Updated: Apr 14, 2022
There is a lot of noise around self-care. The conversation around self-care is building momentum and I am here for it. Still, there is a lot to dismantle.
Sure, self-care can look like holidays, spa days and bubble baths. Self-care can look like trips to the hair salon and pink clay masks. Self-care practices can reign the dizzying heights of IG content and come in the form of posh food to shopping sprees.
Self-care is also uncomfortable. It’s "doing the work." It’s establishing or re-establishing boundaries. It’s cutting toxic people. It’s choosing you over powerful but harmful dynamics. Self-care is also about self-reflection and calling yourself out on your own ‘red flags’ and choosing to educate yourself and change in order to grow, rather than sitting in defensive attitudes and behaviours and continuing in your own red flag cycles.
But you have spoken about your story, your truth and your pain, and in doing so you are working through validating all of your unresolved trauma. Through all that pain and hardship have you discovered ‘that’s not on you?'
But, how do you know when ‘it’s not on you’ and when you need to address situations, relationships and triggering or toxic cycles by taking personal responsibility?
Let’s face it, if patterns in your life that are painful or harmful are continuing to emerge and you mistakenly address these by adapting your own behaviour or mindset, this could actually contribute to this cycle.
I know, that doesn't sound right. Hear me out...
If you try and change yourself when it’s not *you* that needs to change, this will only exacerbate the problem, even if your intentions are good.
Let’s use a relationship for example. You are experiencing pain in a relationship due to a lack of trust from your partner. You are being asked to prove where you are, who you’re with, and if you socialise ‘too much’ in a week then you are told that you are the cause of your partners heightened anxiety.
Your reaction: you try to deal with that with self-reflection and adapting your behaviours to ease the situation. In practice, this looks like proving where you are by sharing a GPS tracker on your phone, withdrawing from certain friendship groups and/or having strict social ‘rules’ when you are out with friends. This mindset shift and adaptation of your own behaviour will exacerbate the cycle and the pain you’re experiencing. This kind of shift actively works at validating the cycle.
If you were the person with the trust issues in this dynamic, then self-reflection and educating yourself on your own red flags will be beneficial. Getting professional help to heal this part of yourself will help make this better for you and for your relationships (both now and in the future).
Naturally, this is a very broken down and simplistic analysis of this kind of dynamic which I have used purely to illustrate how complex this balance can be. Please note that this example does not replace or equate to tailored professional assistance.
As I have demonstrated, you can see how this might get confusing and overwhelming if you are passively accepting particular problematic cycles.
Here are a few reflective ways to balance this, or navigate which is the appropriate response to how you’re feeling or what you’re experiencing:
If you are addressing particular patterns or cycles, write down how a typical cycle will look and how you and others respond. Be honest and do not sit in judgement, even if it is uncomfortable. How does the cycle look, why are you reacting in that way? Why could others be reacting in the way that they are? Where are the ‘red flags?
Where do you feel your emotions in your body? Get comfortable with noticing signs early. Does your chest tighten? Does your breathing become shallow? Does your stomach knot? The next time you notice these things, what is happening in your external environment? What are the root causes?
Do you recognise triggering behaviours in someone? Is it triggering because of your lived experience, or is it triggering because it is behaviour that is unhealthy for you and them? How and why have you come to that conclusion?
Make space for personal responsibility and self-reflection. Patterns only change when we claim our role in the dynamic.
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