in her book, When Things Fall Apart (2000), writes:
…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.
It always seems easier to be curious about someone else, especially someone you love. So turn that curiosity back to yourself. What does Self-Love mean to you?
Remember -- another revolutionary act of Self-Care is asking for help. So if you feel like it’s too scary or painful to explore these parts on your own, then let them know that help is on the way and let your “resourceful” part lead the way to a therapist or a trusted friend. You will feel lighter and more confident as a mom, and your children will benefit in profound ways. You are worth it.
Rebecca Geshuri LMFT