You’re listening to On the Couch With Carly. Carly’s Couch is a safe space to talk. I’m a psychologist. But I’m not your pipe-smoking, tweed wearing stereotype.
Welcome to another episode of On the Couch With Carly. Today I’d like to talk to you about self-care. I want to speak to you a little bit about self-care from my perspective, and why I think it’s so useful, and how we need to think about it so that it actually is useful to us.
So interestingly, self-care is actually something that comes out of the medical world. What it really is about, is it’s about a set of behaviors that doctors and physicians (people who are interested in managing illness), they use self-care as a term to describe a set of behaviors that speaks to a person’s ability to take care of their own physical and mental health, and well-being.
And this could be anything in terms of optimizing health but it’s also in terms of preventing illness, and managing chronic illness. My interest in self-care though, has got less to do with preventing illness or managing the symptoms of a chronic illness, and more to do with nurturing the relationship that you have with yourself.
I’m really interested in and I believe that therapy is a part of this, we have to invest in ourselves. We have to nurture and put in the time, and work, and effort into our relationship with ourselves, just as we would a relationship with anyone else of significance to us. And for me that’s where self-care comes in.
The importance of self-care is that you have to start by being aware of yourself and being aware of your needs. And most importantly you then have to be the one to take responsibility for meeting those needs. I think this is probably the most important thing that I could teach anyone or the most important lesson that I have to learn myself in this life, and one I want to keep reminding myself and others about.
Now let’s just talk about why self-care is difficult. Self-care is difficult if you don’t know about it. If we don’t know that we actually have to prioritise ourselves, and we have to put ourselves first, and think about what’s good for us, and what’s healthy for us, what will optimize our well-being, you just don’t know, so you don’t think to put yourself first. A lot of people have to first start to become aware that self-care is something that really needs to be focused on. At the very least, I hope this podcast reminds you or gives you your first introduction into self-care, so that you can hear from me, I’m telling you that you need to take care of yourself.
I think the other barrier is that we often think that the small seemingly insignificant things that make up self-care won’t really make a difference, and so we will rather just, kind of, carry on as is even though we may be overwhelmed and we may be struggling. That’s the biggest reasons, I think, people don’t take on self-care.
But also, I think the issue is that there might not be adequate support for you, to really take care of yourself, you actually need to be supported. You need someone to also be thinking about you, and being on board with you taking care of yourself.
Now, I like to not prescribe what self-care is. I really think that it can be literally anything. If I say: “Oh self-care is doing this, or doing that,” then you’ll think that is what self-care is. I really want to step away from that because actually self-care can be anything. It can be a multitude of things. It can be as simple as flossing your teeth or having a shower everyday, and it can be as complicated or deep as a meditation around health and abundance, or going to see your psychologist. Self-care is really useful for managing burn out and for managing stress.
It’s the number one thing we say to anyone who comes with stress or burn out symptoms, is that you have to find balance. If you’re working too hard or you’re over-invested in your work, or you spend too long studying or working, or doing anything that is excessive to the point that you have no balance in your life, you have no other place to exercise or express yourself in another way, then you get often a bit worn out because you’re using only one muscle group, and it doesn’t work like that.
You actually have to keep the balance somehow by doing different things and by keeping your interests varied. So what we often say to people is: “You need to find time for self-care.”
What I think happens with that is that it feels like another thing on the to do list. Now not only do I have to balance going to work, trying my best and always trying to be successful and succeeding, putting all my energy in, whatever. But now not only that, I have got to find time to exercise, see friends, spend time with my family, do self-care. All these things just end up feeling like another thing to add, and I think that can be very stressful, and can also lead to a sense of failure.
Now, people come to me and they go: “Urgh, I didn’t do meditation. I’m so bad. I’m so sorry.” Or whatever it may be, and there’s like a feeling of guilt, a feeling of shame. “I was bad. I didn’t do good this week. I didn’t put my best foot forward because I wasn’t practicing self-care.”
And I think that almost goes contrary to what we’re trying to achieve. Self-care is so important and I would love everyone of you to start implementing it in some way, but I want you to think about it as something that is not on the “To do list”, it’s not a chore. It’s actually something that you are naturally curious about, or something you’re naturally interested in doing, something you’re naturally inclined to do. That can be self-care too.
The first step is to find out what you actually like. What invigorates you? What brings you joy? And just try to incorporate that in whichever capacity you can into your life, into your daily routine.
Then take that definition and broaden it, so self-care is not just doing the best things that you like to do, having a fun party with your friends, or being free enough to exercise on the beach, or whatever. It doesn’t always have to be to that degree. Self-care can be as simple, as I said, as brushing your teeth or showering, or managing to make one healthy meal in a day, or even one healthy meal in a week, you know. That’s a moment of self-care.
It’s almost not so much about enforcing new behaviors but it’s about recognizing the behaviors that you’re already doing, and reframing them as self-care. I think what we really want to step away from is creating a situation where we can either succeed or fail at self-care. I think we need to aim for self-care, aim for balance, aim for having varied interests and varied activities in our week. Then to also be realistic and also to understand that sometimes we’re not gonna manage to do everything we set out to do. We’re not going to manage to be as balanced, healthy and optimal as we would like to be.
I think that’s a really important lesson, to just see it as a goal in a sense of an intention, and not in terms of something if you don’t achieve it, you failed. We also have to be okay with the imbalance. We have to be okay with the times we’re not in harmony. In order to really take care of yourself, you have to be accepting of the times when you’re not taking care of yourself, to give yourself credit for just showing up and having the intention of taking care of yourself, and having a more balanced life.
It’s not about necessarily always achieving perfection and always having success in terms of how much self-care you wish to do in a week, but just to be aware of oneself. To have that self awareness to say: “This was less optimal for me. This aspect of this was less optimal for me. If I’d maybe done this I would have been taking care of myself more”
It’s not about always getting it right but about observing, and being aware of where you are in any one moment, and acknowledging to yourself how much of yourself you were taking care of at that time.
Then to also to know that it’s your responsibility to monitor that, and to be very aware of where that boundary is, and when you cross over that boundary, to know your own boundaries, to know if something has gone beyond what is acceptable, is really important.
I’ll just give you an example from my own life as a psychologist. I suppose I know about self-care the most because of having studied psychology, and hearing always that the theory is: “If you’re in the helping professions, your self-care is very very important. You have to take care of yourself in order to give to others all the time.
Where that comes in is if you’re not taking care of yourself, if you’re not observing your own stuff, where your triggers are, and where your difficulties are coming up in life, then you are not going to be aware when your clients come in and maybe press on those triggers. You not going to necessarily be aware of that, or you going to be so overwhelmed by it that you not going to be of use to your client in that moment.
I think that’s really relevant. In order to be there for other people and we all are there, to some capacity, we are there for other people. Whether it’s your family or friends, your colleagues, whether you’re an employee, or a boss, whoever you are. You are going to be in relationship to another person.
We all at some point, take care of someone else. We’re responsible or we have to lead someone, and in order to do that, we first have to take care of ourselves. We can’t actually be available to others and to meeting others’ needs if we are not sufficiently okay in ourselves. That’s another reason why it’s recommended that psychologists see their own therapists and are in therapy themselves, because that is another version of that, that you have to be held, you have to have that space for yourself so that you can hold all the other people that need holding.
I read this other really interesting thing by this guy called Stefan Deutsch, and he is a psychotherapist as well. He’s also the author of a book called: “Love decoded.”, which I thought was cool. He said the secret ingredient is that we’re not recognizing that self-care has to come out of love, self-love. That first before people can start to practice self-care, they first actually need to feel self-love. If we want to teach self-care to anyone, we first need to teach self-love.
And how do you do that? Right? What is that gonna look like?
What he says is it’s about reframing, it’s what I said earlier, instead of trying to add onto the list, look at what you’re already doing and try to reframe things to see what you’re doing in your life. He says things like keeping yourself clean, taking a regular bath or shower, brushing your teeth, eating healthy, just eating, keeping yourself filled. Those are actually acts of self-love.
We prioritise other people’s needs and we don’t consider the fact that we have to meet our needs first. We instead look at people who we see choosing to meet their own needs first, and we call them selfish or we say they’re self-absorbed. We really need to think about it a little bit. We need to really think about how it’s very important to take care of yourself from a place of self-love.
That to prioritise oneself in the way of love is a totally different thing, that’s not selfish, that’s not self-absorbed. We deserve love. The biggest issue is that people don’t know that they deserve love. Many people who come to my office, that’s one of the first lessons we teach, is just to say: “Hang on, have you noticed how you talk to yourself? Have you noticed the words you use? Would you say that to someone that you care about? Would you really say that to someone that you care about?”
Most people cannot believe the things they say to themselves, that they’re not even aware of because they’re not loving themselves. They’re not taking care of themselves from a place of real care and love.
They may be behaving in certain ways that could be called self-care but it’s not coming from self-love. It’s coming from duty or obligation, or societal pressure, or maybe it’s just literally ritual, or doing it out of routine. They’re not doing it mindfully. They’re not doing it because it’s for them.
Some people are really afraid of prioritising themselves, some people really feel nervous about saying, “I’m putting myself first.” It feels awkward. I think a lot of that has to do with shame. I think, we have got so much stuff that we hide away. We are afraid of those parts of us which we don’t feel confident about, or we feel are our bad parts, our uncool parts, our yucky parts. We basically walk around with this feeling that: “We’ve just got to hide. We’ve just got to stay under the radar, hide those parts.”
Brene Brown talks a lot about this, if you’re interested, google: Brene Brown. She has the most amazing TedTalks on vulnerability and shame.
What shame really says is, “You’re not worthy. You’re not worthy. You’re not good enough.” My process is always about reckoning with that. Where did you get that message from? Where did you learn that you’re not good enough, that you’re not worthy of love?
And when you get to a point where you realise: “No, dammit I am worthy. I will be good enough for myself. I am good enough for myself.” Then you can start to practice self-love. When that moment happens (Ahh I love that moment!), it happens again and again because of course we reach that moment, then go back ten steps, then we have to go back there again (I mean that’s how the process is).
I love that moment even though it’s again, and again, and again because at that point then you see the twinkle in the eye. The person goes: “Oh, I’m allowed to love myself. I’m allowed to do this for me. I’m allowed to feel good about myself. I’m allowed to change the words in my head from words that are cruel and critical and unkind, to words of care and love and compassion. I can start behaving in ways to myself and others, that demonstrate that I really care about myself.”
Because people who care about themselves, people who love themselves also treat other people with more care, and the world around them with more care. Guys, it’s really the secret to world peace. Okaaay!
Okay, so this dude Stefan Deutch, he has three take home messages and these are the messages I wanna leave with you today. I think they’re brilliant and so with him I’m like: “Yeah, where’s this dude? He’s the best!”
So number 1: People need to be taught that it is okay to love yourself. People it’s okay to love yourself. I sound like Oprah(hahahaha).
It’s okay to love yourself just as much as it is okay to eat and to drink, so that you are nourished. Right? We do that, we nourish ourselves with eating, with food, with drink, and just like that it’s okay to love ourselves.
We need to learn how to do it effectively, we need to actually learn. Just like we needed to learn to feed ourselves independently, we also need to learn how to be self-sufficient when it comes to feeding ourselves love. I love this concept because it feels like it is developmental. It feels like it’s about growth, it’s about maturation, it’s about coming into maturity, being bigger, being grown-up but not being like the: “Urgh, grown ups”, way.
You know when you’re a kid and you start to learn the stuff that your parents are doing for you? Then you get to do it for yourself, and you’re like, “Yeah, hell yeah. I’m nailing this.”
That’s the feeling I want you to have when you’re doing this, “Yes, I can do this for myself!”
There’re so many people out there waiting for a lover, waiting for someone to love them, going out and sacrificing safety, sacrificing their value system to take a second grade feeling that may feel like love at the time, because you have that desire to feel loved, to feel worthy and you’re looking for other people to fill that void.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you need to fill that void, and it starts right now. This is the deal guys, it’s about building your relationship with yourself. It’s about recognising that any relationship that needs to get built has to happen over time, and in order to trust it’s got to be built in such a way that there is an experience of safety and reliability. You don’t just take yourself out for one moment of self-care and then it’s a done deal. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to really commit to that process and you’ve got to show up. You’ve got to show up not only on the days when you’re looking hot and you’re feeling fly, and everything is cool, you’ve got to show up on the hard days too.
You’ve got to show up when you don’t feel like getting out of bed or when you’ve got a massive zit on your face. You’ve got to show up when you’re feeling fat. You’ve got to show up when you feeling lost. You’ve got to show up when it feels like someone does not care about you. You’ve got to show up when you’re feeling rejected, when you’re feeling abandoned, when you’re feeling alone. Those are the times when you’ve got to show up for yourself.
If you do show up. If you show up with love, with compassion, with kindness, again and again and again. Do you know what will happen? You’ll start to rely on yourself. You’ll start to rely on yourself being there and showing up. You’ll start to feel trust. You know what happens after that? Life feels easier. Hmmm maybe not easier…. life feels more manageable because you know that you’ve got someone who’s got your back, and that person is you.
So yes, you might have to suffer from all those yucky things that life throws at you, like pain and suffering, breakups and heartaches, all of that, but you’ll be okay because you’ve got yourself. You’ve got yourself. You’ve got self-love and you’re gonna care for yourself through acts of self-care.
That’s all I’m talking about today. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned. Subscribe. Link up. All of that.
Cool. Thank you so much. Bye
This podcast is recorded at Edible Audio in Cape Town, South Africa. Edited by Edible Audio. Original music by Alex Smillie.