Where’s the Self in Self-Care?

December 6, 2018

Vanessa Leveille

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While I do love the hype about self-care, I am concerned about some things and what I have been seeing happening IRL around me and on social media. I first learned this buzz word in 2009, my first year of social work grad school. 

Simmons College did a great job drilling this in its students, and making sure that we knew that the key to being a great therapist was to practice self-care of your own. And so I did, I worked out, I went for walks, I ran in nature, I journaled, I listened to music, I spent time with family, I watched comedies; I did things I thought were fun and relaxing. Things that would take my mind off the clients’ troubles in therapy as an intern, my full-time job and the graduate school course workload I had in front of me. Wow, I was really doing a lot while in grad school. That has always been me though. In undergrad, I worked three part-time jobs and was a full-time student; just always doing something. So when my professors in grad school gave me permission to slow down in the namesake of being a great therapist, I ran with it. Having been in the field longer, and since I aspired to be the best helper I could be, I listened to them and really took self-care on! 

Fast-forward to today….actually, fast forward to my shower the other morning. I have come to realize that I have my best ideas in the shower, and can also hear God talking to me much clearly when I am near water. Odd, but true! So while showering, I heard my mind think, “where did the self in self-care go?” Woah… amirite? I was so taken aback by this question and by how random and attractive it was. It was thought-provoking, it was bold and led me down one of my favorite places to be– circumstantial thinking. While it annoys everyone else around me, as it can be quite annoying to give unnecessary details and long winded answers, in my head I have my best thoughts that way and am inspired to do great things. It’s also the way my eyes see the world, in unnecessary detail and lots of it. See how I digress there? Anyway, so I hear this question and I begin literally a day long adventure with it. It comes up in my sessions with clients and I explore this with them. I journal the heck out of it. I talk my boyfriend’s ear off about it… I get into an interesting conversation with my sister about it, and before you know it, I am compelled to speak about it. I decide, I am going to both blog and do an entire instagram tv series on it. But not before I do more research!

Today, you cannot log on any social media platform without seeing the words self-care hasgtag’d in someone’s post or IG story. Self-care is a movement, but it didn’t start on IG in 2016. There is a whole history on self-care and for the sake of my time and sanity, Jerico Mandybar has already gone there in Girlboss, so there you have it. Oh, and so has Aisha Harris in Slate. Now that we know the history. I want to talk about what I am seeing these days that warms my soul, and the things that are driving me a bit berserk and I cannot unsee.

Self-care is popping right now, and as I have mentioned, I love it. I love that so many people are engaging in practices that elevate their spirits, has their health affairs in order, got them looking like snacks with their edges laid and nails looking on point and bodies looking like sculpted figurines, sending a big F U in political warfare as Audre Lorde has put it and taking a stance against stress. All of that is great, and in fact, all part of the physical self-care that is so necessary. I feel we really have physical self-care down; we’re good there… no confusions! And with that said, I still can’t help unseeing how much more work we have to do with self-care. Maybe it’s my critical eye, or the cynic in me.. Or the part of me that is so tired of seeing how we have lost sight of some important components of self-care. How often I log online, and yes while I don’t really know anyone on social media I only know them IRL, so I don’t know what their true practice of self care looks like, I am judging by the picture, that they have forgotten the Self in self-care. I walk into nail salons to get my nails done as an act of grooming, and I see a sea of sistahs looking truly dissociated and exhausted lost in their social media accounts on their phone and proclaiming self-care. How many times I go out for sangria and some soul music and hear sistahs, again proclaiming self-care, and in another breath say things, that with a trained ear, I can hear they are not in touch with their Self.

Now, let me be very clear here, I am neither rolling my eyes at them, criticizing them or condemning them nor am I saying that I am the self-care Queen and am afforded judgement. Ever get a dope AF mani? You will walk out like your whole life is in order, and trust me, your brain loves it! Need a night out with girlfriends? Studies show that women who hang out with their girlfriends and share good laughter and community, are healthier overall. So keep on keeping on with activities like that. I am just saying, there are some pieces missing that can really take your self-care to another level especially when most of the activities that I am seeing women engage in have become some escapism acts. How can you be practicing self-care when you are escaping the self?  

What is the Self?

The concept of the Self is one that can be heard discussed a lot in different spaces, in that of religion, philosophy, science, and again, for the sake of my sanity and time with this blog post, this article and this one as well do a great job of expanding your thinking around Self. Trust me, asking what is the Self is such a loaded question. It is so mind-bending, and richly involved that in certain instances I prefer to stick with simple explanations. Especially when no matter how buzzing “self-care” is, I still have puzzled women coming to me and saying they think they are doing self-care but are still not sure what is looks like exactly, and where to start. So going back to when I had that thought in the shower, I thought back to my experiences with women questioning their self-care and the conversations I was finding myself in, and in that moment I confirmed that we have lost the Self in self-care. Before I can guide these women on where to start or what self-care looks like, we have to take them back to Self so they can then wrap their heads and subsequently their schedules around self-care (because that is the other thing that comes up, time to practice self-care.. Another topic for another blog post).

Here’s how I like to explain it to clients I work with in both health coaching and therapy, in my most simplest layman easy to understand terms; the Self is the part of you that is your soul experiencing everything in the physical world. It is the part of you that has lived, loved, laughed, touched, danced, sang…the part of you that goes through the good, the bad, the bullshit and the ugly. It is the part of you that wants to expand and transform. When you practice self-care you are engaging with that part of you. You are engaging with the inner you, the Self… and thus you are in a relationship with Self. Just like with any other relationship, say for example, with your partner, you typically get together for a date. Every time you get a moment to get away from the chaos of the world and you two have that alone time, you likely discover something new about them. You all of a sudden can see certain parts of them on a deeper level, and you feel like you are finally having a moment to check in with them. The moment to ask them, “how are you?”, and really hear for his response. It’s not like any other time when it is casually said like a rhetorical question. But you really hear and listen attentively to what they say, and you take it in and make sense of it. You then ask them other questions, like “how are you doing with the goals you have set for yourself this month?”, “how are you feeling about life right now?”, “what are some things that are going really well for you?”…maybe not in this verbatim kind of way, but you ask question gauging their well-being. And then you ask the questions we often forget, like “how am I showing up in this relationship for you?”, “am I doing right by you?”, “where are places I am thriving in for you, and alternatively, where are the places I could be doing better?” and “what do you need from me?”. Now that’s a dope ass exchange… and quite frankly this is the kind of connection and reflection we keep saying we want from our partners, and yet… YUP, you know exactly where I am going with this one, we don’t do it with ourselves.

This is what I am seeing missing in self-care. That kind of dialogue with our Self. That kind of  introspection. The checking in with Self. Those same questions that you are desiring your partner to ask you, or that you are asking in relationships with others, are the same questions you can ask yourself. I don’t see this happening because so many of us have gotten caught up in the commercialized craze of self-care or how instagrammable a self-care activity is, and have lost sight of the true meaning of self-care…caring for the self. Don’t let the hype fool you or take you off course. Keep doing the physical self-care stuff… which is really just glorified grooming, but don’t forget to pause from that and sit with yourself to check in with Self. Ask Self those same aforementioned questions, and listen for the responses. Write down what you hear, pause… and ask some more questions. While you are putting your make-up on in the morning, pause… look at your Self in the mirror and ask those questions. When you are at the gym, and just sweated those laid edges away, pause and ask yourself those questions. Use these questions and responses as metrics for your expansion and transformation. And finally, when you take those moments to escape from the world, to check yourself off the grid, don’t forget to bring Self with you!


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Where’s the Self in Self-Care?

This is what I am seeing missing in self-care. That kind of dialogue with our Self. That kind of introspection. The checking in with Self.

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