Here’s a question to ponder. It’s something I’ve wondered over the last few years.
Why don’t the self-care tips work?
For real. Think about it. If a bubble bath or an after-dinner stroll really took care of our ‘selves,’ then we’d all be walking around refreshed. And rested. And full of life.
But we aren’t.
We’re weary. We struggle to choose ourselves first. We push and push and push until there’s nothing left.
Why is that our go-to response to life?
Even in the hard years of my personal journey, I did all the things Oprah magazine told me to. I took baths and had girl’s nights and even hired a babysitter just so I could go eat lunch by myself and stare at the restaurant wall (I know, so glamorous).
But it didn’t work. It didn’t sustain me. And it didn’t really take care of the core of my being.
So, this is a topic we have to dive into because I think our actual lives are on the line here.
Traditional self-care strategies will take care of a momentary need, but they cannot foster a grounded, fulfilled life in the long-term.
So then—you might be thinking: what are we supposed to do about it? How, then, do we take care of our ‘selves’ in a way that makes
Well, the good news is, this is what I’ve spent the last two years of my life unpacking, pursuing and discovering.
And I’m about to let you in on my little secret, to a piece of my journey.
This is deep stuff. Ready?
I’m going to introduce you to three people I met along the way who have helped me learn how to really take care of my whole being. And then, I will connect the dots for you. It’ll all make sense in the end, k?
Here’s the short version:
Self-care only works if we have a sense of ‘self.’
We can’t take care of our ‘selves’ if we don’t even know who our ‘selves’ are. This will take a lot of “aha” moments and inner work.
So this journey? It’s not about deciding between a nightly glass of white or red, lavender bubbles or Epsom salts.
It’s about rediscovering (or maybe discovering for the first time) who you are. It’s about self-awareness. And most of all, it’s about learning how to build and maintain true self-connection.
First up, meet Kim Honeycutt, Charlotte-based psychotherapist, author, and founder of ICUtalks.org. And don’t let the word “psychotherapist” scare you. No, she’s not psycho — pinky promise. “Psychotherapist” simply means “talk therapist.” She’s among the best of the best.
I started learning the deeper work of self-care when I asked Honeycutt to be on my podcast, Just Keep Living. I asked her to come chat about how moms can take care of themselves, naively thinking she would give us all the tips I’d heard before.
Her response instead?
“I can’t come on your podcast and talk about self-care without also talking about setting boundaries.”
I had no idea what she meant, but after our one-hour conversation I realized I hadn’t even scratched the surface of what self-care really is.
Honeycutt says our view of self-care starts the day we are born. “Self-care is difficult if there is no self. It is close to impossible if you believe care is a luxury for others and not yourself. It is also impossible if you believe self-care is a threat to your sense of self. And guess what? It all begins the day you are born.”
She explains that from day one until about 18 months of age, we can develop one of four attachment styles, which Honeycutt says is “how one is received when seeking safety during threat and danger.”
FOUR ATTACHMENT STYLES
Our attachment style — our initial connection to our primary caregiver —becomes the lens through which we see all relationships.
“In general, our childhood either gears us to have great anxiety around abandonment or great avoidance around intimacy,” Honeycutt shares. “If you want to learn self-care, you first have to discover your primary fear. Do you fear rejection more than connection or connection more than rejection?”
If the answer is rejection, then you might have the Preoccupied Attachment style, which causes you to take care of everyone else’s needs around you, but be frozen when it comes to your own needs. To the contrary, if you take care of you, but neglect others’ needs — thinking they are taking care of themselves like you are — you are likely Dismissive attachment style.
Honeycutt adds, “While these two insecure attachments have some similarities, there are stark differences. One person craves dependence (preoccupied) and the other fears intimacy (dismissive); therefore, you cannot prescribe the same type of self-care regiment to them.”
The goal for every person is a secure attachment style, which helps children (and eventually adults) in all areas of functioning. For example, children who can be comforted like to explore, give consistent responses, co-regulate emotions (to name a few) typically develop into adults who have positive self-esteem, are resilient, have empathy, hold long-term friendships, takes risks, and can handle conflict.
Studies show only about 50 percent of people have secure attachment. And variables like generational trauma, genetics, divorce, bullying, medical or sexual trauma can affect us, even if we have secure attachment.
“We are all striving for the same thing — secure attachment. That’s really what self-care is. It means feeling emotionally and physically safe, being attuned to our self and others, being comfortable most of the time around our friends and family, and being able to explore,” Honeycutt shares.
To get there? Even if you don’t have secure attachment from childhood, you can do the work and earn it, a term coined “Earned Attachment,” through deep inner work and learning the five characteristics of a secure relationship, Honeycutt says.
“Learn slowly and methodically to speak up about what you need if you are preoccupied attachment. And dismissive people, when others speak up, then reach towards them. Others’ needs for connection doesn’t have to be a threat to your autonomy,” Honeycutt adds.
Next up — meet Lisa Brown, LMT. She’s a Master Pilates Instructor and founder of bWELL Corrective Massage and Pilates in Nashville.
Lisa and I are what I like to call soul sisters. We connect on a deep level, and every time we’re together, magic explodes like confetti.
Her take on self-care is this: before we can really have self-connection, we need spiritual connection to fill us up first.
“You get put on this planet, and what do you do? Your whole goal is to learn how to manage on this earth with what you have. And your body is your vehicle,” Brown says. “Imagine it’s a car, and you’re put on a highway, and you’re told to go. But you don’t know how to use the car. You don’t know how to turn it on, how to fix it when it breaks, how it goes forward or backwards, or how to fill it back up with fuel when it’s empty.”
It sounds silly — that anyone would drive a car if she didn’t know how. But Brown continues, “A lot of people don’t know the basics about how their bodies work. Some people are out there pushing the car because they don’t know there’s a key and an ignition that makes it go. It runs out of fuel and they don’t know where to fill it up.”
Brown shares that the first-step in taking care of your ‘self’ is to be plugged in to your spiritual source — from it, all things flow. We do need the basic tools to help our ‘cars’ run smoothly, but without fuel from the greater power — what she calls the metaphorical gas station — we can’t operate properly.
Once we learn how to run the car? How to fill it up? How to do the maintenance? She shares, “Well, our vehicle can take us anywhere we want to go!”
After you’ve learned how to ‘fill up,” Brown tells us to listen to the quiet voice of your body; what some might call instinct. “The mind and the spirit are the ones who set goals and expectations for us,” she adds.
For example, your body might be telling you to take a nap.
So, you get a quick 15 minutes of shut-eye and think you’re doing your body justice — or maybe you ignore the urge altogether. But what your body really needs is a deep three-hour sleep to recharge. If you consistently dismiss what your body needs, it will one day do something to get your attention.
“Unfortunately, the body will eventually shut down in order to help get priorities straight,” Brown shares. “So when you need a nap, take one. When there’s a party you don’t really want to go to, don’t. Little by little, you’ll realize you feel less frazzled and more refreshed.”
This idea goes back to Honeycutt’s insight: if you are connected to self, you will give yourself permission to have a voice. If you listen to your voice, you are self-caring.
CONNECT TO YOU
Lastly, meet Dr. Chelsea Matthews, physical therapist and founder of Catalyst Physical Therapy and Performance in Nashville.
I met Matthews when I was working through severe neck pain, and I quickly realized there was something magical about her, too. Her whole business is centered around helping clients get out of pain so they can keep doing what they love.
When it comes to self-care, Matthews challenges us to consider the interconnectivity of wellness and how that approach can help us better connect to our ‘selves.” If our goal is to pursue wholeness, we need to look at the whole picture from a bird’s eye view.
Maybe we’ve earned secure attachment and we’re plugged up to our spiritual source. (Yay us!) But those factors alone may not achieve true wholeness.
According to Mark Hyman, founder and director of The UltraWellness Center and 13-time New York Times bestselling author — if we want to feel vibrant and come alive, we need to look at factors like community, spirit, emotional health, relationships, nutrition, movement, purpose, and mindset.
One thing Matthews and Honeycutt agree on is that self-care will look different for everyone.
“We all have our strength and weaknesses,” Matthews shares. “So, someone telling me to exercise more doesn’t really move the needle because I naturally do a ton of that. But someone telling me to focus more on building community or doing spiritual health work? Game changer,” she says.
When we make choices for a healthy ‘self’ based on the larger picture, we tap into something greater. Think about the “why” behind other factors in your daily life. When you enter in community, you have support. When you have a purpose, you live longer. When you eat well, you physically feel better. And so on.
But what about the common, stereotypical self-care tips?
They come in to play, but not in the way most people suggest.
If you feel safe and secure, if you’re consistently engaging in activities that help you reconnect with yourself, if you’re plugged in and connected, if you’re considering all aspects of life, then taking care of you will be the natural by-product. You won’t have to force it; it will just be an integral part of how you operate day-to-day.
Now is the time. We don’t have to live life ragged or in pain or by putting ourselves last. When we are filled up, we are able to bring our whole selves to the world and make a difference in it.
(Re)discover who you are. Understand how to drive your vehicle. Do the deep work. Heal. Have a voice. Set boundaries. Truly care for your beautiful self.That is legacy-building, world-changing work.
Honeycutt adds, “Self-care today is striving towards secure connection to self,” she says. “What if we call it self-connection instead of self-care? Maybe then we will stop rejecting ourselves, and instead, connect to ourselves and to the world around us.”