Recently, I’ve been sending this quote to several friends and family members. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”. The words belong to Audre Lorde who was an American poet, writer, feminist and activist who dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Her wonderful work encourages us to react to the prejudices in our own lives and in ourselves. Solange Knowles’s recent song Boderline (an ‘Ode to Self Care’) was inspired by Lorde’s position on self-care. In a harsh world self-care is a refuge, “baby, you know you’re tired / Know I’m tired / Let’s take it off tonight … Baby, it’s war outside these walls / A safe place tonight / Let’s play it safe tonight”. In an interesting editorial in The Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi writes that where Solange Knowles sees self-care as a destination and retreat from the world, Lorde saw it as a route to social-change.
We live in challenging times and the context around us can seem to care so little, demand so much, take so much from us and even more from others. The institutions and organisations that are set up to care for us are now so stretched that they struggle to do so. The World Health Organisation are pointing to rates of depression and anxiety all over the world that are reaching ‘epidemic’ proportions. The need to care for oneself has never been more urgent, without it we won’t thrive. As the political climate has grown more turbulent, interest in self-care has risen, Arwa Mahdawi say that Google searches for the term reached a five–year high immediately after the American election last November.
We are moving way beyond the solipsistic invitation to take some ‘me time’ or ‘time out’. We now need to be in the best shape we can to be resilient for the challenges that will come, the responsibilities we want to meet and to counter the forces that will seek to define us as something other than what we are. We deserve not to go under, we deserve to be able to nurture, nourish and celebrate the best in ourselves both for ourselves and also to help us be in a better position to care for others. The personal is indeed, as Lorde reminds us, political.
Why then, when it has never been more critical to look after ourselves, do so many of us find it so hard to care for ourselves properly and meaningfully? It’s a big question with many possible answers, and I don’t claim to have them. Audre Lorde urges us to address the prejudices in ourselves and our own lives, could it be that self-prejudice is an issue here? In raising this question, I am not demeaning the affective impact of external prejudice; of racial, gender, class or homophobic prejudice that hurts people and tries and can succeed to limit our lives. The psychologist, Peter Walker, explores self-esteem in a powerful way. He acknowledges that whilst there is inevitably a lot of ‘feeling’ work to be done around low self-esteem, there is also some important brain work, quite simply we need to right the wrong things that we have come to think about ourselves. If prejudice at its heart is an unfair or unreasonable feeling, then isn’t the belief that we are worthless or stupid or ugly or a disappointment etc. self - prejudicial? These beliefs are, to quote Shamanic psychotherapist Paul Francis ‘wonky thinking’ and ‘wonky thinking’ is arguably a form of self-prejudice that needs to be straightened out.
Let me be clear what I mean when I talk about self-care. It’s a term that is in danger of becoming a lifestyle #self-care. I don’t necessarily mean pampering, or grooming or the different ways that we are being encouraged to consume self-care, from bath lotion to butter. I mean putting your self-compassion glasses on and having a long and lovely look at where you are whole and where you hurt. Where are your wounds and bruises and what can you do for yourself to heal them a little?
Neuro Linguistic Programming coaching (NLP) plays the opposites game, encouraging the brain to create a new pathway through a subject by thinking about its opposite. What’s the opposite of prejudice? Fondness, respect, tolerance, love, like …So what if we straighten wonky thinking, throw in the opposites game and start to create a model for self-care that I will call, for now, ‘me-likey’. I'm inspired by a popular British TV catchphrase, ‘no likey, no lighty’ from a show where dating hopefuls pitch themselves to a panel of potential suitors whose button lights up if they like him or her. I’m not naïve enough to think that we can just flip a switch and start to love ourselves, I’d be out of business if it was that easy, but we could begin to like ourselves a bit.
Here is an invitation to start there. You like yourself, you now know that you’re more than alright. From this place of ‘me-likey’, and I encourage you to say that out loud! Put your self-compassion glasses on, have a long and lovely look at where you are whole and where you hurt, acknowledge what you instinctively know might help you heal a little, be it a lie-in, some therapy, doing absolutely nothing but sitting with yourself, sharing your feelings with another person, drawing them, writing them down or something else entirely. Make a commitment to yourself, as an act of personal political will, that you will do this thing for you.