As women, the need for self-care can trigger feelings of guilt. We’ve been conditioned to automatically think that we are neglecting others when we take time and energy to care for ourselves. Even if we have very supportive partners and family members who actively encourage us to love and care for ourselves, it can feel dangerous in moments to actually do so. This is because there is a very strong cultural message that has powerful intergenerational momentum which states that a good woman is a self-sacrificing woman.
Many of us have grown up watching our mothers neglect themselves in order to care for their families–not just to care for their children but also to care for their parents and their husbands. Many of us have looked on as our mothers received praise for their self-neglect and we’ve seen the destruction that their inner deprivation can cause–as it manifests in family dynamics–and within our mothers in the forms of rage, depression, emptiness and bitter resentment.
There is a profound misconception that taking care of ourselves is bad for others. There’s a sense of scarcity; of having to choose between caring for yourself or your loved ones and not being permitted to have both. It’s a double-bind in which we lose if we care for ourselves because we end up feeling guilty, and we lose if we neglect self-care because we end up feeling resentful.
The more we can actively care for ourselves in small and big ways, the more this old belief can be seen for what it is: a way to control women and keep them ignorant of their power. It’s becoming clearer to modern women that there are no payoffs to martyrdom and self-deprivation. And as this becomes clearer, the more women can support one another in actively caring for themselves and asking for support when they need it. This support among women is so key to the paradigm shifts that are needed in our culture in order to create a more positive future for humanity and the planet.
Definition of self-care: Activities that nourish and replenish the mind, body and soul.
Examples of self-care:
- Rest, sleep, slowing down; listening into inner rhythms and cycles, solitude and reflection
- Stimulating, creative and enriching activities like reading books, learning new skills, creating art, music or writing
- Acts of receiving support from others such as mentorship or massage
- Spiritual and inspirational activities that accentuate one’s sense of place in the world, in the universe and larger scheme of things such as connecting with a larger, supportive community
Claiming our need for self-care is claiming our right to be whole people.
The irony is that this pattern of self-sacrifice and self-neglect creates the resentment that can actually induce one to act in truly neglectful ways towards our children and families.
Self-neglect is a pattern of deprivation and scarcity that we’ve internalized based on the patriarchal belief that women’s lives are less valuable.
Many of us grew up hearing women being called “selfish” or “ungrateful” if they spent time focusing on their own pursuits or feeling entitled to some degree of independence from traditional female roles. We’ve learned to think of it as black and white, as an “either/or” not a “both/and.” It was rare to see a woman was able to enjoy independent pursuits and simultaneously be seen as a good-enough mother or wife.
We must be willing to be misperceived for the sake of what is true and real.
I truly believe that in order to break the cycle of exhaustion and resentment, we must claim our need for self-care as valid, even in the face of criticism from loved ones. Even in the face of being called selfish. We have to let go of the fear of being seen as selfish for the sake of our own well-being and that of our children. And if we need support so that we can truly care for ourselves and others, we must begin to ask for support and claim that need as valid as well.
A woman who loves and cares for herself is NOT selfish. She is powerful … and she is harder to control and manipulate.
Self-care is not only available to the wealthy woman who can afford to hire a nanny or pay for a massage. Self-care can come in the tiniest of forms and each step we take to care for ourselves brings rich rewards to ourselves and our children, especially our daughters. We model what it means for a woman to value herself. As daughters see their mothers take care of their own needs and carrying themselves with self-worth, daughters can more easily internalize their own self-worth. The more a daughter sees her mother demonstrate respect for herself and other women, the higher esteem a young daughter will hold herself.
Simple ways we can demonstrate self-care in our daily lives:
- Take a little quiet time for yourself every day (meditation, long bath, walk, etc.)
- Breathe deeply and fully
- Take care of your physical body with healthy food, enough rest and activity
- Craft potent affirmations that reflect new beliefs that you want to embody in your life. Speak them out loud daily.
- Speak your truth; say Yes when you mean Yes and No when you mean No.
Self-care is ultimately about seeing ourselves as good, worthy and holy, even when our families and our cultures have been unable to. It is the work of a pioneer. We are owning our worth and laying new roads for future women.
Part of stepping into our power as women involves processing deep grief; grief not only for the pain you’ve experienced in your own life, but also the grief from acknowledging the oppression that has been experienced by the women in your generational lineage. On an even deeper level, there’s the grief of seeing that you cannot rely on your family or society to give you permission to be your full self. It’s the grief of realizing that they are incapable of giving you this permission. If you are to claim your full self, you must give yourself permission to be that full self. Only you can do this.
Something powerful arises from this reckoning and the grief that follows. It’s the ability to see your worth and value as a human being independent of the ability of other people to understand you.
From that moment forward, you can act from that place of knowing your worth even in the face of outer rejection and criticism. You have stepped across a threshold into a territory many women have never had the fortitude or opportunity to go to. You become a radiant light unto yourself, a light that others can begin to feel burning within themselves by virtue of witnessing your light.
This path may be incredibly lonely at times, but you are never truly alone. When you’ve touched this place of utter aloneness and singularity within yourself, paradoxically, you begin to touch something in the universal collective.
As we move forward diligently with our self-care, we demonstrate the potency of the self-anointed woman who is:
- willing to be misperceived by others
- willing to be seen as inconvenient or “not good enough”
- willing to be seen as “too much” or “too intense”
- willing to cease putting vital energy into people-pleasing and approval-seeking
- willing to be seen as selfish by others for the sake of demonstrating self-care practices to her daughter(s) and other young women
- willing to follow her inner wisdom and intuition even when it may conflict with the conventions and norms of the culture.
A free, self-anointed woman is willing to do these things because she is committing to living from her own sacred source…no matter what. She refuses to be confined by the patriarchal conventions of the culture. She demonstrates profound self-trust, aliveness, strength, joy, wildness and deep integrity.
As we become more free ourselves, living from our inner truth and authentic center, we assist others in discovering their own freedom as well. There is also a connection between our commitment to our own self-care and creating the cultural shift toward greater care of the planet. It all starts with the radical and simple commitment to value and care for ourselves.
(Art credits in order of appearance: Olaf Grind, Johan Hagemeyer, Ye Rin Mok, Esbeg Bøg, Mirav Patel, artist unknown, Maud Calard, Dorothea Lange)
© Bethany Webster 2014
Bethany Webster is a writer, transformational coach, international speaker and what you could call a midwife of the heart. Her work is focused on helping women heal the “mother wound” so that they can step into their full feminine power and potential. In addition to writing and teaching internationally, Bethany offers online courses and a private coaching program for women leaders who desire to take a quantum leap in their leadership.