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Input determines output. This is a widely accepted biological and energetic reality. Yet when it comes to our emotional experiences, there seems to be an expectation that we can just give and give and give without putting the same amount of love and attention back.
Expressing and prioritizing one’s needs and desires is typically painted as selfish. Culturally, we are so starved of emotional nurturing that when we reach our breaking point, we're often forced to act selfish in order for our needs to be met. We can alienate ourselves with our desperate behavior, and fall back into the perspective of scarcity that keeps us from honoring our needs in the first place. This harmful cycle reinforces the structures in place that keep us from accepting our nature as creatures that deserve to be taken care of, feel connection, and live our lives fully from a place of nourishment.
The act of honoring our needs and cultivating the courage to fulfill them starts with acknowledging the ways we have been told not to meet their demands. As women, we know this too well. Most of us had mothers who suffered deeply from neglect of the self, realizing after their children left the house that they had empty identities, or trying to mother through the pain and anger of their unmet needs. We daughters walk away with a sense that we can't take too good of care for ourselves, that being a good woman or mother means sacrificing our identity, that making our health a priority is self-indulgent and neglectful.
Reclaiming the self and creating space to care for it requires us to go sharply against the grain. When there are children in the picture, this can feel like a betrayal of energy, and when there is a partner involved, it means reckoning with the truth that they cannot fulfill every one of our needs and desires. But beyond our personal spheres, self-care challenges a society that profits on our NOT taking care of ourselves. A society that has an interest in keeping our inner dialogues of worthlessness and self-sacrifice alive and well.
I believe that simple acts of self-care are the shift we need to evolve beyond a consumerist, profit-driven culture that is ever more disconnected from spirit and earth. Acting out one's inherent self-worth for love, connection, and nurturing flies in the face of an oppressive system that convinces people of their stories and robs them of the agency to write their own.
There is a cultural phenomenon where lower wage workers, immigrants, welfare recipients, teen mothers, or anyone else seen as dependent is treated as though they are undeserving of self-care. We see racial and geographic health disparities across the map of people with little access to basic health care, let alone the resources needed for a nourished, joyful life. Just like those of us with mothers who taught us what it meant to be a woman, entire populations exist with a learned self-worth that has been told, “You don’t matter.” This internalization keeps us engaged with our own oppression, without the tools to transcend it.
People could argue that oppressive systems won't be solved with meditation or journaling. I might argue that they won't be solved without them. There has been angry protest after angry protest steeped in movements without the spiritual fortitude to lift them up and start rejecting harmful realities from the inside out. I think it goes hand in hand. I think that you can't have one without the other- that when you recognize your self-worth and begin to use that as the light that guides your way beyond this harmful, patriarchal story of who you're supposed to be, big things begin to shift, inside and out. It's a dynamic, beautiful thing that can't be done without meaningful, personalized self-care.
No revolution, no paradigm shift, is sustainable without it.
Think about it (and tell me)... When has your burnout blocked your participation in social change? How does neglecting yourself translate from messages you've received from the culture? This is ALL cultural. Tell me how you know that to be true.
AND if you want some good stuff on the subject of self care as a subversive act (and more!), check out these valuable resources...