Growing up, I rarely heard the terms self-care, boundaries or values. Talking about feelings was a no-no, and talking about needs made you ‘needy’ or a nuisance. No was a dirty word and the rhetoric was no makes you selfish, difficult, rude, and the like. Of course, it’s no wonder we are all in some way, shape or form waking up to the need to take care of ourselves. To know, like and trust us. To listen to ourselves after spending our life internalising messages and lessons that switched off our ability to listen.
We have quite simply been raised to distrust our feelings and ultimately, distrust our needs, boundaries and values.
Adulthood is about unlearning all of the harmful and redundant messages we’ve picked up along the way. The challenges, highs and lows we experience force us to confront old pain, fear and guilt. It’s through a series of painful romantic relationships, or feeling taken advantage of, or feeling lost, burnt out or resentful about work, family or friendships, that we finally wake up to the urgent need to finally prioritise our wellbeing. All of our experiences lead to our own series of personal wake-up calls.
The thing is, if we approach getting to know and take care of ourselves the way we’ve done the other things that have hurt, we become disillusioned.
It creates unrealistic expectations of self-care and anything we do to break habits. It’s likely that we will try to control the outcome or try to cram in ‘all’ our healing into this phase. This is perfectionism. It’s that fear of not knowing how things will turn out. We use trying to be perfect about things to try to control the outcome.
The truth is, we want to start taking care of ourselves and break the cycle of old patterns and also know that it’s going to go our way. We want to speed through the uncomfortable part. Can’t we just cut to the bit where we’re living happily ever after? Is there a step-by-step plan or blueprint that I can follow so that I don’t have to think? Just tell me what to!
It’s like the ‘Time is money, money is time’ attitude that’s so pervasive in work culture. Now, though, instead of work, it’s like ‘I spent X amount of bandwidth and doing some stuff for myself. Where’s the frickin ROI (return on investment)?’ We watch every movement like the way one might watch the markets. There’s a part of us wondering if we should pull out of the ‘investment’ we’re making in ourselves.
We also try to do all the things all at once. And much like when someone tries to lose weight, quit smoking, quit drinking, start a new job, move house or deal with a relationship challenge all at the same time, it’s too much. Something or everything collapses. These are major life changes that require focus, willpower (you run out of it) and bandwidth.
Making changes, becoming more of who you are, require boundaries that allow you to recogise your limits.
You have to be willing to listen to and know when you’re demanding too much of yourself. Growth, self-work, self-care–they all require you to know when to say no to yourself, never mind to others. These all take a level of mindfulness that keeps you aligned with your intentions, values and boundaries.
Most importantly, though, you don’t control ‘growth’. Self-care and self-work aren’t about getting to a finish line or a desired result. You’re not trying to be ‘done’, as if to say you never have to deal with anything ever again. Or as if to say that you’re only doing these so that you can get what you want. They’re a lifestyle. Clock-watching your progress is a call to explore that perfectionism. What’s the baggage behind it?
Gradually shifting your habits as you live your life helps you to heal old emotional baggage and become more of who you really are as you go.
So while you may be understandably very much ready to break away from old patterns and move your life forwards, you will also need to have patience and self-compassion. You will need to acknowledge where you’re rushing yourself and inadvertently falling into old patterns of being too hard on you. Noticing this and having more self-compassion are pattern breakers in and of themselves.