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Addressing the Feelings That May Prevent Us From Practicing Self-Care

In 1965, when my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, self-care as a concept simply did not exist. Her options, lifestyle and activities were directly determined by what her condition enabled her or didn’t enable her to do. Pacing, therapies and rest happened only when necessity forced her and professional emotional/psychological support was virtually non-existent.

Developments in illness awareness, health awareness and emotional awareness over the past 50 years have seen a very positive shift in recognizing the effect that self-consideration has on our well-being. Today, even a cursory internet search provides a wealth of self-help books, mindfulness exercises, self-care methods, behavior advice, information on drug side effects and how to pace, establish a support network, keep a pain diary, set boundaries, acknowledge personal needs and accept one’s limitations.

It is good to see that by now the need for self-care is better acknowledged and encouraged, and no one has to be at a loss for ideas, both practical and psychological. On this Mighty platform too, the question “we asked our community…” is guaranteed to result in a long list of shared experiences and wonderful suggestions.

The recognized need for self-care notwithstanding though, as a counselor assisting people who live with a chronic illness, I often still encounter a great reluctance in patients to heed the signals, accept their needs and actively care for themselves. Now, this is where the real challenge lies. The real issue might not be the actual recognition of the importance of self-care, but the underlying feelings that prevent one from fully applying it:

1. Denial. As we know by now, denial is a stage in coming to terms with the fact that we live with a chronic illness. Even after years, part of us still needs to hold off the devastating reality. But when I admit my needs and engage in self-care, I in effect admit to my illness. Thus, practicing self-care can be preceded by having to cross a profound inner threshold.

2. Self-validation. No matter how strong we are, no matter how much we try and “love what is,” illness, disability, pain and dependence can result in feelings of failure, guilt and shame. We don’t want to “burden” others with our special needs and what’s even more alarming, sometimes we ourselves do not feel that we deserve care and love. In spite of all the information and advice regarding self-care, the bottom line remains: you care for yourself to the degree you feel you deserve.

And so, self-care is not only about doing certain things, or not doing other things. It begins with the willingness and ability to let go of the person you once were, and to have compassion for the person you have become. Self-compassion is the foundation for self-care.

“You shall be free when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief. But rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them, naked and unbound.” – Khalil Gibran

Image Credits: Arjan Bogaers