I wanted to call this post Tina Turner and Self-care, but this post has absolutely nothing to do with Tina Turner--- having said that I bet Tina Turner has a lot to teach on the subject. One doesn’t still rock “Proud Mary” at 77 years old and survive and thrive after an abusive marriage without learning a whole lot about self-care; that, however, is another fish to fry on another Friday. What I am referencing today is Tina’s classic anthem, “What’s love got do with it”, and by love, I am talking self-love and it has a lot to do with it.
In a land far away and a time long ago (long enough ago that there was a scrunchy in my hair and I hadn’t even considered a career in counseling) I remember sitting on my therapist’s couch in a metaphoric pile of ashes, reviewing of all of my flaws, failings and imperfections in alphabetical order, and my therapist interrupting my tirade with the Captain Obvious interpretation of the day, “You don’t love yourself, do you?” My internal answer was a resounding, “No sh*t Sherlock” with a little valley girl, “no, duh!” thrown on top to punctuate the veracity of his no-brainer of a query. Self-love? Ha! Laughable.
No, self-love was not in my wheelhouse at the time. But even as I said no, that I didn’t, I sort of didn’t know what he meant by it. I didn’t really know how one did self-love. I mean generally, I knew the difference between those who expressed self-love in their behavior and those who didn’t. I could see when someone did self-love and someone didn’t---I just didn’t know How they did it. I saw self-loving people as inherently confident and I believed they had some kind of unexplainable magical ability to see themselves as worthy, how they generally didn’t talk crap about themselves, and had boundaries and self-respect. But how did that happen? Who the hell knows. I didn’t. I thought it was something one did or did not have, kind of like dimples. I assumed that my messed up childhood meant that I wasn’t able to develop self-love, that it was a done deal and that I was cooked and doomed, and determined to be a non-self-lover just as I was right-handed and had freckles. Yes, I had read the books that told me that I could and should learn to love myself, but just saying “I love you, Tracey” didn’t do bupkis for me.
And this my friends, is where self-care came in. You, like me, may think that self-care and self-love are related, that if you went to Ancestry.com you could see that they are second cousins twice removed, but I would say they are sneaky synonyms of a sort---and sort of like identical cousins (if you are old enough to have seen The Patty Duke Show you might know what I am talking about here). My thesis, and I have facts, evidence and proof that it is true (I am a therapist), that continued and consistent self-care is a surefire way to develop self-love, even if you don’t have a drop of self-love right now----through consistent self-care you are treating yourself like you matter and when you do self-care daily, weekly, and beyond that, sneaky things happen. By treating yourself like you would a beloved (through taking care of yourself, by being responsive to yourself, and by paying attention to your needs) you end up having boundaries, self-esteem, self-respect, and ultimately self-love. It doesn’t happen right away, but with time and consistent self-care, it will happen. I tell you this not just as a therapist, but as a previous non-self-lover, I know that self-care creates self-love, I know it as someone who went from feeling genetically and permanently incapable of self-love to someone who, warts and all, actually loves herself. In time my self-love, through consistent self-care, turned into self-esteem, self-confidence and even self-possession, these were all states of self that I felt sure I would never achieve.
If you are equally confounded by self-love as I was and you don’t know where to start, you might want to start with this simple question: “If today I was to treat myself like someone I love what would I do differently?” If that leads to nothing, then start with something as small and simple as drinking water when you are thirsty, going to bed when you are tired, noticing how you feel, listening to yourself around your preferences and saying no when you mean it---these are all good ways to improve your self-care and ultimately your self-love. Trust me, self-care is much much more than that. You will see how deep self-care can go when you’ve had a chance to read An Invitation to Self-Care, but if you know that self-love and you aren’t exactly pals, then just starting with some act of kindness is a tangible step in the right direction.