by Bernadette Healy
Imagine you are at lunch with a group of colleagues including a ‘real weirdo’ (substitute your own preferred descriptor). You are having fun with the group. As you go back to your desk, you feel a slight sense of discomfort. You reflect and recall that the ‘real weirdo’ was being excluded. You were not thinking of that at the time.
Now as you reflect you consider possible different ways of behaving. You make a personal commitment to try out a different way next time. You become aware, as you consider the situation, that the sense of discomfort was due to your having behaved in a way which was incongruent with how you want to be.
This kind of self-reflection suggests emotional discipline – a critical ingredient to high performance. It is also a form of self-care.
This is the kind of self-care that will protect you from becoming disconnected from yourself, and others. Such disconnectedness is both frightening and a frequently emerging theme, underlying many of the presenting issues in counselling.
Are you taking care of yourself? Some are routinely able to take care of their physical self. Some are routinely able to take care of their emotional self. A few are able to take care of both. What has to happen in order for you to take better care of yourself? What does that mean for you?
To answer these questions it is necessary to spend time reflecting. For example, reflect back on times in your life when you have felt fully engaged and ok. During such times, you were probably taking care of yourself. This would likely have included commonly recognised self-care practices such as good nutrition, regular exercise and sufficient rest. Importantly however, it is also likely to have included an individual, key aspect to your wellbeing.
What were you doing at that time which may have been contributing to this sense of engagement and wellbeing? Did such times coincide with participation in a particular leisure activity? Were you spending time with particular friends? Where were you working? (were you working?!) What was the nature of the majority of tasks with which you were involved? What was the structure of the workplace like? Were there people with whom you were not in contact at that time? What was home like back then? Perhaps it was a time of heightened, purposeful activity for you; perhaps it was a time of limited structure in your daily life. Was opportunity for self-expression a feature of this time?
There are no right or wrong answers – or even questions. Your own experience will provide you with the data necessary to work out your optimum self-care conditions.
If your reminiscence has led to decisions such as to stop trying to be sociable; to play computer games or access the myriad attractions of the net whenever you feel like it; or to party as heavily and as often as consciousness allows – it is likely that you have confused self care with self-indulgence! Self-care may or may not feel comforting, comfortable or easy. It may well be quite difficult to both initiate, and continue self-care practices, particularly as they often do not have an immediate gratifying outcome.
Most would agree – if pushed! – that we have a deeply felt sense of the person we are. Of course, tragically, early traumatic experiences may severely damage this for some. If we routinely fail to listen to this sense, or ignore what we know about ourselves for long enough, we will risk great loss.
If you can recognise and accept the importance of self-care in its broadest sense, and then commit to an ongoing personal data collection exercise which involves listening to and respecting your deep sense of self, you (and those around you) will be rewarded in wonderful and unexpected ways. Not least of which will be increasing moments of both joy and quiet contentment.