Is “Self Care” Damaging Your Relationships?

What?! I thought self care was supposed to be crucial to relationships.  This summer I moved from New York City to the Bay Area.  It’s taken me a few months to notice and put into words how the culture is different out here.  As a healer and teacher I’m fascinated by the way people’s learning styles, energy patterns, and local language are so different.  For example, in New York City I found that many of my friends, clients, and students were very driven, direct communicators, and focused on impacting the world.  (Now yes, that reflects my values and the circles I live in.)  I noticed the simplicity of slowing down allowed so much healing and rebalancing.

The same process for healing sessions does not have the same effect in the Bay.  I’m noticing that many people are more laid back, value socializing, value taking time in nature.  These are the very things that attracted me here!  And yet, I also notice that many people are not clear what their life purpose is, motivated by clear life goals, and consistent in their motivation to act on their goals to completion.  So as a teacher and healer I’m finding that simply slowing down is not always balancing.  I’ve been redesigning my offerings to serve the culture, energy patterns, and values of this new place.  A big part of this has been focusing with clients on their life goals and creating time sensitive actions to stay accountable to them with sustainability.  Another big part of healing work in the Bay is examining “self care.”

Let’s break it down for a minute.  How can you tell when self care is working?  I notice that when it’s working I have more energy to connect with others.  I am a better listener.  I feel more grounded and clear in my intentions for the day.  I am aware of how I’m using my time and it feels like a valuable choice.  Do I feel more comfortable?  No, not necessarily.  I do not equate comfort with self care and this is the key!

One of the things I’ve noticed since moving to the bay is that people mean different things when they say “self care.”  Sometimes they are using this term as a way to prioritize their comfort.  This is how it can damage a relationship or the progress of a life goal.

There’s a fine line between feeling good and feeling comfortable.  Learning to regulate our nervous system from anxiety to presence is a core skill.  In fact the Bay Area is filled with amazing somatic and meditation resources to teach this skill.  However, there is more to self care than releasing anxiety.

When I consider the biggest most rewarding experiences of my life (for example writing, producing, and directing a performance on sexual empowerment in the mother daughter relationship; performing as a dancer with Katherine Dunham, Danny Glover, Mikhail Baryshnikov these were NOT COMFORTABLE experiences.  But God they were thrilling and self caring to my soul.

So now when I feel resistance to change (a very human thing to feel) I ask myself what could be more valuable than comfort?  I learned this question from Victor Lee Lewis in his amazing workshop on “How to talk to a racist.”

Love.  Growth.  Connection.  Healing…  Are all more valuable than comfort.  So this reframes self care!

Rather than asking what will make me more comfortable I can ask myself what can I do to show that I value myself, I value my relationships with others and with the world?  

The root of unintended privilege is when we prioritize comfort at the expense of how we impact other people.  This is how we can use “self care” in way that damages our relationships. 

It may be more comfortable to throw compost and recyclables in the trash can, and it’s not self care for the Earth or anyone living on it.  It may be more comfortable to take space alone and it’s not self care to do it every time the same challenge comes up with a loved one.  It may be comfortable to rest and it’s not self care unless we balance it with things that energize us and engage us as contributors.  Let’s do this self care thing in a way that makes us undeniably valuable to ourselves and each other!

Zahava Griss