How Did Self-Care Get Co-opted by Big Business?
Self-care during divorce just might save your life. And it's free.
Posted July 3, 2019
Why are we talking about self-care and divorce?
Self-care has become a buzzword. There are hundreds of websites, articles, and books on the subject. A whole industry has grown around the idea of self-care, promoting spas, travel, indulgences of food, or even hair coloring. Much in this new industry is frivolous and misleading, but it targets a serious and pervasive problem. The problem is that we all live fast-paced, hectic, stressful lives with pressures at work and home. We exhaust ourselves caring for others while we neglect ourselves. Our relentless pursuit of material success or recognition drives us into competitive behaviors that can isolate us from sources of emotional support. Whether it is a struggle to get ahead or a struggle simply to survive, we are either unaware of or ignoring our own emotional and physical depletion. When we have a loss, separation, or divorce, the problem gets much worse. Someone had to name the problem and then name the solution. Thus the concept of self-care was born (and a whole new business opportunity was spawned).
The concept is not new. Self-care started as a medical term, as early as the late 19th century, and was picked up later in the women’s, civil rights, and LGBTQ movements, where it was politicized. In the last 25 years, the concept of self-care meshed well with the growth of evidence-based positive psychology and preventative medicine. Despite this, most of us are still ignoring our own physical, mental, and psychological needs, with our careless and sometimes self-destructive lifestyles.
Children do pretty well when it comes to self-care, and we adults help them. When they are hungry, they let us know, and we feed them. When they are tired, they let us know that too, and they crash. They have a strong drive to learn, their instinct to socialize is innate, and they play. Play is defined as “engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” There is no other goal than the pure joy of play. Do you remember the last time you played, laughed out loud, or did something silly, just for the sheer pleasure of it? One of the first things we lose when we leave our childhood is the ability to simply play.
In this series of posts, we will look at how you can take care of yourself during your huge life crisis and transition from being a couple to being a single parent. We will talk about what you will typically experience that signals the need for help and the importance of self-care routines.
What to expect in separation and divorce
In the early stages of separation, you can expect to feel a sense of surreal shock. Even if you made the decision to separate, it may be hard to believe it is actually happening. One of my clients told me she felt “stupefied” and in a fog. A part of you may feel a sense of relief that the arguing has ended, or that you (or your partner) have finally made the decision. Another part of you may feel overwhelmed with grief that the hopes and dreams you had cherished have failed. You may cry easily and frequently. Yet another part of you may feel paralyzing anxiety about what the future holds.
Your sense of time may be altered. Time may feel like it has slowed down or speeded up. You may have a hard time keeping track of your days, and you may feel as if you are in a fog of indecision, despair, or existential angst. You may feel lost or empty as if your life is pointless, and nothing matters anymore; you may feel like giving up, not caring what happens. You may question your spiritual faith. You may feel that you have no energy to deal with anything. You may feel weak, useless, or even numb, like your emotions are deadened.
Another part of you may be enraged, furious with your spouse and with the world. Your sense of safety in the world may be shaken. Perhaps you feel betrayed by someone you loved and trusted, and whom you thought had loved you. You may be unable to relax, feeling restless and agitated. You want to get this done and over with as quickly as possible. This is because you (mistakenly) believe this will make the pain go away. You may not be able to eat or sleep, or perhaps you will eat and sleep too much, using these behaviors as a way to numb yourself. You may be plagued with bad dreams or nightmares. You might gain or lose weight.
Many people also feel guilt and shame. You may blame yourself for the problems in the marriage, or perhaps for something you said or did that drove your partner away. Perhaps you blame yourself for not attending to something important, like your career, your education, your finances, or your use of alcohol or drugs. You may feel remorse and regret your own actions and behaviors. You worry that you will be disgraced, and blamed for the divorce. You may also blame yourself. Now you also feel helpless, because there is nothing you can say or do to change the past or the present outcome. With these emotions, you may pull away from friends and family, isolating yourself, and then feeling a deep loneliness. It may seem to you that no one could understand your feelings.
Your anxiety tells you that the outcome will be dire. Your muscles get tense, and your heart pounds when you feel panicky. You imagine the worst, that you will be a “bag lady” or homeless on the street. You imagine that you are forever unworthy unlovable. You might feel exhausted, suffer from headaches and stomachaches; you might get sick with colds or infections more easily.
With all of these emotions, it should not be a surprise that you may find it difficult or impossible to concentrate or to get anything done. You feel forgetful and wonder if you are losing your mind. You may obsess about what is happening and feel unable to focus on anything else. Making decisions seems impossible.
On the other hand, you may throw yourself into something that distracts you, such as work, exercise, creative expression, or a new affair. You may try to stay active all the time so that your thoughts and feelings don’t take over. You may increase your drinking or drug use, become easily irritated and argumentative, or even aggressive.
All of this is normal. These are normal reactions to an abnormal situation. Extreme changes, loss, and crisis trigger extreme emotional reactions. While they are all predictable, what you experience will be unique to you, your personality, and how you cope with crises in your life. Although the emotions are normal, these emotions are your body’s and psyche’s way of asking for help. If you have a therapist, or if you have never been in counseling, this is an excellent time to seek some support. As intense as these reactions are, they will ease with the passage of time, and the resolution of many of the issues raised by separation and divorce. You will recover and heal. Self-care is one of the first and most important steps you can take to begin your recovery.
I recommend that you attend to your emotions before beginning the legal process of divorce. Perhaps as you read this section you will understand why this is so important.
Self-care false advertising
Despite the messages of the self-care industry, do not be fooled! You do not need to spend money on self-care. When we are in a crisis, we are desperate to feel better. We want to believe the advertisements that claim that they will boost self-confidence or reduce anxiety. One shirt company emphasizes “comfort that will make you ‘FEEL’ good on the INSIDE & OUTSIDE.” This claim resonates with millennial customers, in particular, who are increasingly drawn to self-care.
It is unfortunate that the concept of self-care has been co-opted by corporations in misleading and unhealthy ways. When workers actually need to work more reasonable hours or in better working conditions, the kind of self-care you might see is expressed in an article about how seven “super successful women leaders" added self-care to their schedule. Beauty companies target women, and often men, with claims that their product will boost self-esteem, self-confidence, social acceptance, and even joy and happiness. Self-care is sometimes equated with “treating yourself” or “you deserve…” whatever product is being promoted.  Self-care is not about this at all.
Self-care ideas and habits
One definition of self-care is “the mindset, activities, practices, and habits we bring to bear against stress, unhappiness, illness, depression, and many more negative emotions.”
In Part 2 of this series, I will share examples of no-cost mental, physical, emotional and spiritual self-care ideas.
© Ann Buscho, Ph.D. 2019