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I was programmed to be strong and unstoppable, to always do my best—sometimes, at any cost.
For years I was known for saying yes when I meant no. I would be so insistent on keeping my promises that I wouldn’t back out of plans, no matter what.
I’ll get that massage when I have more time, I’d say. I’ll take that vacation when I have more money.
I didn’t understand that the pressure I was putting on myself wasn’t helping anyone, and was hurting me.
This pattern kept me from indulging in self-care—something I have come to understand is a learned skill.
When things are our normal, they can be harder to observe until we ask ourselves the right questions that help us to unravel and open ourselves.
It’s been some years now. It took me time, but I eventually came to recognize that I wasn’t exploring my conscious mind so much as I was learning about my unconscious, and what was driving me—into the ground, that is.
My personal journey and observations of other women in our programmed femininity have shown me some of the key reasons we divert away from strengthening our self-care muscle—despite how important we know it is.
1. Many women are trained early on to conform to filling any role that is needed.
We learn to comply in exchange for love and acceptance. When we focus on others’ approval above our own self-perception, our self-care takes a back seat. Others often remain the priority.
It’s important to reflect on the places that we abandon ourselves by way of compliance or acting in certain ways necessary to carry out the things we do out of obligation, or in fear of disappointing someone.
My sense of obligation to others, for example, was less about my desire to show up for them, and more about how I wanted them to see me—a desire for external approval.
2. Women learn that our value comes from action.
We tend to identify the areas in life that we produce, or do, as a false replacement for our value.
So, it’s easy to become a human doing. This is particularly true when we feel on some level that our value directly correlates to what we are able to provide for others.
It can seem natural to feel valuable when someone appreciates our helpful actions. But when we fail to separate what we can do or give to others, from what we need to do and give to ourselves, we fail to understand the necessity of self-care. The non-delineation fuels a lack of self-value.
We must regularly check in with ourselves to see where we’re over-producing or seem to be hyper-active in an effort to gain recognition of where we might be over-compensating for a lack of self-nurturing.
3. Women tend to feel overly responsible for other peoples feelings and experiences.
In some ways, it’s a natural experience for women to feel the joys and pleasures of others. The challenge is when we assume responsibility for others in this way—when we believe we are responsible for ensuring another’s happiness or comfort.
We end up adding more pressure on ourselves, which drives a greater need for self-care. The result is that we get so tangled in others’ experiences, we forget the importance of our own experiences.
If we tend to feel overly responsible for other people, we need to take inventory of the specifics:
>> Who have we taken responsibility for?
>> How does our sense of responsibility show?
>> What behaviors do we act out on?
When we notice ourselves being pulled into that unhealthy behavior, we must then ask ourselves how we can replace it with self-nurturing actions.
4. Women have a strong sense of community.
Humans are communal creatures. Most of us understand early in our lives that family and community are important.
We serve, whether by baking for a bake sale, or volunteering our time for a cause. As connected individuals, we can over-contribute to the collective.
When we finally bow out of a group dynamic in service of ourselves, we run the risk of feeling, or being seen as selfish. It can feel unnatural, and even rebellious to participate in alone time and services, depending on how deeply connected we are to the group.
But to serve the group to our best capacity, we must be at our best.
In this case, it can help to create a list of ways that are simple pleasures that we can indulge in on a regular basis. For example, in the ancient health system of Ayurveda, a daily self-massage is key to waking up the senses and making self-care a natural part of the day. Something like an Ayurvedic ritual is a great starting place.
After we find several simple things we can do regularly, it will feel easier for us to see how we can take care of ourselves without feeling selfish.
Self-care is a learned and mandatory life skill that we can’t afford to put off. Through self-care, we respect ourselves more, authentically develop healthier boundaries, create healthier relationships, reduce stress, and enjoy more happiness.