A Therapist’s Case for Rethinking the Self-Care Culture
I am sick of hearing about “self-care.” As a community-based yoga teacher, mental health therapist, and wellness educator, I’ve used the phrase “practice self-care” and its iterations more times than I can count. Alongside innumerable others rooted in service and love, I have faithfully preached the power of holistic self-awareness for years. Addressing the needs of our bodies, generating compassionate thoughts, and acknowledging our emotional and spiritual yearnings are non-negotiable for a life of intention and fullness. So why am I just about ready to #CancelCareCulture? Let me explain.
“Without a foundation of deep and intimate self-awareness, self-care becomes a Band-Aid.”
I stand by holistic wellness. Period! Caring for ourselves is critical for both our individual and collective healing. As I observe the growing culture being created around care, however, I see the need for an important shift if caring for ourselves and others is what we’re genuinely about. While I’m totally here for getting the most out of health and wellness services and products, the concept of self-care has been commercialized with its entrance into mainstream consciousness. There is something to say about the exploitation of our need for comfort, love, and healing.
Are We Buying Dependency?
In many ways, self-care has become located outside of ourselves. It is a special product you buy, a vacation you plan, or a service you engage with. By now I’m sure you’ve seen the high-end bath bombs and journals, exclusive retreats, fabulous yoga mats, and more that magically show up in Facebook and Instagram ads. There is nothing inherently wrong with these things when utilized with intention (I love me a fabulous yoga mat, ok?). These offerings can be incredibly useful for enhancing and supporting our care, but we must consider—especially those of us who are providing these tools—whether we are relying on external resources to provide the strength we can only create internally.
Convincing ourselves and others that we need a particular product or person in order to heal creates a dependency on institutions and individuals to do the work that, truthfully, only we ourselves are capable of. This is especially problematic within the context of marketing wellness to marginalized communities. We cannot recover our magic from the same resource that stole it from us. Believing that something or someone else has the key to unlock our well-being takes away our divine power of self-restoration and self-determination. It also disconnects us from the potential of radical, at-our-root healing. Without a foundation of deep and intimate self-awareness, self-care becomes a Band-Aid. It is meaningful but temporary.
The truth is, all of us carry the internal wisdom of our own healing. We are each the ultimate expert on the needs of our body, mind, and spirit, and anyone who tells you otherwise should be hit with a hard side-eye. While a counsellor, seminar, or speciality item may help us tap into our strength, the results are not sustainable if we do not understand that we ourselves are the helper, hero, and healer we have been looking for.
What Self-Care Is … and Isn’t
On top of all this, the love affair between our problematic wellness culture and social media have transformed self-care into performance. Trust, I am no better than anyone else—I have literally watched myself post about “all the healing I’m receiving in nature” only to realize I’ve spent more time face down in my phone curating the perfect shot than actually being present with the living, breathing nature around me. Social media has rewards and risks aplenty, and I’m not here to shame anyone for sharing their care experience online; as with anything, moderation and intention are key.
What I’m getting at is the intention and depth of the practices we engage in. Taking a curious and non-judgmental approach, I’ve started asking myself whether I am “doing self-care” or actually being care-full with myself. So post your bath bomb, sis, but also give yourself space to mindfully soak up the physical restoration you feel from the water, experience the mental stillness from resting in the tub, and soften from the spiritual replenishing gained by turning toward your needs.
“I offer that shifting the phrase ‘self-care to ‘a a compassionate way of being’ opens new possibilities.”
Snapshot wellness markets self-care as a periodic practice or crisis intervention instead of a consistent attunement to our human experience. True self-care is not limited to special and sparkly people, places, things, or ideas—it is also the practice of Awareness + Acknowledgement within the mundane moments that make up our lives. Realizing that you’re clenching your jaw and intentionally relaxing. Brushing your teeth and taking a shower. Tuning in to the small voice that was throwing shade at a coworker because you felt insecure. Crying. Laughing. Forgiving yourself. Sleeping. You know, the hard and sometimes boring stuff.
Deeper Than a Hashtag
I am sick of hearing about self-care not because I don’t think it’s important to discuss, but because there is often a money-hungry, social-media-sexy, and exploitative culture that comes along with it. This excess baggage can become a distraction to authentic self-love.
True self-care is a way of being. It is a holistic awareness of the present moment followed by addressing your needs. I offer that shifting the phrase “self-care” to “a compassionate way of being” opens new possibilities. While not as bite-sized or hashtag friendly, the idea of a compassionate way of being is a bit more specific and encourages a gentle and consistent practice of empathy and care for our needs. A compassionate way of being also opens us to being loving and intentional with others who, whether we can see it or not, are reflections of ourselves as well.
So how do we practice a compassionate way of being? Based on my personal and professional experience, I can tell you that building a relationship with yourself creates the foundation for embodied and intersectional healing. How can you address your needs if you are unaware of them in the first place? The ways you can connect to your body, mind, and spirit are limitless and personal, but you can begin by asking yourself, “How can I show my body/mind/spirit compassion at this moment?” Try your best to follow through on what your intuition is asking you for. I can assure you: you have the answers.
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