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HOW TO DO SELF-CARE WITHOUT GUILT

April 8, 2019

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I'm Carly - an MD Psychotherapist specializing in women's mental health. I help women feel like themselves again.

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So often when I ask my clients what is one of the greatest struggles related to their self-care routine, they answer GUILT. Ugh. It’s the worst. Even if they are able to stick to their routine as best they can, they feel so guilty for taking time away from their responsibilities and families to do it. Many of my clients are seeking strategies and tips on how to do self-care without guilt.

In today’s post, I’m going to explore exactly that: why do we feel guilty about self-care, what beliefs keep us feeling guilt in regards to self-care and how to overcome guilt so we can enjoy our self-care more fully.

 

 

how to do self-care without guilt

When I first began my crusade into this amazing world of self-care, I noticed that I feel one of the following things about self-care:

Guilt about taking the time to do my self-care
OR
Guilt about not taking the time to do self-care

BAH! So much guilt wrapped up in self-care. Right?

My experience would go something like this:

Imagine a busy day in the average family household with dishes piled up, children needing things, spouse needing things, dogs needing things. So much to do and so many people to care for. The mere thought of taking time to care for myself would bring on all sorts of guilt: How could I possibly leave my husband with crying children for a half hour?  With so much to do, how could I take time to exercise? I work out of the house, how can I take this extra time away from my children who I already don’t see enough?

Suffice to say, many times and for a long time, the guilt won:

Guilt 1: Self-Care 0.

And once I got over the guilt of taking time for myself (by using some of the strategies below) and developed into a good routine of it, I would then experience the guilt about skipping a day or a few days in a row. And oh the shame.

I hate “failing” and would make it mean all sorts of negative things about myself. One day would be enough to tip me into a “failure spiral”. I would berate myself with negative self-talk, notice how tired and lazy I felt, be frustrated and further worsen the day by being sure to tell myself just how terrible I was at maintaining a routine. Dramatic, I know.

Guilt 2: Self-Care 0
Relentless inner critic: 1000

I began to notice the relationship between self-care and guilt and came to the following conclusion:

Having guilt about doing or not-doing self-care was the antithesis of self-care.

For my self-care to be true, it would have to be guilt-free. Self-care and guilt would have to be mutually exclusive. 

In order to live my healthiest life through regular self-care, I would have to reframe my relationship to what self-care meant and what it meant to be successful at it. Today, I’m going to share with you the steps I took to do just that.

 

I realized that my needs were just as important as everyone else’s. 

I believe we have been made to believe a giant lie as women (well, many giant lies, but that’s a soapbox for another day).

This giant lie is that our needs are not as important as the needs of others. 

This is because society and social conditioning has often told us that in order to be a “good mother/wife/partner/caregiver/[fill I’m the blank]”, we must put others before ourselves. From the moment we are old enough to care for others, we are told that our needs should come secondary to those who need us in order to be perceived as “good”.

Well, that’s just hogwash. 

When your spouse needs time to “wind down” after a long day, it’s important. You make it happen. 

When your child needs “quiet time” to decompress after a stressful event, it’s important. You make it happen. 

So…When you need “self-care” to continue being the amazing wife/mother/partner/boss lady/breadwinner/caregiver you are, IT’S IMPORTANT. Make it HAPPEN.

When you can make the intentional decision that your needs are not lesser than the needs of others, that they deserve as much attention and priority as the needs of those in your household/business, your self-care becomes a priority.

When you can realize that your needs are as important as everyone else’s, you feel less guilty about doing it. Full stop.

 

I realized that by caring for myself, I was also caring for others.

If you DO believe that caring for others is more important than caring for yourself (tsk tsk), then you will almost certainly feel guilty about taking time for yourself. However, there is an inherent flaw in this logic.

Women will often feel selfish or guilty for taking time for themselves because they fail to see the connection between taking care of themselves and taking care of others. 

Imagine a sailboat on the rocky sea of life. This sailboat is your family.

The mast on the boat keeps the craft upright, suspends the sails and thereby directs the course towards the destination. It propels the boat forward, it gives it direction and it keeps it from capsizing in stormy seas. In order for the mast to stay upright, it needs other supports to keep it upright. It cannot maintain the course of the boat by itself and needs shrouds and stays to keep it strong. 

If you haven’t made the connection yet, you are the mast of your sailboat in this metaphor. 

You, the mother/breadwinner/leader, support the sails or what propels your family forward and keep the family from capsizing into chaos when life inevitably throws its curveballs.

In order to do your job of being the main support of your family, you need your own versions of shrouds and stays to support you.

This is your self-care.

Your self-care keeps you balanced and upright, keeps you connected to your centre and aware of where you’re feeling strained or taxed.

So by doing your self-care, you support yourself to support your family.

BAM! Truth-bomb!

I realized that self-care didn’t have to be expensive or luxurious. 

Our perception of what self-care actually is can also cause a minefield of guilt around it.

So often, self-care is seen as a luxury to those women who have endless amounts of free time, no responsibilities, and can spend their days lazily indulging in activities they enjoy. (Do these women exist? No, seriously. If you’re one of them, please get in touch with me to prove unicorns are real.)

Sometimes self-care is perceived as something only for those who can afford it financially: a weekly massage, a monthly pedicure, a fancy vacation.

When viewed in this light, it is easy to see why some of us would feel guilty about doing these things. (Although you should never feel guilty about any of those things! Huzzah!)

Heads up, I’m here to tell you that self-care doesn’t have to mean any of those things.

In fact, there is no right way to do self-care. 

The dictionary defines self-care as “care for oneself; the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.” I don’t know about you, but Webster isn’t saying much about expensive spa treatments or shopping sprees.

That is because the truth is: You get to choose exactly what your self-care means. 

 

So for me, my self-care means taking at least 20 minutes to move my body because exercise makes me feel good.
Self-care also means journalling a few pages every morning (as often as I can) to reconnect with how I’m feeling, what my mood is like and what worries are on my mind because this helps me feel connected.

And none of those things cost anything. They’re not luxuries (not that I’m not deserving of luxuries, however). They’re not impacting anyone negatively. They’re not hurting anyone or the environment.

They’re something I do purely because they are activities or intentions that preserve or improve my own health. This is not a luxury.

(And when I commit to my self-care routine for a good chunk of time, I use one of those luxuries as a reward for a job well done :))

I teach all about self-care routines in my online course Journey To Calm, where I explain how a powerful self-care routine and having the correct mindset about is CRITICAL to getting your mindset under control.

I realized I deserved self-care, regardless of how I felt. 

So many of us believe that in order to “get self-care time” we need to deserve it. We need to earn it or make it a reward for a job well done.

I believed this at one time, so I can see the connection.

This belief can cause one of two things to happen: You either don’t do self-care unless you feel like you’ve earned it OR you deprive yourself of self-care if you’ve made a mistake (you punish yourself for being human, essentially).

Humph. Do you do either of these things?

Say, you flubbed and messed up at work. Or you forgot something important to your child or spouse. Or you haven’t been meeting your goals that you set out for yourself.

This doesn’t mean you aren’t deserving of self-care.

In fact, it’s in moments of sadness or feeling down on ourselves that we need and deserve our self-care the most.

Self-care is the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself when you’re feeling bad or undeserving. 

Imagine you had a friend who had failed at their goal of getting their book published. Would you tell them they didn’t deserve a nice bath to celebrate their hard efforts? Would you deny them the right to exercise because they didn’t get the deal?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you wouldn’t do any of those things. Right?

You would encourage your friend to be kind to herself and take care of herself and that she was deserving of it.

So let’s afford ourselves the same rights and benefits we afford others, shall we?

I changed my perception of success and failure.

Do you suffer from black and white thinking?
Do you have an “all-or-nothing” approach to life?

If so, you also have likely experienced the guilt I referenced earlier about skipping a day (or even a few days) of my self-care routine.

This guilt happens when my mind tells me things like “Well, so much for the weeks of dedicated self-care you’ve been doing, you just completely failed” and discounts all of the previous success I had. Because I skipped one day (or a few days). Humph.

Black-and-white thinking is a thinking pattern that divides the world into “either/or” terms, rather than perceiving the range of possibilities or meanings that exist in life, the shades of grey. This type of thinking, also called “splitting” by psychologists, has a connection to perfectionism as well. I will demonstrate with an example.

When I successfully commit regularly to my pre-set routine for self-care (ie. committing to 5 days/week), my mind says: successful. 

When I inevitably skip a day because I’m human or get sick or life gets in the way, my mind says: complete failure. 

The mind fails to perceive the range of reality that actually exists: that while I have skipped one day, I have still been successful at my routine.

It fails to see the shades of grey that actually exist in our reality. That in order for the condition of “successful” to be achieved, I can still skip a day or two. It fails to see that success is not black or white, but can be somewhere in between.

So in your attempt to minimize the guilt of skipping a day, or not following through on your routine, consider whether you are using black and white thinking and whether you need to perhaps re-imagine your definition of success:

Does success on your self-care routine really mean sticking it out regardless of what happens?
Does success in your self-care routine depend on you being super-human with endless motivation and time?
Does success mean absolute perfect adherence to your routine without skipping one day?

OR

Does success mean prioritizing yourself in some way (even if it’s just the bare minimum) every day?

Does success mean that you prioritize your self-care and try your best to commit, but that you are able to have self-compassion and grace when life inevitably happens?

Is there a grey area in your definition of success, or can you find one?

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

Your needs are just as important as everyone else’s.

Taking care of you = Taking care of others.

Self-care is whatever you want it to be.

You are always deserving of self-care.

Success is not black and white.

I hope that these strategies and concepts are helpful in allowing you to overcome the guilt related to your self-care.

The reality is self-care is not a luxury or optional: it is 100% necessary. Once you can realize this, guilt becomes less of an obstacle.

Tell me, what is your biggest struggle with guilt? How do you overcome guilt related to self-care?

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