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How to be your own self-care guide

Santa Rosa psychotherapist Patty Bechtold writes about how to be your own self-care guide at wiselifetherapy.com

The ubiquitous self-care guide: it’s everywhere. 

I mean, it’s actually a thing. But I didn’t know that until yesterday.

It all started when I was thinking about what to write today. I was curious to see if anyone else had written about being your own self-care guide.

That’s when I discovered pages and pages of self-care guides on Google. The kinds of guides that show up as documents (like books or blog posts). The kinds of guides that contain advice for you about how to do self-care.

There are all manner of self-care guides, too, produced by all manner of authors: from the very well known Mayo Clinic to the mostly unknown bloggers, and everyone in between.

This is not the type of self-care guide I have in mind.

Instead, I have in mind that you can become your own living, breathing self-care guide. I believe that we women possess the wisdom to gently lead ourselves through the forest of self-nurturing (a phrase I much prefer to self-care). And that we don’t need so much outside guidance.

In fact, much of the outside advice can actually make self-care harder, more overwhelming and more confusing. Just imagine the weight of all those words that have been written about self-care. And even more words keep getting piled on, which must mean that something’s not working.

We’re feeding ourselves (and being fed) a constant stream of advice from the outside.

I think there’s a different way, and it resides within us. We can begin right now.

As your own self-care guide, you begin from the inside and make your way outward.

You begin here if you struggle with self-care, as many of us do. And you begin here if trying to “do” self-care isn’t really working for you.

Being your own self-care guide means going deeper, and exploring what Robert Johnson calls the “unlived life.” As strange as it may seem, I believe our challenges with self-care and self-nurturing are intricately related to our unlived lives.

Consider what Johnson has to say about this in Living Your Unlived Life

The unchosen thing is what causes the trouble. If you don’t do something with the unchosen, it will set up a minor infection somewhere in the unconscious and later take its revenge on you. Unlived life does not just go away…instead, it goes underground and becomes troublesome…When we feel restless, bored or empty…the unlived life is asking for us to engage…As you may already have discovered, doing or acquiring more does not quell your unease or dissatisfaction. Stuffing down those rogue feelings or dutifully serving your life’s routines will not suffice.

Often, self-care is just one more part of the routine.

Another “to do” to be crossed off your list.

Yet, perhaps you’ve felt the longing for a different kind of nurturing, a different kind of self-care. Perhaps you’re tired of the routine. And what is unchosen in you is about living your life fully, right now. Not waiting any longer.

Just today, in fact, I read about a woman who longed to to “Live now, live fully.”

But she was well aware of her obstacles: her endless push to do, plan, organize and get things done above all else. Sound familiar?

Still, I had a feeling that she was right on the cusp of becoming her own self-care guide. And I think she also knew, in some way, that the pull to live now, live fully was her unlived life asking for her to engage.

Your unlived life as a path to self-care.

Personally, I’m on this path too. I’ve committed to doing self-care differently and becoming my own self-care guide. And I’ve started dipping my toe into my unlived life.

As I move forward I keep coming back to something Carol Pearson (author of Awakening the Heroes Within, among other books) writes about. She recommends, as others do, that we consult our deaths–rather than our fears and ambitions–as a way to honor the unlived life.

What I’m discovering is that consulting our deaths can also deepen our experience of and relationship to self-care.

Pearson presents this idea from the perspective of the Destroyer archetype, the part of us that understands that emptying out and letting go usually has to happen before we experience renewal.

And although the Destroyer archetype can conjure up dark images, it holds the potential for metamorphosis, revolution and the capacity to let go of what’s not working in our lives.

Four questions to begin engaging with your unlived life.

If self-care isn’t working in your life and you do want to become your own self-care guide, start by journaling with these questions…

  • What parts of me are “unchosen?”
  • What parts of me are too much in my life?
  • What feels harsh in my life?
  • How would my self-care change if I knew I only had 5 years left to live?

You could also find a small object to represent your unlived life, to carry with you or put on an altar. Or you might identify a symbol that reflects it. You could even create an small practice or ritual that helps you remember it.

And then, you will have staked a claim for your own self-care going forward. Congratulate yourself, because you’ve already started being your own self-care guide.

The power of positive destruction is enormously healing and liberating.
-Caroline Myss