Beyond Well · Dec. 23, 2019

Let’s Drop the “Self” in “Self-Care”

FEATURING: Dr. Jenna LeJeune, Dr. Brian Goff
TAGS: Self-Care

Dr. Brian Goff and Dr. Jenna LeJeune debate the nature of self-care and whether the notion of self care has a negative impact on people’s lives.

By Jenna LeJeune

If you listened to today’s episode on self-care you now know my dirty little secret — I really hate the concept of “self-care.” I know I’m not supposed to say that as a therapist, especially not here in Portland where people take their self-care regimes very seriously. But, it’s true; my name is Jenna and I don’t like self-care.

While there are several things I find problematic about the concept of self-care, the main difficulty I have is that framing certain behaviors as “self-care” sets us up for failure. ​By singling out your “self” from all the other selves (loved ones, critters, others in your life) that you care well for, you are setting up an unhelpful distinction between “me” versus “them.”​ If self-care is distinct from other-care then that distinction forces us to try to balance those competing and apparently distinct sets of behaviors. Someone is always going to be on the losing end of that balancing act.

You don’t say “I really need to carve out time for ‘daughter care’” or “dog care” or “spouse care” or “friend care.” Hopefully caring well for all those people/critters is just how you interact with them. So why should it be any different for your self? ​You don’t need to carve out any special self-care time for yourself if being caring is just how you interact with your self.

Instead of trying to ensure that we are caring well for ourselves by highlighting the distinction between “me” versus everyone else, I encourage people to do the opposite. I work with people on developing ways to to ​start seeing themselves as part of the common humanity that they (hopefully) care well for.​ In other words, I encourage people to drop the “self” part of self-care and instead focus on moving towards ​a more holistic value of caring well for all those they are in relationship with.​ And you know who you spend the most time in relationship with? Your self! So be sure to include her in the group of people you are caring well for.

One concrete tool you can use to develop this skill is ​Lovingkindness Meditation (LKM)​ , or as it is also called Metta Meditation. In LKM, the task is to ​practice seeing all beings as being a part of a common humanity and intentionally responding to all beings in that group with kindness and care, regardless of whether that person is a loved one, someone you have difficulty with, yourself, or someone 1⁄2 way around the world.

So, go ahead and treat yourself to that massage or that weekend away. But if what you want is to care well for yourself in a more ongoing and sustainable way, why not commit to 10-15 minutes every day for two weeks of LKM? Just like anything else, it takes some practice. But the data show that just ​two weeks of daily LKM ​can have profound effects that last long after you have stopped meditating. If you’re interested in giving it a shot, ​you can find several free guided LKM recordings here:

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