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Often during a session, I’ll ask clients about something they said they were going to do to take care of themselves, like going to the gym or making a call about a therapy group. A common response is looking guiltily at me and giving me a gazillion reasons for why they didn’t do it, then brightening and telling me about some great bit of self-care they did. Is this something you do: take care of yourself in some ways, but not others? Remember, your goal is to take care of yourself all the time.
During one such interchange, I asked a client, “I guess you feed Bill (a pseudonym for her beloved dog), but sometimes don’t give him water, huh? And there are days when you both feed him and give him water, but don’t bother taking him for a walk, right?” She laughed and denied that ever happened, insisting that she always did whatever she needed to do to take care of him. Then it dawned on her that I was alluding to her inconsistent pattern and comparing how she takes care of Bill versus herself.
I’m not saying that we need to be perfect at taking self-care for ourselves (or our pets). I am helping you be curious about why you sometimes take care of yourself and sometimes don’t. How do you choose which behaviors to engage in? Does it feel more comfortable to do just some of them than all of them? Is there discomfort that comes from taking the best possible care of yourself all the time?
Taking partial care of yourself does a few things. First, no matter what a splendid job you do with yourself in one area, it leaves you with a general sense of disappointment in yourself. See, you can say, I’m still not doing the job I want to be doing to be really good to me. Second, it keeps others in your life reminding (nagging?) you to do better which may make you feel cared for and less alone. It’s as if you’re saying that they better stand by because who knows if you’ll need a self-care back up.
I am a firm believer that people who grew up not taking good care of themselves and maybe even had poor role models for it, can learn to be 100% accountable for their own self-care. That doesn’t mean you don’t need other people to help you, but that you want rather than require them. Unfortunately, other people may actually give you the message that they want you to need them and do so by making it difficult for you to take effective care of yourself. These kinds of people are scared that you’ll become self-sufficient because they fear you won’t need them. Well, maybe you won’t.
Think about the excuses you make for not taking excellent care of yourself and imagine how proud you’ll be when you’re 100% accountable for your own-self care.
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