Self-care. This used to be a term I knew almost nothing about. For a long time, I didn’t know I had needs that weren’t food, clothes, shelter or water (more like beer actually). Anything beyond the realm of survival was definitely not on my radar. A younger me would most likely scoff at the idea. Self-care, in my mind, equated to something like getting a mani-pedi. If you’ve read my post on toxic masculinity, you’ll know that I had deeply entrenched beliefs about the nature of men. Mainly, men having to be tough and unfeeling while women were afforded the luxury of being pampered or taken care of.
What Are Your Beliefs About Self-Care Based On
If that was tough to read, then I’m on the right track because it definitely
did not feel good to write. The strong sexist overtones were literally and figuratively beaten into me from the time I was a small child. This is no exaggeration. My family ran from their emotions using so many different modalities, that I’m not surprised that I literally did not know what it was like to experience emotions. I’m grateful that I found my way out of the maze they dropped me in, because it was a bumpy ride.
In my youth, I would spend my days watching one of my caregivers drink coffee all morning long, while driving to multiple locations to shop for clothing or house wares that they called running errands. They would then meet their mother and would gossip and complain about the people closest to them.
In the early evening they would switch to drinking vodka tonics, cooking dinner and paying bills or budgeting at the kitchen table and finish the night by watching hours of television. They were in perpetual motion. Or at very least, filled their time with distractions that would keep them from sitting with their internal life. I love my caregiver, but from them is where I learned to avoid my emotions with either chemicals or distractions.
My Unkempt Maze Of Emotions
The men in my life weren’t much more emotionally intelligent that the women. They would use mostly anger and aggression to hammer their points home. I don’t remember many teachable moments in my childhood from the men in my family. There was however, a lot of yelling and beatings for not following their rules.
So it was here that I was left. In the maze of my lessons of neglecting my emotional self and the fear of the male role models in my life. Fear, anxiety and neglect were states I knew well growing up in my family. Though I now know that it wasn’t their fault. They themselves were, “faced with something that could consume you completely” to quote a song lyric from Grimes’ “Skin“.
In the case of my family, what “could consume you completely” was all of the unattended emotions. The ones that were wildly in need of some kind and structured attention. But when you’re a child learning how to communicate with your loved ones and learning the different types of languages they’re modeling for you, using their spoken and implied rules, it’s difficult to understand that it’ not your fault that you don’t understand. That it’s not personal.
Navigating Anger in the Family Maze Of Communication
Also, anger and conditional belonging can be another area to be fearful of when learning our place in the family structure. As children we’re the centers of our own worlds. When we sit at the kitchen table as children and listen to our parents cut up others for their perceived shortcomings often enough, it can be tough. Tough to know that when they turn their disdain towards us, in a moment of frustration and we become the target, that the we have not fallen into the category of “other”. Or that we no longer belong with or to our parents. In turn, showing us that the love our parents once gave so freely is conditional and unstable.
This can be a lonely place and one filled with fear for not feeling as though we belong and with it, feelings of self-doubt. I know I was left to wonder what I could have done that made my caregivers turn on me so quickly. And this family dynamic is something that I’ve carried with me. And inadvertently, have tried to recreate it in my other relationships. If the foundation of how we view ourselves is built on the criticisms of our family relationships, then we are left with a very unstable vision of how we see ourselves and our relationships. And luckily, this is where a self-care routine helped me overcome and nourish some of the fear and neglect that had been instilled in me from childhood.
Self-Care and it’s Positive Effects
From my experience, practicing self-care means we are sending the message to ourselves that we are important and valuable. And the more often we send ourselves these positive messages, the less we believe unhealthy messages. The ones of feeling unloved. Those that we receive by the neglect and abuse from our caregivers. As an old co-worker of mine used to say, it’s like you’re telling yourself, “I’m here, I care”.
And a little bit of care goes a long way. Especially since we have everyday stressors to deal with. Added to the neglect from the past it can feel insurmountable at times! But what helps us to embody and strengthen these messages of self-care we give to ourselves is, repetition and consistency. We need to make showing up for ourselves a habit.
Self-Care Routine, Self-Care Sundays
Which brings us to self-care Sundays! For me and my schedule, I needed to set some time aside each week. This is so I know I have some slotted time to relax. And even learning to relax is a challenge! So I started by choosing a time to begin to learn, which for me became Sunday nights. Since I work in the food industry, my Sunday is my Friday. So I thought, what better way to start my weekend than with a little down time for myself.
The consistency of my routine being once a week gives me the sense that I’m valuing myself and my time. I know that no matter how stressful my day or week gets, or the tasks that pile up, I’ve set aside some time where I can do something special for myself. Or just be. Without worrying about what I need to do next.
And this is where consistency is important. I needed the set structure of having a specific day and set time, to be able to learn that I could count on myself to show up. Or that I’m here, I care. To focus on myself with a kindness and attention that I hadn’t received before from those who were supposed to show me how it’s done. And as I’ve said above, from my experience growing up as a man, it was difficult societally because self-care has historically fallen in the realm of the feminine.
Self-Care is Everybody’ Job Not Gender Specific
Which was another obstacle I found myself navigating. Around the gender specific roles I was taught. Whom should do what. I felt a mix of guilt, shame and a little bit of fear for showing kindness to myself. As though this was not my job. I was swimming against the current of my family’s unspoken rule of showing kindness at all. It was not only seen as a sign of weakness for a man, but also feminine by nature. I had to teach myself that kindness was not a feminine emotion, but a human one.
The following sums up the types of role modeling my family members exemplified in my childhood. The man of the house made a living and had a career. He was the unquestioned authority and head of the household. He used violence and aggression to keep his family in line and protected. The woman was caretaker of the man and children. She cooked, cleaned and soothed her man using whatever means necessary. She was submissive and navigated her world with a childlike naivety and cruelty. Alcohol and denial were the two tools most often used to keep this model “working”.
Under this model I was taught that I needed a woman to be kind to me, because I couldn’t do it for myself. I was unable to feel kindness being a man, so instead, I needed a woman to feel it for me. Asides from this being an extremely unhealthy dynamic, it taught me the lesson that I couldn’t be kind to myself or others.
Gender Specific Emotions Breeds Contempt
As a child, I was given a considerable amount of unhealthy messages. Kindness being the woman’s job or even having emotions as being feminine, were a few of them. But to my younger self this made sense. This was due to all the men in my life being terrifying and the source of most of my abuse. But the women were just as fear provoking, neglectful and spiteful. So fitting into the roles I had laid out for me meant, I needed to be hard and unfeeling. In control of myself and others while enduring all the contempt we were generating under these unspoken rules.
Little did I realize that this was my family trying to control their external experiences to feel more in control of their internal worlds. If everybody acts the part that’s pre-approved, then everybody knows where they stand with one another. But asides from being unhealthy, this also takes the spontaneity out of life. Trying to predict everybody else’s emotional states and reactions in order to feel safe in a relationship is more like surviving than being in a conscious loving relationship. And not allowing for people to change is just as bleak an outlook.
What I feel was the missing piece to my family’s way of being in relationship was, they were relying on someone else to take care of themselves while they took care of another. And if your source of belonging and care is threatened and you are unable to provide that care for yourself, then you would go to great lengths to try to control that source of external “care”. Even if it is abusive.
The Importance of Self-Care
This is why self-care is so much more important than just taking ourselves out to dinner once in a while. It’s a way to show ourselves that even if we don’t have someone who is willing to take care of us, we’re still capable of giving ourselves the care we need. We’re still worthy of love and we still belong. We’re not only willing, but perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves.
Now that I’ve gone over some of the ways we may find resistance in attempting self care, next week I’ll go over some of my routines and how I made them stick. Because it’s not always easy starting a new routine. Especially one that is at the very core of how we take care of ourselves. Till next time, Peace : )
Image Credits: “2015-03-18c What do I do for self-care — index card #self-care #happiness #comfort” by sachac is licensed under CC BY 2.0