While the self-care and skincare market is booming, there is still a lot of shame for everyone, and especially for women, around self-care We are conditioned to feel as if we need to be productive at all times or as if prioritizing ourselves is selfish. For me, I’ve tried to take a moment for myself, and directly after, I’ll feel a pang of guilt, a wave of anxiety, and a twinge of shame.
Oftentimes, self-care does not feel like self-care for me because my mind is always running tasks in the background. I don’t truly know how to shut off, and every time I try to think about putting my work to the side, it’s like a syntax error. I dread coping with the profound shame that I feel, and the overcompensation that I commit to after taking a break. So, to me, it oftentimes doesn’t feel worth it. I don’t know what it is about relaxing that makes me short circuit, but I’m pretty sure it’s the shame.
I was reading last night about how “shame is described as an intense emotion accompanied by a negative evaluation of the self (Benetti-McQuid & Bursik, 2005).” This psychotherapist was saying how “when an individual does not meet certain expectations set by oneself or societal norms, it can evoke feelings of shame. When a person feels shame, they experience feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, and a sense of being alone in their experiences (Hahn, 2009). Shame is central to conscience and identity, and it lowers self-functioning. It can be a source of low self-esteem, poor body image, and diminished self-confidence. Shame can also play a significant role in damaging an individual’s sense of self (Kaufman, 1989).” (Link to article: https://sophia.stkate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1635&context=msw_papers)
I continued to read, and I found that when it comes to shame, having compassion for oneself is a powerful weapon against shame. The next article I read was about self-compassion. It stated that “self-compassion has three components: self-kindness versus self-judgment, common humanity versus isolation, and mindfulness versus over-identification. Self-kindness versus self-judgment refers to treating oneself with kindness and compassion when experiencing failure and pain, as opposed to judging oneself harshly. The dimension of common humanity versus isolation refers to seeing one’s failures and imperfections as part of the wider human experience, instead of feeling isolated. Mindfulness versus the over-identification element of self-compassion refers to taking a balanced view of one’s failures, personal suffering, and self-relevant experiences rather than exaggerating or suppressing them (Neff & Germer, 2013). Link to article https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244019866294
Given this, I think self-care is a form of applying self-compassion. When you take a moment, you validate your human experience. And to be present within that moment, you must accept your exhaustion rather than judge it. For example, when I’m relaxing or trying to do something nice for myself, I judge myself as unmotivated, lazy, or spoiled. I will even feel repugnance with myself at times. When I think like this though, I’m just denying my humanity. I have to realize that I’m not being strong. I’m just being really mean to myself.
I see myself as a moral person, but at the end of the day, integrity and compassion isn’t just about treating others well. It’s about treating myself with kindness and respect as well. I also have to start addressing those feelings of shame in that moment, rather than pressing them down, continuing to work, and calling them weakness. It literally takes 2 minutes to do a breathing exercise. Not allowing myself to do so is wrong and pointlessly unkind. Of course, some environments demand us to push our limits, but there is a line.
There is always a line.
Moreover, we have to concede that continuing to work isn’t going to destroy feelings of exhaustion and low self-worth. We have to be wary of how we’ve been conditioned. Human attributes are not weakness and self-denigration for the sake of productivity is not greatness. Obviously, we have to discipline ourselves, but let’s not abuse and beat ourselves down.
Likewise, I’ve found mindfulness is a great way to guard against this, and it is one of the first steps to rewiring our thoughts around toxic productivity and mitigating shame. And as I mentioned before, self-care is a wonderful way to apply mindfulness and self-compassion. I am working on this. I say to myself: If I can be motivated without reservation to meeting a deadline, I can also put my mind to preserving my sanity and humanity.