To most people, “self-love” and “self-care” don’t make a lot of sense.
It sounds like some weird sex thing (self-love snicker).
Or some woo-woo New Age thing (“Come join our full moon solstice self-love circle”). Possibly also a weird sex thing.
Or a spa thing (“Indulge with our diviiiiine self-care facials!”).
Or maybe some medicated cream you have to smear on an embarrassing rash (“Self-care instructions: Apply ointment to the oozing pustules 3x daily”).
For the average person, self-love and self-care definitely don’t sound like something that they’d be doing on a Tuesday between rushing to pick up dry cleaning and trying to shove some sustenance in their kids’ mouths.
Who could love this sack of shit? we think, before carefully categorizing the exact sensation of our belly fat folding over our belt, or the callused skin of our hairy jagged toes catching the inside of our socks.
Many people don’t feel lovable enough to be adored by a well-meaning and nearsighted stranger, or possibly even a dog, never mind the person living inside their head — the person who is deeply, painfully, intimately acquainted with every grotesque detail of themselves.
How could I possibly love myself?
I know what I am.
I know what a failure, what a sham, what a pig, what a dummy, what a hateful black hole lives in this body.
So people think to themselves.
Self-care sounds like a waste of time.
Self-care is for rich housewives who have afternoons free to get manicures and go shopping.
Self-care is decadent and indulgent. It probably involves really expensive weird stuff like caviar facials or placenta mud wraps or detoxing our pores with lemon steam.
Are you kidding me? Self-care?
Look at all this other shit I have to take care of first!
The dog is hungry. My kid is hungry. My boss needs this thing ASAP. My car needs oil.
I don’t have time for this crap. Plus it sounds pricey.
So people think to themselves.
Self-compassion is for whiner babies and dirty hippies.
Self-compassion is for people who aren’t tough enough.
Self-compassion is letting yourself off the hook when you should take responsibility and be a hardass.
If you don’t point out mistakes, how are you gonna fix them?
Is this some namby-pamby liberal bullshit like everyone gets an award for playing??
I have high standards and I hold myself to them!
Harden up and get on with it!
So people think to themselves.
The truth is: Self-compassion is not a luxury.
None of these things like self-love and self-care are luxuries.
They are necessities if you would like to stay sane, be happy, and perform well.
They are necessities if you would like to stay healthy and strong, to sustain meaningful relationships, and to have a fulfilling life.
Because if you don’t take care of yourself, treat yourself with decency and respect, and be kind to yourself, then you have a fucking asshole in your head for your entire life.
Then you are in an abusive relationship with someone you can NEVER escape: Yourself.
Think about that.
Think about all the fucking assholes and douchebags and bullies and drunken wankers and loudmouth turds in the world.
Think about them taking parking spots and flipping you the bird, and calling you ugly and bad and stupid, and laughing at your pain, and harassing you on the street and the internet, and then realize:
You may have accidentally installed one more fucking asshole, right in your own brain cells.
And that jerk never shuts up, never misses a chance to tell you about all your mistakes, all your “flaws” and screwups and how you’ll never amount to anything.
Ever notice how much you suck after a good round of self-criticism and self-shaming?
How demoralized and demotivated you feel, how worthless and destroyed?
What happens after you go scorched-earth on yourself? You go and fuck up again, because you’re just trying to manage the stress, or crawl your way back to sanity after an internal beating. Your performance gets worse. It seems like you can’t even manage basic things any more.
Now how are you feeling about self-compassion?
Wanna try it?
Self-compassion makes us better.
Studies on self-compassion show that regularly practicing self-compassion, self-care, and self-kindness actually makes our “baseline” level of happiness higher.
When we practice self-compassion, it changes our brain. Eventually, we just walk around feeling better, all the time. Sure, we’ll have lows, but they’re less low.
Regularly practicing self-compassion also:
- Makes us better at thinking, learning, problem-solving and reasoning (because our brain isn’t being clouded by self-criticism)
- Makes us perform better (because, again, our brain isn’t distracted by garbage, and can focus on kicking ass)
- Makes us more motivated (rather than less)
- Makes us better at finding and fixing mistakes
- Makes us less stressed and less anxious, and thus more relaxed, and much less drained of energy and vitality
- Makes us more resilient and resourceful (because we see ourselves as allies and team members, and are able to use the capacities and skills we have)
- Makes us better at having fulfilling, meaningful, sustained relationships (because we can empathize and connect with others once we empathize and connect better with ourselves)
Unfortunately, all this self-compassion stuff sounds fluffy.
Especially if you grew up in a culture where truly enjoying things for their own sake or being kind to oneself stinks of depravity and waste, like the good sphincter-clenched people of my culture, the middle-class professional white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who never met fun they didn’t want to ruin, never met a job that wouldn’t benefit from working harder at, never felt a sensual pleasure that didn’t demand immediate guilt and shame and regret for experiencing.
(Ironically of course, my people the WASPs love to go to “exotic” tropical locations where they can spend a week or do doing exactly that — gorging on exquisite food, swigging sweet boozy drinks, and cooking their flesh in the sun while they float their buffet-bloated bodies in the sea. We swing from self-flagellating strictness to let-it-all-hang out bingeing on everything, and usually none of it feeds our souls. Wait… what are souls?)
Here’s another approach: Don’t be a dick to yourself.
You don’t like douchebags, right?
Sure, most of us don’t.
(Unless you’re a douchebag. Then you think you’re terrific. Go away.)
You don’t like bullies, right?
Sure, most of us don’t.
(Unless you’re a bully. Then stop it.)
We can agree that we don’t like douchebags and bullies. And then we can agree that we will not be douchebags and bullies to other people.
Now, here’s the idea: Don’t be a douchebag and bully to yourself.
Don’t kick yourself when you’re down. Don’t pile on to the hating and insulting and criticizing and shaming.
Maybe you’re not all the way to self-love, or self-care, or self-compassion just yet.
No problem. You’ll get there, if you want.
If you practice. If you choose to.
Self-compassion is a skill, and like any other skill, you can improve it by practicing.
But maybe that’s too challenging, if you’re used to self-shaming and self-criticism.
So how about this intermediate step, sort of a gentlewoman’s agreement of agreeing to disagree?
Don’t be a dick to yourself.
How does that feel? Manageable? Do-able?
For most people, yes.
In the beginning, you might have a bit of trouble.
That’s OK. That’s normal.
Shitty mean thoughts are habits like any other, so they can sneak in under the radar.
Just notice them, name them for what they are (Oh hey shitty douchebag thought, I get that you want to come to the party but you’re no longer invited, sorry), and gently shut the door in their face.
If you catch yourself in the act of some kind of self-harming thought or behaviour, don’t keep the harm going by getting mad at yourself. (You stupid dick! Stop being a dick! You’re such a dick for being a dick! See how that makes no sense?)
Just pause, take a breath, and go in another direction. (Oops! I forgot the no-douchebag policy! No big deal, sorry about that, let’s just wipe up that mess and keep going.)
Give this no-inner-douche policy a try and see how it goes.
In a few weeks or months, see if you’re more open to going further… into ick gross barf self-love, self-care, and self-compassion.
You might be surprised.
Solstice sex circle, anyone?
“When a woman becomes her own best friend life is easier.”
― Diane Von Furstenberg
“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”
― Carl Jung