there are a lot of criticisms to be made of self-care rhetoric but one thing that really annoys me is how so often it’s phrased as “do what you need to do to take care of yourself” as if that doesn’t mean we’re going to go just get drunk or lay in bed for five hours do some other thing to bury our feelings or that will make us feel even more like shit when we’re triggered. I mean, I’m not saying this to judge those behaviors, but people throw around the term self-care as if we’re going to even know what the fuck that means. like, we’ve all been schooled under this capitalist heteropatriachal kyriarchy (yes, that’s a bit tongue in cheek), and so we’re not actually going to automatically and intuitively know healthy ways of maintaing balance, feeling our feelings, setting boundaries, or releasing heavy shit. especially when trauma histories are involved (and even when they’re not) we’ve learned really maladaptive and dysfunctional ways of coping and surviving and it takes time to actually build real tools for self-care. I always felt so perplexed when people would say things like “you can leave if you need to” or “please take care of yourself” because it always seemed so vague; like, leave and go do what? I get that people are worried that people will feel obligated to stay in a triggering space and they’re basically saying that people shouldn’t feel that obligation, but that’s not self-care, that’s like the most rudimentary of reminders that people can have boundaries. if we’re going to acknowledge that self-care is a real skill and practice that we don’t just intuitively have, then we need to support people in actually learning those practices… I think that’s part of what made self-care feel like a really privileged white people thing to me, too. I really don’t think that it inherently is (though certainly privilege is what impacts peoples’ access to the time and energy to think about things like self care) but I do think that people with more privilege and people who aren’t abuse survivors tend to have way more of an intuitive understanding of “how to take care of themselves” because they’re more likely to have been taught and encouraged to do those things, and to recognize their own needs, growing up. that’s not a bad thing at all, but there needs to be more broad support in learning and developing those tools instead of just assuming people have them.
I guess what I would really like to see in self-care work is for people to actually start collectively sharing and teaching real concrete tools of self-care. like teaching workshops on what self-care actually is and what it looks like concretely, how we practice it, different ways of doing it, instead of throwing it around without ever acknowledging that people might not know (and I don’t mean intellectually know, but I mean intuitively feel) what the hell it means.
I went to a Dori Midnight self-care workshop and it was fucking awesome because it was basically like 2 hours of guided meditation with a few herbal things and discussions thrown in. But basically it was like, “ok, let’s just do this shit.” Saying that you want people to do self-care as an organization, workplace, collective, whatever, doesn’t actually mean anything if you don’t create some space for people to do that work together. That means things like making sure that people who do crisis and trauma work have adequate spaces built into the organization to debrief and get support around their secondary trauma. Or like incorporating guided meditation, dance, art, writing, whatever forms of healing/releasing/expressing/spiritual work jives the best for your group - incorporating that shit into your meetings, or the workplace or whatever. it doesn’t mean anything if you make it a homework assignment that people can’t even comprehend half the time, and that they have to somehow motivate to do themselves while alone at home.
It’s funny, I started to really hate the term self-care because I saw it being sort of misappropriated and abused and thrown around in these really unaccountable ways, where people would just use it to justify behaviors of avoidance, or not being properly accountable to their committments or to other people. The thing is though, of course self-care is used as a justification for peoples’ unaccountable behaviors when we aren’t even showing people what self-care is; of course we’re going to fit it into the existing frameworks we have of of our emotional realities, and if we’re already operating consistently in certain dysfunctional or unhealthy patterns than inevitably our interpretation of “self-care” is going to express itself that way too. It’s taken me years of being around self-care rhetoric to even start noticing when I want to say no to something, let alone choosing to do so. I think that there is a lot there that is really valuable - I come from a background of getting some support from self-help groups like codependents anonymous and I have a lot of respect for the internal and emotional work that people do (and that I have done) in order to understand the importance of things like healthy boundaries in our lives. But I think it’s precisely because I’ve engaged with this work that the way that self-care rhetoric is carelessly thrown around annoys me. I mean, people spend years in 12-step groups or in therapy or whatever in order to figure out what the hell boundaries even are.
I used to see lists of “self-care ideas” and it never really made sense to me, like, the last thing I’m going to do when I feel like shit is something proactive that will make me feel better. when people say “do what you need to do to take care of yourself”, they never suggest laying in bed for hours staring at your alarm clock because you’re too anxious to get out of bed or attempt to do ANYTHING when in reality, that’s the kind of stuff that happens when people don’t have tools. the last thing I’m gonna do when I hate myself or feel overwhelmed is like, get up and take a bath, or knit myself a scarf while drinking herbal tea.
anyway, here I am just talking shit, but the reason why I wrote this in the first place was because one really concrete thing that I wish I’d see more of is actual support in learning concrete self-care skills and strategies. let’s have more workshops where we do guided meditation, or learn how to use acupressure when we’re feeling overwhelmed, or practice coming up with rituals, or talk about why ritual is important. let’s read each others’ tarot cards, let’s go on runs together, let’s break up the 2-hour meeting with a high-energy game in the middle, let’s dance and sing songs, let’s have really real and honest conversations about boundaries and needs, let’s actually create structures to make sure that people have enough avenues and resources to grow in the realm of personal and self-care work. let’s introduce people to co-counseling, or support groups, or 12-step groups; let’s read literature from those groups when they are relevant to us or people around us. and especially let’s integrate it into our other kinds of work instead of compartmentalizing it as the thing that we vaguely tell people to do at home once they leave the meeting/workplace/etc.
I’ve been realizing recently that I feel really drawn to healing work, and I mean that really holistically in that it includes everything from medical practices to body work to supporting creative expression to counseling and trauma work to rehab to liberatory education models to just meeting peoples’ basic needs for food or shelter. like, it’s super broad but to me, healing work at its core is really about anything that helps to sustain, feed, and expand our resiliancy emotionally, spiritually and physically. and if we really honor self-care as a piece of healing work, I think we have to think of it as a really serious and broad set of skills, strategies, tools, rituals, practices, philosophies, and insights that we have to dedicate real time and energy towards building. collectively!