Is Self-Care Misunderstood? Quite Possibly.
It seems like every topic we talk about lately is a new trend, or a term being overused…and for good reason. We had a session recently in which we asked the attendees, “who do you turn to for advice or when you don’t know the answer to something?” An overwhelming majority responded: TIK-TOK. Full disclosure: I am not a Tik-Tok user, and I have some distaste for the addictiveness of social media in general. Now, I will admit that I look at videos here and there for a recipe, or even for a good laugh, but never through the platform itself. It’s usually in a news blurb or something my kids will share with me. I think that mild use of technology for the purpose of information is great. However, are we positive that the information we are getting is accurate? Over a quarter of US Adults under the age of 30 are getting their “news” from Tik-Tok. With the content of this platform being user-generated, a lot of falsehoods, misunderstandings, and misperceptions are bound to be a problem.
This brings me to today’s topic - self-care. This isn’t something new, and certainly wasn’t created by the social media monster, but it has now been twisted and turned into something that it really isn’t - a way to do the bare minimum with a “valid reason.” You only have to type "self-care" into Google to see a multitude of results, ranging from spa days to full on lazy days in bed. Now, I am not saying those things aren’t a nice reprieve every once in a while, but we need to understand why we are in need of those things in the first place.
Self-care isn’t even a word I like to use much, as I don’t think it is broad enough for what it should encompass. But it is important to practice self-care, as long as you can really understand what that means. We’ve touched many times on the fact that self-care isn’t about getting a pedicure, or a massage, though it can often be interpreted that way. We can’t simply stop life for self-care. That’s not how it works. We must be able to interject self-care into our every day routines…not skip out on our routines because we are burned out. We have to be able to avoid burnout in the first place. I suspect that society’s obsession with self-care stems more from an inability to cope with life’s stresses and constant change. However, there is something that we can strive for to help us cope.
How do we do that? Self-compassion.
Compassion is defined as a basic kindness with a deep awareness of the suffering of oneself and other living things, coupled with the wish and effort to relieve it. Self-compassion as defined by one of the pioneering researchers in this field, Kristin Neff, as compassion directed inward, relating to oneself as the object of care and concern when faced with the experience of suffering. (Resource)
You can think of the two terms this way: self-care is the doing, while self-compassion is the being. Regarding yourself with compassion, and caring for yourself are quite different. You can do self-care without truly having compassion for yourself. Unfortunately, we tend to use the terms interchangeably, and end up replacing self-compassion with self-care. The problem here is that you must truly have self-compassion first, as a fundamental foundation, before you can practice meaningful self-care.
When we are able to be kinder to ourselves, and treat ourselves the way in which we would a loved one, we can build upon our skills to cope with discomfort. If we don’t have that foundation of self-compassion, a day off or a trip to the spa for some “me-time” becomes an expensive band-aid that doesn’t address the true problem. We are trying to convince ourselves that we are checking off the “self-care” box, but it isn’t fulfilling, and can in fact become burdensome as we try to keep up with the most current self-care trend we see online.
When we understand that self-compassion comes first, we can practice self-care without missing out on the important parts of our lives, like our responsibilities at home and at work. Self-care becomes part of our daily routine, because we aren’t ignoring these needs. It boils down to truly believing that you deserve compassion.
You may need to do some self-reflection in the coming weeks to see if you’re using self-care in a way that is masking the issue at hand. Are you skirting responsibilities because you are stressed out and need a “self-care” day? What might make those responsibilities less stressful? A day off will probably just prolong the inevitable. If you were able to cope through self-compassion, by using mindfulness and patience, perhaps you wouldn’t need the “self-care” day in the first place.
If you are able to build upon your self-compassion with self-care by making it a part of your everyday life, then and only then is your practice of self-care a part of your healing and growth.