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Caring for Yourself as You Care for Others

Woman Reading Newspaper with Dog

Self-care is not about self-indulgence, it's about self-preservation.

Audre Lorde

In Alice D. Domar’s excellent book Self-Nurture: Learning to Care for Yourself as Effectively as You Care for Everyone Else, Domar discusses the challenges many women have with self-care:

What women need  is to learn how to nurture themselves. We need to shower as much loving kindness on ourselves as we habitually shower on loved ones, and even not-so-loved ones. We need to be loved for our fully formed selves, not for our dependent, appeasing selves….

Why does stress get the better of us? Why do we seem to lack creativity and vitality? …The fundamental problem is not that we lack coping skills or relaxation techniques. Most of us do lack knowledge of these methods, but, more fundamentally, we’re missing a commitment to ourselves that is rooted in compassion.

We lack the energy and initiative to solve problems when we’re so busy working and taking care of others that we neglect ourselves. We lose commitment to a relaxation practice when we don’t feel entitled even to twenty minutes each day for our own well-being. We set aside creative pursuits because we internalize negative messages about our talents, or view artistic endeavors as one more drain on our crowded schedules. And we lose heart when our spiritual growth takes a backseat to duty and obligation. In other words, our inability to self-nurture becomes a roadblock to all our efforts to manage stress, enhance health, and energy, develop creativity and cultivate soul.  

Photo Credit: jjay69

via Compfight cc Domar, a Harvard psychologist, recommends that we nurture ourselves in four critical areas: the body, mind, emotions, and spirit. (Over the next few Sanctuary posts, I will share some of her suggestions for self-care in each of these four areas. )

But before we discuss such specifics, let’s look at self-nurture with a bird’s eye view. 

Do you ever find yourself feeling fatigued, resentful, angry, or stressed because you're putting your Loved One’s needs before your own? You are investing your time and energy in your Loved One's recovery, so you are especially susceptible to self-neglect.

Many of us have been taught that self-nurturing is hedonistic or selfish. We believe that taking time for ourselves is lazy, will hurt our careers, or make us bad mothers or partners. Domar calls this “hogwash.” 

Being self-sacrificing at your own expense not only hurts you, but your friends and loved ones too. You will not be your best self if you are exhausted, resentful, angry, or burned out.  As the artist Audre Lorde explains, "Self-care is not about self-indulgence, it's about self-preservation." 

“Women must start from the premise that in our frenzied world we need and deserve time to recharge,"   writes Domar. “We must also acknowledge our right to pleasure — emotional, intellectual, creative, physical, [and] sensual….”

Any compassion that does not include ourselves, is incomplete. We must have self-compassion in order to have true compassion for others.

Photo Credit: farouq_taj

via Compfight cc


Journal Exercise

Take a few minutes to reflect on Domar’s ideas about self-care  and answer the following questions in your journal….   (You can do these exercises in one sitting or over several days or weeks, as needed.)

1. Do any of Domar’s observations ring true to you? 

2. Take a deep breath and do a body scan — slowly, one by one, observe how your head, neck, chest, stomach, pelvis, legs, and toes feel. How do these various parts of your body feel? Tight? Relaxed? Anxious? Fatigued?

3. How have your emotions been this week? How do you feel right now? Have you recently felt angry, frustrated, or resentful towards your Loved One or other friends or family members?

4. On an average day, how much time do you typically spend taking care of others? And how much time do you spend doing things only for yourself that are self-nurturing? 

5. Have you recently put aside something that was important to you in order to care for your Loved One? If so, how did this decision make you feel physically and mentally? If you felt negative emotions as a result, how did this manifest itself (perhaps you yelled or stormed out of the room or acted passive aggressively)? 

6. Do you truly believe that self-care is essential to your happiness or does some part of you believe it is selfish or indulgent? As Domar explains, this feeling is very common, especially for women. If you do have reservations about self-nurture, ponder where this message about “selfishness” came from. Did someone in your family teach you that self-sacrifice is better than self-nurture, either through words or their own actions?

7. Record any other thoughts you may have about self-nurture and the challenges of helping your Loved One, while also helping yourself. 

♦  Should you choose to purchase a book we have highlighted here in the Sanctuary, please know that your purchase will help support the AiR website



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