Last week, my sister read the children’s book “The Rainbow Fish” to my nephews. Afterward, we talked about the different perspective we had on the story as adults.
What used to be a sweet story about sharing now seemed like a horrific tale of someone being forced to literally tear off pieces of themselves for others. And not even for someone else’s need, just their desire to have something shiny for themselves.
It reminded me of commentary I’d seen on another children’s classic, “The Velveteen Rabbit.” Rather than just being a story about a favorite toy that becomes real, the commentator pointed out an underlying message: Real love is something that you have to earn. If you devote your entire life to being worthy of someone’s love, even as you become shabby, unhealthy, and broken, then you might qualify to “become real.” You might get thrown out and forgotten in the process, but it will all be worth it in the end.
I’m definitely reading way too deep into these stories, but both made me think about the lessons we’re taught from a young age. “The Rainbow Fish” didn’t cause my struggle to articulate my needs and desires, but it was part of a larger cultural idea that focusing on yourself is bad. You have to take care of everyone else before you take care of yourself. If you can’t handle that, it means you’re weak, selfish, incompetent, incapable, not good enough, etc.
In this week’s episode of the Hectic Podcast, though, we got a new take on self-care. Katherine Barner, a grief and trauma counselor, shared what she tells her clients. Though there is an element of selfishness in self-care, it isn’t a bad thing. You have to be at your absolute best physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally to show up the way you need to.
And that means working on yourself first.
Then, once you are able to recognize and articulate your own needs and wants, you can do your best in every area of life. You can love and support others they way you want to. You can pursue the life you desire and deserve.
Like Darryl and Katherine said, though, working through the pain and discomfort is hard. It’s not an easy or short journey, but it is a fulfilling one. As you face your own self-work, here are a few lessons I’ve learned on my journey.
Even if you shared a trauma with someone else, the way you felt about it, processed it, and experienced it is different. We’ve all lived different lives with our own pain, so you can’t compare your experiences or your healing to someone else’s.
Dismissing your pain because it’s somehow less than another person’s doesn’t make those feelings go away. Instead, they fester and grow into a deeper hurt, one that you will have to deal with eventually, no matter how long you put it off.
You may be surrounded by people who are dealing with “bigger” losses or hardships, but that doesn’t make your feelings any less valid. Give yourself permission to acknowledge your pain, name it, and work through it. You will become a healthier version of yourself who can then show up for others in their hurt the way you want to.
Unhealthy you doesn’t have the best advice. When you are stuck in your head, it’s much harder to recognize and work through anything you want to change.
If you want to start working on yourself, turn to the people in your circle that you trust the most. Talk about the hard things you’re going through and how you feel about them. Let the truth they speak and the support they offer silence your negative self-talk.
If you’re able to, see a therapist. Counseling isn’t just for big traumas and life changes. A therapist can help you work through the things you want to change and develop healthier coping skills for the hard things you face.
At the very least, start journaling. Get out of your own head. Use a journal to work through and name what you’re feeling. When you have to put your thoughts and emotions into words, you’ll be able to recognize and process them more effectively.
The work you pursue doesn’t have to be radically life-changing. Try one thing at a time, waiting until you’re ready for the next step. Soon, you’ll find that you’re growing even when you’re not intentionally focused on self-work. With each step, you’ll be that much closer to the life you desire and deserve.
Find the full story here to learn more about Katherine, get tips for guiltless self-care, and understand the ways different seasons of life affect your needs.
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