Debunking the Myth – Self-Care is Selfish- Myths and Misconceptions About Self-Care Part 1

Myths and Misconceptions About Self-Care

Do We Need Self-Care?

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about self-care. I have believed, wrestled with, and reframed many which I will talk about in this series. Maybe you have read/heard some of the myths and misconceptions and you are mentally wrestling with them yourself. I’m going to tackle one myth today. Won’t you join me?

Before we begin, let me ask you a question -Do you think self-care is selfish? Do you think self-care contradicts servanthood, Christianity, or just being a good Mom or person in general?

One teeny assignment -before I get into the meat of “The Myths and Misconceptions About Self-Care” -I’d like you to do a little exercise with me. All you need is a pen and paper or your notes app on your phone.

The Exercise

Ready? List everything you have done in the past week. You can read my list below to start the gears in your brain. Feel free to be more detailed than I was. I didn’t include every pilates workout, when I prepared food, cleaned, did laundry (you get the point). The more detailed your list is, the better for you. It’s a great way to see all you do, especially if you are raising kiddos with a trauma history or who have a capital letter syndrome (ADD, ADHD, SPD, ODD, FAS, FAE, on the Spectrum, etc…)

I’ve had a busy week, including :

  • A trip to IKEA two hours away
  • A leaf-peeping hour drive up to Thomas to grab coffee at the Tip Top Coffee, and a hike
  • Kayaking with a friend
  • A mammogram (can anyone say streessssfullll?)
  • Helping my hubby clear baneberry bushes and roots out of our yard
  • Not to mention my regular job of – revising, editing, and writing. 

Just typing this list makes me want more coffee.

Are You Tired? Worn Out?

Are you tired? Worn out? Does listing your reveal some clues about your exhaustion? Do you want a nap now? I get it. We work hard. We fill our schedules to the brim. We do all the things and many of them are GOOD things, celebrations, outings, and feeding our families. BUT WE ARE EXHAUSTED AND WE FEEL GUILTY FOR BEING WORN OUT AND BURNED OUT. After all – isn’t this what we asked for? A home. A family. Children. We adopted/fostered because we love these kiddos. But it’s the hardest work we’ve ever done and some days we just want to say, “Stop the world, I want to get off.” And that’s okay. Say it. And then read what Jesus has to say:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Self-Care Is Not Selfish

Let’s look at the definition of self-care

self-care

/ˌselfˈker/

noun

  1. the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.
    “autonomy in self-care and insulin administration”
    • the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
      “expressing oneself is an essential form of self-care”

Imagine your child coming to you and saying he is hungry, tired, or angry. Or if you are raising a kiddo with a trauma history or capital letter syndrome, you’re watching for signals or have a timer set for snacks, water, and rest. When the child comes to you or your timer goes off, you tell the child. “You don’t need to eat healthy foods or stop and rest or acknowledge and sort out your feelings. That’s selfish. We don’t do that.” Sounds downright wrong, doesn’t it? 

When I Believed the Myth: Self-Care Is Selfish

I rushed around the table making sure all my kiddos had dinner and were eating it before we rushed out the door to the church. Like a jack-in-the-box, as soon as my butt hit the chair, I popped up again and met another need. And I barely took a bite.

Here’s the thing, I thought I was being a good mom, setting my need to eat aside so I could hover around my kids (that’s another post for another time) and make sure they ate food. Then I loaded everyone in the car to go to Wednesday night service so I could teach lady’s Bible study and my kiddos could go to class. I got home hours later, empty, depleted, and feeling as if I had done the holy and right thing.

And that’s what I have done to myself for YEARS. How about you? Do you deny your own needs? Do you think self-care is selfish? Do you not take the time to care for your own body? Do you stuff a few bites in your mouth while making sure you feed the rest of the family? Do you neglect yourself and call it self-sacrifice? Raising my hand here. Read the verse again and look at the phrase “Burned Out on Religion.” Hover there for a moment.

Self- Sufficiency is Not Holiness

I used to think being self-sufficient meant being holy. Self-sacrifice meant offering every bit of my energy and then some to the task at hand or life in general. And then I physically couldn’t do anything anymore. I don’t want you to go there. Jesus promises rest. He promises to teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace.” His burden is light. It’s not harsh, hard, or pressing. Self-care is recovering your life. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is simple practices such as:

  • Eating healthy foods
  • Resting
  • Hydrating
  • Acknowledging, and sorting out your feelings

*I’ll go more into detail pertaining to these practices in later posts.

Basically, what you do for your kids is what you need to do for yourself. We can serve others if we running on empty. In fact, when we are running on empty, we are more tempted to sink into bitterness, anger, depression, and an overall gloomy outlook (more on that in another post). When we are rested, we can approach life with a more positive and energetic outlook.

Summing It Up And A Prayer

Take one last look at the list you made. While you are adding up the activities, ask yourself, did I feed myself nutritious food, hydrate, rest well, and add some joy into and in between the work? Did I believe the myth – Self-Care is selfish? Are you tired and worn out and rethinking the limiting belief? I’d like to pray with you before you go.

Dear Jesus, show me how to take a real rest and walk in the unforced rhythms of grace. Thank you that you won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on me. Help me not to wallow in guilt, shame, or the habit of self-sufficiency or the kind of self-sacrifice that doesn’t serve you or anyone. Help me to take a deep breath right now and walk away lighter, fresher, and full of grace.

*Join me next time when I tackle a Misconception – Self-care is doing whatever you FEEL like doing.

When Trauma Affects Your Ability to Listen to Your Body

“Listen to your body,” a few friends have told me recently. But what does that mean? If you grew up in an alcoholic, codependent, legalist, neglectful,  or abusive environment (or married into one)- this advice may stump you as it did me. 

My Body Didn’t get a say

Growing up, my body didn’t get a say. I was bossed around by others’ feelings or opinions whether it was intended or not. I didn’t tune in with my body in those early years. The trauma tuned my body out and I lived in survival mode.

Fast Forward to my adult years, marriage, building a family through birth and adoption. I was BUSY meeting the needs of others. My adopted children, who had experienced early trauma, sent me back to the land of codependency. Before I realized it, I was feeling what their bodies were feeling.

I knew nothing of what my body was telling me. I cut it off. Silenced it. Pushed it. Overdid it. Crashed it. Abused it. Starved it. Over fed it. All the while, I told myself I was offering my body as a living sacrifice by taking care of others. (Not accurate, by the way).

A Diagnosis

In the middle of my child rearing years,  after years of health struggles – I  finally received a diagnosis -CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), hypothyroidism, and later Celiac disease. My sister located an amazing doctor in Pittsburgh (Dr. Pierotti),  who has helped me tremendously. With his understanding of the body, how it all works together, and immune system function, I began to get some energy back and lose the brain fog. I won’t go into detail about the treatment (you can pm or email me – positiveadoption@gmail.com, if you want to know more). 

Pushing And Crashing

What happened next is super sad. I began a cycle of pushing and crashing. This cycle lasted for years. As soon as I was able to function, I began doing ALL the things I was doing before. Then I began reading about adding  margins to my day, scheduling rest, stopping before exhaustion, all kinds of great information (check out Toby Morrison’s book and youtube channel!) I would try to implement some practices with success and then go right back to pushing and crashing.

The foreign Language of Rest

Why? I didn’t know what my own body was telling me. I didn’t know how to cue into it. I still struggle with knowing what it’s trying to tell me. It’s as if we don’t speak the same language. It says, “rest” and I don’t speak the rest language. It’s foreign to me. I put my self-imposed to-do list above my body’s needs. Not good. I understand there are things we have to do as women, moms, and grandmas. Whatever your title is, there are tasks or appointments we should keep. One of those appointments is with ourselves. Did Jesus care for the needs of his own body? If so, how? 

Next week – How to tune into what your body is saying and how Jesus took care of his.

Self-Care, Adoption, and Compassion Fatigue

I stood in the bathroom, brushing my hair before an appointment. My son was having a hard day and I couldn’t stop thinking about how to respond, react, or help him. I kept playing out different scenarios in my mind and trying to come to a solution. I grabbed my hair and gave it a tug and said to my frustrated image, “Get out of my head!”  I needed to think of the appointment in front of me and focus on it instead of on him.

Adoption and Compassion.png

When raising a child from a difficult place, we can develop what experts refer to as “compassion fatigue.” It is usually used to refer to professionals such as paramedics, nurses, counselors, and so on, who get overwhelmed with the input of negative second-hand stress. What about a parent raising a child who has come from a traumatic beginning or with developmental delays or a capital letter syndrome (ADD, ADHD, Sensory issues, on the spectrum, FAS, etc..)? Yes! Parents can and do experience compassion fatigue because parents can’t go home at the end of the day.

Psychology Today describes compassion fatigue as a type of Secondary Post Traumatic Stress. Compassion fatigue is a somewhat common phenomenon that affects medical workers, social workers, and even pastors. It stems from witnessing or hearing about traumatic experiences in the lives of other people and feeling helpless because you can only do so much to help.

Helpful practices to deal with compassion fatigue:

  1. Exercise. I cannot stress this enough. I know. It’s the last thing I feel like doing when I am stretched to my limits and experiencing compassion fatigue. I just want to fall into the sofa and watch Netflix mindlessly or read a book on my Kindle and ignore the world. Exercise helps. It does, even in small snippets. A walk around the yard, running up and down the stairs a few times. I used to do both of these when my children were all small. I didn’t have huge increments of time, nor could I leave them to do a full exercise routine. When it got to the point that I could, I often exercised at 10:30 pm, which a visiting friend told me was crazy!  I needed to exercise so I didn’t go crazy. It released all the pent up frustration! “Need an emotional lift? Or need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A workout at the gym or a brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.”- www.mayoclinic.org
  2. Set limits to your activity with breaks. I struggle with this. I want to be productive. I want to get it all done. That’s a wonderful goal, but it isn’t the best goal. The better goal is to enjoy life. To set limits to activities so you can settle down in the moment and when it over, cherish it, not just move on to the next thing.
  3. Have a personal life apart from your child -It doesn’t have to be something that takes you out of the home every night, it could be as simple as a book club. It can be sewing, teaching a class or two, refinishing furniture. Not only does this give you something else to pour into, it let’s your child see you doing something meaningful and he will one day, want to follow suit.
  4. Hav a Sense of Humor- I have found that my children who have struggles with impulse control, behaviors, FAS, etc. (put yours in the blank) are not those things, they suffer from, but they are awesome human beings with a great sense of humor. I just had to stop trying to fix them and listen.
  5. Talk about it. Find an adoption/foster group where you feel safe sharing and talk. Don’t just listen. This sort of outpouring of your feelings is a good release. It’s a kind of confession that cleanses the soul that you can move forward.
  6.  Determine your emotional limits and stick to them.Determine your emotional limits

“The helpers’ symptoms, frequently unnoticed, may range from psychological issues such as dissociation, anger, anxiety, sleep disturbances, nightmares, to feeling powerless. However, professionals may also experience physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches, general constriction, body temperature changes, dizziness, fainting spells, and impaired hearing. All are important warning signals for the caregiver that need to be addressed or otherwise might lead to health issues or burnout.”-Psychology today 

There is some discrepancy in the church body about this point. Some believe that you should pour yourself out without discriminating. Jesus kept boundaries. When the crowd got to be too much, he went away.  If you have a family that you can’t serve or children that you cannot parent because you feel like you are drowning all the time, it’s time to take stock of your emotional limits. What stresses you out the most and how can you work through it or hand it off (if possible)? When one of my children was having some serious issues and I was doing everything I could every day. It was wearing on my physical and emotional well being. I was exhausted.  My daughter took over doing some of the grocery shopping for me for a season. It was a blessing. It wasn’t forever, I wasn’t dropping my title of manager of the home, I was delegating. Delegate. It’s okay. Maybe (if your kids take a nap) you can sit down and read while they nap or watch one of your favorite HGTV shows. You don’t have to be “on” all the time.

If you feel as if you are suffering from compassion fatigue, don’t wait to start treating yourself. If your health fails, if you aren’t there for your family, then what?  You need to take care of yourself. You are valuable. You are loved. You are worth it.