Disclaimer: This is a long one, but please take a moment to read it start to finish. This is SUCH an important subject!!
Self-Care, a buzzword that’s dominating mainstream culture. While it’s generated some helpful changes in wellness culture, it’s also been co-opted and manipulated. Some refer to this phenomenon as the “cult of wellness”; I think of it as the Toxic Wellness Culture. Because of this manipulation, Self-Care is in dire need of rebranding – or rather – a return to its authentic meaning. So today, I want to clear the muddy water around Self-Care by identifying the stereotypes of toxic self-care and offer some thoughts on what Authentic Self-Care is.
The first thing we need to understand is that the fight for Self-Care must be fought on two fronts. We have to:
Return Self-Care to its authentic meaning
The truth is, most of what culture shows to be “self-care” is directly oppositional to Authentic Self-Care. Toxic Wellness Culture has done this intentionally for the simple purpose of keeping us ensnared in superficial and expensive wellness products/practices to increase their profits. This is why when we think of “self-care” we automatically envision expensive and luxurious spas, vacations, and unresearched “cure-all” products that cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
Dismantle the social conditioning that tells us conflicting information about how to care for ourselves
We (especially women) are socialized to care for others first and ultimately minimize our own needs, which results in a disappearance of self, self-worth, and ultimately leads to burnout.
We (especially women) are socialized to feel guilty the moment we do decide to care for ourselves.
When we combine these two factors together, we find ourselves in a position where we are simultaneously told to put our needs last (if at all) while also being told that the only way to remedy this is to throw hundreds (thousands) of dollars into day spas, vacations, and expensive products. We’re essentially being primed to kill ourselves for 29 days of the month, depriving ourselves of our divine right to health and wholeness…and then on day 30, we give back all our hard-earned money on a gratuitous therapy. This lifestyle is not sustainable, and more importantly, it’s a dangerous threat to our health and well-being.
…So, what is Authentic Self-Care?
Authentic Self-Care should first and foremost be accessible to everybody and it should be anchored in the daily practices that purge toxicity from our lives and wholly nourish our authentic selves.
It is, of course, fine to splurge when our schedule and budget allow for it, but Authentic Self-Care goes much deeper than that; it should be in every breath, every step, and every moment we can lend to it. By implementing the “every breath, every step” attitude, we remain empowered so we can lead healthy and fulfilling lives. We learn who we are and how to exist in the world with grace. We become skilled at identifying our needs by listening to our mind, body, and spirit. We learn to find the balance between filling our own cup and caring for those around us.
However, in order to reach this place where Authentic Self-Care is as easy as breathing, we must first learn to discern authentic from toxic.
Toxic vs. Authentic Self-Care
The root of toxic self-care is selfishness; it will tell us it’s ok to be selfish sometimes. While it’s absolutely true that it is always ok to care for ourselves, it is never ok to “be selfish.” Authentic Self-Care allows us to nurture ourselves without ignoring our responsibilities while selfish care nourishes only our egos. We must discern between caring for our authentic self and enabling our inauthentic self.
Toxic self-care is avoidant – it ignores tasks, chores, relationships, self-reflection, and self-improvement. While it can be therapeutic to take some time off and “check out”, continually ignoring our problems and responsibilities just makes more problems. Authentic Self-Care values all parts of ourselves, not just some of them and especially the “problem” parts; it helps us with time and task management and helps us live as responsible beings on this planet.
Toxic self-care propagates the pattern of working ourselves to a point of burn-out and then going to the other extreme of “checking out” and/or overindulging, which ultimately brings more stress into our lives as we constantly oscillate between overwork/burnout & escape/indulgence. Authentic Self-Care shows us how to avoid living life in extremes and, instead, live in a state of dynamic balance.
Toxic self-care propagates the myth that we must “earn” self-care, or that we must wait until something is wrong before we take steps to correct it. We do not need to earn Self-Care – it is our divine right as expressions of the universe on this planet. Do not wait until you are thirsty to dig the well – you are worthy of caring for yourself in every breath and every step.
Toxic self-care assumes that superficial pampering will fill the holes in our lives. It’s like filling a leaky bucket rather than patching the bucket itself. It comes from profit-driven organizations that push artificial solutions or solutions that claim to “cure every possible thing imaginable for the small price of 3 months of our paychecks.” It’s frustrating because these solutions assume we have disposable income, which adulterates self-care and makes it something available only to those of privilege. Self-Care should be available to every person regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.
Self-Care is NOT a privilege, it is our divine right.
This is not to say that wellness organizations should not make money. But it’s important to discern wellness professionals/organizations who will support you from those who just want access to your wallet.
I also do not want to infer that Self-Care never involves financial investment; your health and wholeness IS an investment that is worthy of whatever you can afford. You simply must learn to hone your intuition to discern what is valuable and what is superficial.
There is a beautiful metaphor about looking at your life as if it’s a jar filled with large rocks, pebbles, and sand. The large rocks are your core values, the pebbles are secondary values, & the sand is all the fluff. If you fill the sand first, you won't have enough room for the pebbles let alone the large rocks. But if you put the large rocks in first, there is room in the gaps for the pebbles & sand. Inauthentic self-care is the sand; it’s nice to have, but the big rocks (self-examination, nutrition, exercise, emotional health, healthy lifestyle) MUST go in first.
Some more characteristics of Authentic-Self Care…
It seeks to correct the imbalances that develop when we don’t take proper care of ourselves, whether by inattention or by choice. It’s taking the time to delve into the root of what is keeping us from living in health and wholeness and figuring out how to return that state.
It encourages self-responsibility and shows us how to practice time and task management so we have scheduled time for ourselves and scheduled time for work so things don’t reach problem status. It is being kind to our future self by not leaving her (him) mess after mess to handle.
It gives ourselves permission to reconnect, make time for ourselves, and learn how to experience moments in our days mindfully. We are each an expression of divinity living on this planet and it is our divine right to know ourselves, love ourselves, and live in our highest expression of health and vitality.
It shows us how to be mindful of our emotions and embrace them wholeheartedly, even the tough ones! It teaches us the wisdom of emotion and shows us how to move emotional energy so we can live mindfully and wholly.
It reinforces the belief that we should treat ourselves with the same compassion, grace, and forgiveness we would give to a loved one.
The golden rule applies to yourself as much as it applies to those around you.
It cultivates empowerment by teaching us how to integrate Self-Care into our daily routine. It is a complex weaving of hundreds of small acts and attitude shifts, tossed with practices that make us feel integrated, whole, and balanced.
It teaches us to reattune to our inner wisdom so we learn how to feed ourselves, move, think, feel, react, and intuit. It helps us maintain a connection within and with the divine. It reminds us that each of us is a unique expression of divinity, and that we need only delve deep within to connect to the divine.
It places physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being on equal footing – each of these aspects of ourselves are equally important and equally deserving of care.
It is not always fun!
Authentic Self-Care means facing the parts of us that make us feel uncomfortable.
It’s facing our flaws, our traumas, our thought patterns – it’s facing our shadow head-on, embracing it, and letting it go with love. It often involves an intense reprogramming of how we exist, which takes immense effort and discipline. Everything from learning how to eat better, developing exercise habits, how to practice emotional intelligence and responsibility, time and task management, how to breathe, how to rest, how to set boundaries (physical and emotional), how to communicate effectively, how to give and receive love, and more. It can involve facing harsh realities – if we need a location change, a job change, or a change in a relationship. This stuff can be HARD!
A final note on self-care and financial investment…
As I’ve said above, Authentic Self-Care should be available to every person regardless of their socio-economic status. As you delve deeper into daily practices of Self-Care, you’ll realize that the foundation of caring yourself shouldn’t cost a whole lot of money (though it does require a lot of energy at first) – because it is about learning to communicate with your deepest self and attuning yourself to your needs.
Eating well requires energy, but it doesn’t require a multitude of money (the myth that healthy food is more expensive than fast food is complete bullshit by the way).
Exercise may require a fitness membership of some kind, but it can also be as simple as walking around your neighborhood once a day.
There may be deep benefits to seeing a therapist for a little while, but a good therapist will help you help yourself at home by showing you how to cultivate journaling practices, meditation, mindfulness, and effective communication.
Healing modalities like acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care, saunas, float tanks, herbal medicine, and supplements etc. carry a multitude of benefits – but like therapy – they should be working WITH you to help you care for yourself.
These practices can be a great way of kick-starting your Self-Care journey, but they should not break your bank. Practicing financial responsibility is a huge component of Self-Care, so
It is crucial that you reconcile the fact that you ARE worthy and deserving of healing and that you ARE worth investing in – but you must discern how to invest in your authentic self responsibly.
Living and being openly authentic in this way can be intimidating – fear is a powerful deterrent. Chances are, during the initial stages of making this shift into caring for your Authentic Self, fear and guilt will bombard you and try to dissuade you. Do not let them have power over you. As much as this kind of deep self-examination can be scary, ignoring this work creates a different and more pervasive kind of stress. So yes, self-care is hard because it means facing things you’d rather pretend aren’t there. Self-examination is uncomfortable as it requires a level of honesty you may not feel prepared to handle.
But if you can accept responsibility for yourself, you ultimately begin to have a stronger self-concept and engage in behaviors that honor and care for your Authentic Self every day.
It will be carved into your foundation that you are worthy, that your feelings are validated, and that you are living with integrity.
5-Minute Morning Self-Care Routine
I want to close with a daily 5-Minute Self-Care Routine to Start Your Day (taken and modified from my Self-Care bible “The Witch’s Book of Self-Care). Do not let the name intimidate you, I promise it’s all light! But starting out your day with a little routine like this sets the tone for the rest of your day. As with any routine, tweak it to suit your unique needs!
Upon waking, wiggle your toes and fingers; take 3 deep breathes in the nose and out the mouth. These small movements offer a nice transition from sleep to waking.
On your bed or on the floor, do a few basic yoga poses to continue waking yourself up: child’s pose, cobra, cat/cow, or stretching your arms out to the side and above you.
Sit cross-legged and close your eyes, breathe deeply and visually scan your body from head to toe – is there anything that hurts or feels off? Ask if there are any stretches or breathing it needs to release and relax.
Have a glass of water (no ice!) and drink it mindfully – notice the sensation of the refreshing liquid rushing passed your lips and down your throat – quenching your thirst.
Mentally review your schedule for the day – perhaps while you have your first cup of tea or coffee or with breakfast. Take a moment to open your mind and accept the tasks for the day. Don’t worry about the details of actually getting them accomplished just yet – just accept they’re there. Make a note of stepping away from your workspace every hour and breathing for 30seconds outside or near a window. TRUST ME – YOU CAN AFFORD TO DO THIS!
Choose an affirmation for your day based on your morning meditation, your daily schedule, and your general mood. For some examples of affirmations, see Andrea’s Affirmation List!
If you have time, taking 5 minutes to journal in the morning is immensely helpful. Start by answering some basic questions: How am I feeling today? How can I make the best of my day? How will I care for myself today?
And that is all for now, my dear ones. If you've made it to the end, hopefully you'll have come away with a deeper understanding of what it really means to care for your Authentic Self and how to step away from parts of our Toxic Wellness Culture. As always, if you want to discuss some of these things in more detail, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me!