Self-Care as a Second Language. ~ Christine “Cissy” White

Paper heart gift

I have a friend who fills out the gift tag option when ordering products online—for herself!

When her item arrives, it comes with a love note, from her.


Another friend, who I went to Alaska with for six weeks during college wrote herself a letter. She put pen to paper before we even boarded the plane. I only found out when she received it mid-way through the adventure and told me she had done it because she knew she might be lonely.

You what?

In both instances, I immediately thought, whacko. I didn’t say the word but am certain the puzzled look on my face expressed how odd I thought each of them were.

“You might not want to share that with people” is what I was thinking. Maybe they didn’t know it seemed selfish and strange and kind of pathetic.

It’s years later and I wonder now, not about their choices but, about my response.

Clearly they were both ahead of their time. Now, there is a language for self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-love. But these friends weren’t doing online exercises with Brene Brown or reading Cheri Huber’s book There’s Nothing Wrong With You No Matter What You Think. No, they were attending to, nurturing and doting on themselves because they had learned how to relate to themselves in loving ways.

It seemed so crazy to me at the time. Then, I was barely conscious of the way I talked to myself. I’m not sure I would have even understood what having a relationship with myself meant.

“It’s okay to talk to yourself,” my great aunt Jean used to say, “as long as nobody answers.”

Writing notes or letters to yourself seemed too close to answering. And maybe it scared me. But why?

After all, I was a journal writer even way back when. It wasn’t the notes, per se, that struck me as strange but the planning and thinking ahead. The admitting of having needs and then planning to meet them as in the case of my college friend. Or, with my love note friend, it was the giving your attention to your own delight. Each of them were so unashamed, intentional and deliberate. It was puzzling.

As a kid, I was told if you asked for a piece of candy from the candy dish you couldn’t have it.

Asking was rude. You had to wait to be asked and pretend not to be staring at the white rooster dish, wondering what was inside or not be drooling over the chewy caramel candy in a white bowl.

If you could wait you would likely be rewarded. If not, game over, you lose. Don’t ask. Don’t expect. At least don’t say it out loud.

What was a candy dish for if not for sharing candy?

You were supposed to be coy about getting your needs met. Owning up to them was, well, needy and needy was gross and weak—maybe even greedy and bad.

However, waiting to be asked as though you didn’t care a bit was much more dignified and restrained. And if you go one step further, say “No thank you” even when you wanted what was offered—that was almost regal.

Denying the self and overriding desire seemed like strength.

No one said that and I’m sure that is not what anyone intended. That’s how I made sense of the messages I got and can’t speak for anyone else in my family.

What makes me think of it now isn’t the past but the cold.

I see that I have taught my daughter things I didn’t want to teach her. On Wednesday, she heads for the door to go to guitar class wearing only a sweatshirt—it’s seven degrees out.

“Put your coat on” I say, “It’s cold.”

“It’s just across the street.”

And the truth is, I never put my coat on, even when it’s seven degrees or a hat or my mittens. I don’t carry an umbrella. A remote starter? No way. All of those things are for wimps. Who has the time or the money and can’t be cold (or wet) for a minute or two?

And maybe I’m even a little proud of myself when I tough it out.

But why? Why be cold?

It certainly doesn’t make me feel proud when I see I have taught my daughter, not by what I say but by my example, to neglect taking better care of herself. I don’t want her to shiver in the cold to and from guitar class. I don’t think it’s tough and I want her to be more comfortable in the elements.

I don’t know if I’m ever going to write myself a love note when I order a package or mail myself a letter before boarding a plane. However, I’m going to start wearing my red mittens and maybe even a scarf.

I want my daughter to know that her needs are not optional. Life stretches our tough muscles plenty without us trying to go without or make due with less as though either is a form of virtue.

It’s one thing to give a pair of mittens to someone who needs them more. That might be noble or virtuous. But to leave them on the counter, by the door, where they are warm when my hands are cold, that’s something else.

That’s whacko!


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guestinyourheart Feb 11, 2014 8:29am

What a fabulous comment! I love that you wrote yourself a Valentine's card! Thank you for the encouragement to embrace self-care and self-love and for sharing YOUR journey. It sounds wonderful and appealing!!!!

Patty Feb 9, 2014 10:55am

Thank you.

Just a couple years ago I started writing encouraging, loving cards to myself. The very first one I picked out said "I don't know how I put up with you" on the front, and "Oh, yeah, because you put up with me!" inside. It was a noble first effort. The cards I pick out now are much more accepting and simple. They say the things I used to say to others but secretly yearned for others to say to me. Problem was, even when they did, I didn't receive the gift. Some part of me always argued, if not out loud, internally and shamefully.

I've made great strides in altering, gently and non-judgmentally, my inner self talk. I send myself loving-kindness at least once a day, forgive myself for the things I once used as fuel for some pretty gnarly self-hatred, and am even learning to accept the genuine love and support of others in my life. It's been a long, deep journey… that 's often fun and worth celebrating!

An unexpected gift of the process of learning to love myself genuinely for who I am right now is that I can extend this very same felt sense of acceptance to others, which is not something that can be faked. I sure thought I was doing that already, but leaving myself out of the equation limited my ability to truly connect with others…

Sure it felt wacko at first… Like I was somehow choosing to split my personality. But just like you said, "Life stretches our tough muscles plenty without us trying to go without or make due with less as though either is a form of virtue." Why not practice what we teach at the deepest level? Beyond personality ~ in our very being. I am loved, a belief I accept as reality, and opposite of how I thought and felt the first 30 years of life.

Let the self abandonment cease to be what we pass on to each other.

Our (realistic) needs are not optional. Thinking otherwise numbed me to basic core human needs… and I'm glad to know lots and lots of people who are waking up to the very basic, core need to feel a friendly, loving, accepting connection to themselves… and to be one of them!

On the envelope to my Valentine's Day card to myself I wrote: "To the greatest love of my life."

Thank you again for the post and for setting the example… but mostly, for loving yourself enough to be who and where you are, right now.

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Christine "Cissy" White

Christine “Cissy” Whiteknows it’s possible to live, love and parent well after being raised in hell. Possible but not easy. Her work has been widely published in places such as The Boston Globe, Ms. Magazine online, Spirituality & Health, The Mighty & To Write Love on Her Arms. She speaks about developmental trauma, expressive writing and the lifelong impact of adverse childhood experiences. Her motto is “It’s not trauma informed if it’s not informed by trauma survivors.” She’s founder of Heal Write Now, co-collaborator of the #FacesOfPTSD campaign and Group Manager of Parenting with ACEs on the ACEsConnectionNetwork. Find her on Heal Write Now on Facebook: Facebook page
Email [email protected] to contact Christine “Cissy” White.