Radical Self-Care to Protect Your Overall Well-Being
Learning to care for yourself allows you to be there for others.
Posted October 30, 2020 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
Many of us chuckle when we’re encouraged to take “me time” and some of us might have negative reactions when we hear people talk about “self-care,” in terms of self-indulgence — as if a momentary pleasure could just undo the negative effects of a stressful life or protect us from further bumps and bruises from the world. However, there is such a thing as “radical self-care” that helps us move away from a focus on self-indulgence to creating a source of self-protection.
Radical self-care is about making sure that you don’t just mindlessly “enjoy a bubble bath” without actually scrubbing yourself clean. We light candles to mask bad odors, like pets, burnt food, musty things, but if we’re not taking time to really address the “cause” of the unpleasantness, we’re just going be burning candles at both ends and never dealing with what is actually causing the stink. Radical self-care is about taking care of things at the source rather than just sugarcoating or managing the symptoms.
Myers and Sweeney (2004) created a model of wellness that is built around the concept of the indivisible self; this is that part of you that is the intersection of all things corporeal, spiritual, psychological, and so on. It is the part of you that is your spark and your flame, so to speak. And it includes five basic elements of “self.” These are the Coping Self, Social Self, Physical Self, Essential Self, and Creative Self. These are the aspects of “self” that we need to protect and care for in order to maintain our well-being and balance in this world.
What Does Radical Self-Care Look Like?
Self-Care for Your Coping Self
In order to deal with the unpredictability of life, the frustrations you face, the hurt you experience, you need to have strong and accessible coping skills. These can be found in the way you intellectually respond to these assaults on your well-being and how you balance them in your behaviors.
Make sure that you challenge beliefs or messages that aren’t realistic or based on truth. Rejecting these is caring for yourself. Don’t measure yourself against others’ expectations of who you should be — don’t let your self-worth be diminished by the negative influence of people who don’t appreciate who you are or what you are about. Make sure there’s time for stress management activities and pleasurable activities in your life. Carving out space to nourish your resources is key to well-being.
Self-Care for Your Social Self
Research continues to indicate that having a healthy social support system is tethered to having a long and healthy life. Humans need love and humans need friendships. Whether we find romantic love or platonic love, a single best friend or a host of friends, humans are social creatures and we crave a sense of belonging and mattering, and getting our needs met through our social relations with others.
Radical self-care for your social self may require that you cut ties with those individuals who no longer support you or, more concerning, actively diminish you or your sense of self-worth. Boundaries are an especially essential aspect of radical self-care. While humans cannot survive except in relation to others, we thrive when we have the space to be “in relationship with,” not “subsumed by” others.
Self-Care for Your Physical Self
When we get “stuck in our heads,” we may forget to take care of our bodies. However, we have to care for our bodies because it is our bodies that will take care of our minds. Making time for physical exercise on a regular basis can not only keep our bodies in good shape but also helps minimize both depression and anxiety, two draining conditions that recent events have exacerbated for many of us.
Nutrition also deserves attention — by staying hydrated and eating a healthy diet, we also are doing important self-care for our brains. Diet can play a huge role in mood, energy, vigor, stamina, and perspective. Radical self-care is blocking out time for fitness in your schedule and blocking out time for shopping and meal prep.
Self-Care for Your Essential Self
This is the part of you that is what makes you unique, that part of you that reflects your cultural identity and spirituality and that innate sense of self. This is the space from which we are driven to find meaning and purpose in life. It is that part of us to which we “come home to” when we feel battered by life or need to seek a sense of security. It is where we feel optimism and hope. It is where we feel a connection to something beyond ourselves, whether it is organized religion, faith, spirituality, transpersonal connections, or goodness and morality.
Radical self-care of our essential self is needed when we feel disconnected from others, despair about our lives or the world, or feelings of depression or hopelessness. We care for our essential selves through time alone when we need it, spending time with those who truly “get us” and accept us as we are. Some of us might turn to prayer to nurture our essential self. Some of us might turn to meditation and mindfulness practices that tune us into that quiet place deep within.
Bringing a nonjudgmental perspective to self-reflection is radical self-care of this aspect of self. Honoring our cultural identity — gender, family, community, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and any other unique aspects of how you see yourself in this world — is healing and nurturing as well. Owning your values, owning where you stand in this world on big issues, and protecting these standpoints when others criticize or condemn them is radical self-care.
Self-Care for Your Creative Self
Our creative self is the aspect through which we express ourselves in this world — and this expression can be through words, images, music, art, poetry, actions, dance, movement, and whatever other ways that you let yourself communicate. Our creative self includes our thoughts, feelings, sense of humor, how we exert control over our lives, and in what types of activities and pursuits we engage, including our vocations and occupations. We create each moment as we move through this world — all of us are artists and composers of our own lives. This aspect of self is how we “show up” in life and an aspect that can be limited or bounded by others’ expectations as we are growing up or within relationships.
Radical self-care for our creative self includes checking in with ourselves to make sure that our thoughts are based on truths and not reflecting distorted perceptions of the world or others in the world. It can include learning how to honor our emotions and manage them in ways that are healthy, not detrimental. Learning to take responsibility for our actions and finding healthy ways to control our environments is self-care. Giving ourselves space to sort through confusing emotions and to clear our heads are examples of radical self-care. Radically refusing to let others tell you what you do or do not feel is self-care. Giving yourself space to laugh, to cry, to hope, to dream, to ponder the mysteries of the universe is self-care. Radical self-care of your creative self is also expressed through finding a job or career that pays the bills, but also ideally engages you and challenges you in healthy ways. Making decisions about how you want to spend your days, earn your wages, and build an identity can feel radical in the moment, but can be a form of self-care that allows you to flourish.
The Whole Is More Than the Sum of the Parts
Humans are multi-dimensional beings and we cannot know ourselves, or another, if we neglect to know the various components of the indivisible self. Each aspect of our personhood is nourished and expressed in unique ways — some tangible, some ephemeral. The more complex our world and lives become, the greater the need for radical self-care.
Sixty minutes on a massage table may be a delicious break from life, but until we are able to put in place practices and boundaries that protect each aspect of self, we are not going to be building up the necessary resources that will protect us from the next assault on our sense of self. Radical self-care is about strengthening our core and active engagement in self-protection. It is assertively carving out the space where you can safely heal and grow and make sense of the world around you and the world within you. It is only radical because we live in a world that demands so much from each of us that we feel unable to demand space to feel ourselves.
Myers, J. E., & Sweeney, T. J. (2004). The Indivisible Self: An Evidence-Based Model of Wellness. Journal of Individual Psychology, 60(3), 234-245.