Self-Care as Self-Preservation: The Origins of Self-Care

Close your eyes and picture self-care. What comes to mind? Was it a person? What color was their skin? Most likely, you thought of a white, affluent looking woman doing something relaxing. Maybe she had cucumbers over her eyes while resting in a plush bathrobe surrounded by overpriced bath products, or something along those lines. Often this is what we picture when we think of self-care. That could not be further from the truth and what self-care really means. 

The term self-care, as we know it today, was a political rally cry from 1988 said by African-American lesbian activist an author Audre Lorde. She used the notion of caring for oneself as a as a stance against an oppressive culture and a reminder that everyone is worthy of care. Her words still ring true today. 

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 

In reality, when we think of self-care, we should imagine ourselves with all our flaws and glory willing to make an unrelenting commitment to get to the core of our being. It is the first step in figuring out what makes us flourish so that we can be healthy and well. Self-care takes intentional trial and error and exploration of what you need to feel good. You must examine various aspects of your life from your relationships, environment, nutrition, rest habits, self-talk, movement, and more. Good self-care is part of a consistent, foundational routine that is all about you.  

The history of self-care can be traced back to India 5,000 years ago with the earliest practitioners  of yoga seeking optimal wellness by connecting their mind, body, and spirit. Evidence of the importance of lifestyle impacting one’s health can also be found in Ancient Greece, Rome, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. Both Aristotle and Socrates had glimmers of caring for the self in their teachings. 

Florence Nightingale in 1859, recognized the importance of attending to one’s needs as a pathway to healing. Her perspective was rooted in the medical field around basic hygiene practices. Later in 1959 the nursing field realized that self-care and other care are related and began promoting it as such for nurses and patients. In other words, they understood that when you care for yourself you are more equipped to care for others.

So why do we feel that self-care is something other people do and not us? Why do some people think that self-care is selfish or unnecessary? I am not 100% sure how this warped perception came to be, but here is my best guess. We are a society that values money over time and the acquisition of material goods over experiences and wellness. We run ourselves ragged, and rest feels like a copout or a failure. We burn the candle at both ends and celebrate pulling all-nighters and  working overtime. These are not self-care perspectives, but I can tell you without a doubt that self-care is not an option, and it is not selfish. 

So, I want you to think about what fills your cup? 

Self-care is a commitment to yourself, your health, and your well-being. By caring for ourselves, we can care for others more effectively.

Life is short, so why not figure out what makes us feel good and do MORE of that! 

Don’t forget to tune into Facebook LIVE every Tuesday at 12 PM for Talk-Back Tuesday at the Self-Care Cabaret. If you miss the LIVE video, you can always watch it later when you have time. 

Stay well,

Dr. MC

Published by Theresa Melito-Conners, PhD (Dr. MC)

I am self-care expert and a recent Ph.D. graduate in the greater Boston area. I look forward to helping you on your journey to wellness.

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