Nurture Practices VS Self Soothing Strategies
There is a time and a place for all. What do you choose to do now?
Self-love, and by extension self-care, is on one end of a continuum, on the other end is self loathing. At any time we might be moving towards one end or the other, sometimes slowly sometimes quickly. We might still confuse self care with selfishness or self love with arrogance. Or we might know how to fill up our own cup enough that it overflows to sweeten the lives of those around us. To take on the task of practicing self love is to embark upon a radical world transforming path. It is a path we walk in community. Self care is actually a team sport.
While we all share the same basic human needs, our set point for how those needs are met vary with our changing circumstances. Depending on where you are in your life what you need to come into balance may be wildly different. There is no one path to getting our needs met.
After giving it a lot of thought, and reading quite a bit about health I started classifying our needs for thriving into 5 categories:
Nutrition – real food, mostly plant based
Movement – joyful – bonus if it happens outside
Connection – loving supportive community that affirms who you are
Detoxification – body and emotions (hint – good sleep is essential to this one.)
Mindfulness – time set aside to quiet the mind and seek clarity within
Making efforts towards any one of these areas supports wellbeing. Making effort to meet your own needs is the foundation of self love. When considering next steps for self care it is often possible to identify where a deficit is within this framework. If I feel yucky I can ask – What have I eaten in the last three days? When is the last time I danced or stretched or went for a walk? Do I feel disconnected from my people? How is my sleep, is my body regular – and am I currently involved with any toxic people? How goes my fledgling meditation practice? The answers usually make it easy to see where a bit of extra care is needed.
Community may seem an odd thing to include in self care. If you have community, you might take it for granted. When I think back to times during my life when I felt particularly isolated and lonely, I remember how finding a circle felt insurmountable. I have been fortunate to have crossed paths with some truly amazing folks to befriend, and now count my beloved ones as a primary factor in my health. Cultivate relationships, and cherish those who support your being, you will both be healthier for it.
Moving on the continuum towards self love can take many forms. By acknowledging our specific needs, and then making efforts to meet them, we can open up to be more loving and of greater service to others out of a sense of joy rather than guilt.
It is also important to note that embarking on a commitment to greater self care always includes the people of your household and inner circle. At its best it is a collaboration. One way to look at it is that Self Care is best accomplished in the space that it given to you, rather than as something you take. This may take many forms, often starting with setting clear boundaries with your closest people. It may require frank conversations about needs and expectations of all involved. Having a team approach can be helpful.
Once you commit to taking care of yourself it is good to tether your commitment to a time and place. Putting thought into your morning routine can be an easy place to start. There are nearly infinite ways to nurture yourself. (I’ve started a big list below.) Having a time and place for the self care action to happen gives us permission to make it happen. A regular yoga class, a Friday night ritual, a new moon gathering , a Sunday walk… Name it, and give it a time and a place will act as a supportive trellis to your new growth. Having a committed partner for certain activities can help you both be more accountable.
But what about … depletion, imbalance, trauma, triggered trauma, burnout, overwhelm, illness, isolation, loneliness, hard childhood, broken heart, grief, unemployment, poverty, hunger, sleep deprivation… What then?
There are the times when we are running on empty, we have fallen in our life and can not see how to get back up. How far down the depletion hole have you fallen? Has your output exceeded your input? What are your known deficits? Loneliness or not enough time alone? Overworked or overly idle? Overwhelmed? Burned out? Exhausted? In such times we likely need extra support.
When we need support, and either we don’t know how or even who to ask, we reach into our tool box to help ourselves as best we can. Our toolbox is filled with all the things we have tried in the past that have helped us get through. These might help us to numb emotional pain and discomfort, or may act as a bridge until we can get the support we need to nurture ourselves. Self soothing is a sign of you taking steps to get better, they are evidence of your choice to do what you can to survive. They are often how we get through pain. And sometimes they can lead to our downfall.
US society has a lot of restrictions and shame around asking for help. We also have strong Puritan and Calvinist influences that support a paradigm that discounts intuition, and promotes self-hatred and suspicion. These things reinforce indirect and less effective means of getting our needs met, than might otherwise be possible. Hence a person may choose to drink in secret rather than ask for help processing a problem.
It is known that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is isolation. Addictions are behaviors that fall into the realm of self soothing, or self medicating, tools to ease suffering when no other option seems doable. These things get us through, but do not help us move forward. In the words of Ani DiFranco “Any tool is a weapon if you hold it right.” This is true of self soothing strategies – they can be a tool, or a weapon of self destruction.
When we use any strategy to cope to the extent it keeps us stuck in a place that reinforces the need for more, or acts as a barrier to moving towards a healthier more balanced place, we likely lack the support or inner resources to make new choices. We likely also lack any early modeling for using nurturing practices to build balance and return to equilibrium. (Read dysfunctional family of origin.) Early childhood trauma is incredibly impactful in the realm of self love.
The first step towards self love is often just to acknowledge that your experience is real. Your feelings are your feelings. Your body knows what it knows. The first thought that comes up might be that it is not okay to feel or experience whatever it is you are feeling and experiencing. When we judge ourselves for being, we are intensifying our situation by adding shame. An indicator of this is the use of the word Should in self talk. The system we come from and live within may make it difficult to make new choices. Seeing this for what it is is the first step out of the matrix.
The connection piece can be a hard one – community is not something that can be attained without time and effort. If you are lacking the support you need, start with where you are. There are people who have chosen to be of service to others, they are available to help you help yourself. If you are in a place of isolation, and are in overwhelm mode, it may be time to call in support via a professional. Be that acupuncture, a massage, a meal out at a friendly cafe, a hotline, or a therapist. You are worthy of getting the support you need. Each connection we make with a person who is able to model self care and healthy choices gives us permission to make new choices.
To sum it all up, as humans we share basic needs that include care for our body, mind and spirit. Our life experiences and present circumstances may make certain needs more pressing than others. Sometimes we reach for methods of meeting our needs that end up reinforcing our problems. As social beings we need community to thrive, when we have others we can ask for help it is easier to live in health. Self Care is an expression of Self Love. A strong sense of self love makes you a more loving person to others, reinforcing community in a positive loop of goodness all around.
What are your favorite ways to take good care of yourself? How has self care lead to stronger community? Comments welcome.
A Few Nurture Practices…
- Ask for Help
- Regular bedtime & Regular wake time
- Nutrient dense breakfast
- Private unrushed ablutions
- Meditation practice
- Joyful movement
- Time in nature
- Space for creative flow
- Mindfully made delicious scratch meals
- Having someone who loves you cook for you.
- Spiritual practice
- Drinking Water
- Laughing really hard with someone you love
- Crying when you need to
- Yoni steaming
- Herbal infusions
- Connecting with animals
- Breast self massage w/ herbal cream
- Lymphatic self massage
- Cooking an unrushed meal
- Sitting or laying in a garden
- Climbing trees
- Beach time
- Time in the sun
- Time looking at the moon and stars in a really dark place
- Sound healing session
- Energy medicine session
- Making love with a person you love
- Making love with yourself
- Taking a bath
- Taking a shower
- Going to hot springs
- Going to the mountains
- Breathing with trees
- Riding a bike
- Wearing clothes that make you feel sparkly
- Connecting to stones
- Gratitude practice
- Eat Bitter greens
- Seasonal cleaning
- Folding laundry
- Doing dishes
- Sleeping in crisp clean sheets
- Watching the sunset
- Listening to birds as the sun rises
- Sitting next to a river
- Hugging someone
- Receiving a hug
- Giving a hug
- Being warm and naked
- Time alone talking out loud to: yourself, the ancestors, the divine, your guides, or your beloved dead.
- Listening deeply to sublime music
- Sweeping the floor
- Holding a baby
- Receiving empathy
- Giving empathy
- Seasonal rituals
- Telling your story
- Hearing truth
- Watching bees pollinate flowers
- … Anything that makes us feel refreshed, nurtured and joyful.
Some Examples of Self Soothing Strategies
- Eating too much
- Not eating
- Watching a Screen
- Getting sick
- Getting busy
- Playing video games
- Having disconnected sex
- Case building
- Watching sports
- Getting really mad
- Getting depressed
- … Anything that gets us through, but not forward