First off, we must remove any self judgment and honor all self preservation behaviors that have gotten us this far, with that said…
I have this theory that the voice within us — the one that says self-care is resting instead of moving our bodies, that staying up and watching tv all night is relaxing, while reading or writing is boring and unfulfilling — is a trickster. Although our practice of avoidance and distraction has allowed us to survive (and we must thank it for that), it has unfortunately kept us from thriving.
I believe we are NOT this voice. Instead, I feel it is a learned narrative that we have developed over a lifetime. It’s purpose: Avoiding the pain we feel from the trauma we have survived. Unfortunately, if we allow ourselves to believe this voice we become susceptible to depression and anxiety. This is because the more we suppress, ignore and distract from our feelings, the more we disconnect and lose touch with ourselves. When we push away pain and sadness, we simultaneously push away our ability to feel joy and peace. I know, it sucks.
So, choosing to avoid proper sleep and exercise is actually not a form of self-care, rather it is a form of self-protection. What we often define as self-care are actually behaviors that allow us to avoid the discomfort we must feel in order to heal from our past. When we fear and avoid leading a large, expansive life, we instead chose a small, controlled and predictable existence. While this is an understandable choice, it is not necessary.
My therapist once said to me that the first one to three hours of TV are decompression, but hour six and seven are avoidance. It made me think about all the ways in which we mask avoidance as self-care and how disconnected we’ve become from the behaviors that will actually heal us.
So, the questions is – How did we get this way as a society? Why are we so afraid of feeling what needs to be felt? Why do we seek numbness, disconnection, and avoidance over intimacy, vulnerability and authenticity? The answer: Because we’ve never been taught how to feel and heal our pain! This society does not value mental health, it does not teach it in our schools or train parents how to teach it to their children. Instead, we are taught to avoid crying, to be brave, and to be less sensitive. We are taught that life is tough, so we must be tough. In turn, most of us learn to survive trauma without ever processing the pain it has caused, and these traumas stack up. Not only the bullying and abuse, but the physical injuries, illnesses and loss of loved ones and relationships we endure. We do not stop to integrate these experiences, to feel them completely and cry until they cleanse themselves from our bodies. No, we move on and try to forget they ever happened. Unfortunately, the body and the mind do not forget. The pain stays with us throughout our lives, begging to come out. While we may fear that if we allow the tears to flow they will never stop, it’s actually the opposite. The day we bring the pain to the surface is the day it can finally process and leave, for good.
So, the next time you start to convince yourself that not moving your body or watching TV till 5 am is self-care (btw, you’re not alone we all do it constantly), take a pause and check-in with yourself – what’s really going on? What are you trying to distract yourself from? We now know that exercise get’s the blood and endorphins flowing and lifts our mood, it’s science. So why do we convince ourselves it won’t work? We now know that reading or writing instead of watching TV or looking at our phones will quite us down faster and help us sleep better. So why do we convince ourselves it’s not worth it? Because all these activities demand us to be present, to feel, to face our truth, and that can be scary.
So here’s my final question, if you choose to let go of avoidance and distraction, are you ready for what’s waiting for you on the other side? Are you ready to heal and let go of the suffering you’ve come to know and trust so well. Who will you be, then?
If so, move your body! Start that therapy you’ve been wanting to start! Let someone hold your hand as you cry those tears you’ve needed to cry until they wash away all the pain and suffering you’ve been holding onto. Pick up that old hobby or passion, the one you wrote off as childish and unimportant, it’s part of who you are, own it and nurture it! Read that book you’ve always wanted to read, learn a new language, try meditation, take that trip you’ve been afraid to take! It’s time to let go of all those internal judgments screaming that you don’t deserve the life you desire. That voice that tries to convince you that you’re better off staying small. You deserve greatness, we all do. So go get it!
FYI, by no means am I saying this is easy. These behaviors are hard to break, but maybe it’s time to try. Trust that you’re capable of facing the uncertainty, the unknown, the uncharted. Baby steps, you got this.