Bubble baths, mani/pedi’s, Sunday brunch with your girlfriends, candlelit yoga, green juice in mason jars, all of this is wonderful and probably helpful to you and your well-being at multiple levels.
I’ll be the first to admit I love all of the above!
But, and I realize this is perhaps a little controversial to say, in my personal and professional opinion, this is not what fundamental self-care really is.
To learn what I do think actually counts as fundamental self-care, keep reading.
Think of yourself as a house.
I think it can be quite helpful to think of ourselves and our psyches – the human soul or spirit – as a proverbial house.
When imagining this house, I invite you to envision multiple levels, let’s say three – a basement, a first floor, and a second floor.
These floors represent various aspects of you. The house is reflective of yourself, your own personality.
Now, let’s imagine for instance, that you moved into this actual, real multi-level house.
But let’s also imagine you wanted to spend all of your time and energy decorating the first and second floor, painting the walls creamy colors and ordering furniture to make your space pretty.
You had no interest in investigating or spending time in the basement or even really knowing what’s going on down there.
You, instead, prefer to focus on the prettier, more tangible things upstairs.
But let’s also imagine the basement of your house had a cracked and leaking foundation, sump pump problems, some mold, and maybe even a growing family of rats who has taken up residence down there.
Those are some pretty big problems!
But if you never went into the basement to check it out and invest the time, energy, and yes, even finances, into resolving those issues, how liveable do you think the other floors of your house are going to be in the long-term?
You know as well as I do that all the pretty paint and furniture can’t make up for a house that’s structurally unsound or unsafe.
So why am I bringing this up?
Because often I think that self-care gets co-opted to look like all the activities and actions we take to “decorate” the liveable floors – the mani/pedis, the bubble baths, etc. – when really, these activities should come secondary to the self-care work that’s truly needed which is making sure the foundation and structure of our proverbial “house” is safe and whole and strong.
So what does make our foundation solid and strong?
In my personal and professional opinion, fundamental self-care is an investment we make in getting to know and support ourselves and living that awareness out in congruence in the world through career, boundaries, self-expression, and other life choices that support our most fundamental well-being and integrity.
Fundamental self-care, in my opinion, may look like doing the often “unsexy,” often unglamorous “basic” work of confronting your personal psychological history and healing from any unprocessed traumas or grief you may have avoided so that you are not “owned” or “run” by your past.
Fundamental self-care may look learning the necessary developmental life and relational tasks and skills you may have never learned (like knowing how to hold firm and appropriate boundaries or what a healthy, functional relationship looks like) so that you can create more healthy, fulfilling relationships in your life.
Fundamental self-care may look like investing in a career path that truly fits and fulfills you (versus one which you think you “should” take), and investing the time, energy, and even finances into achieving this.
Fundamental self-care may look like removing yourself from toxic, painful people in your life (even and maybe especially if they are family-of-origin members!) and, instead, surrounding yourself with people who are truly good to you, who can show up in functional and appropriate ways.
Fundamental self-care may look like not tolerating disrespect, not acting or contorting yourself in ways to make others more comfortable, and, instead, showing up authentically as you are and requiring respect and dignity when people interact with you.
Fundamental self-care may look like finally learning how to manage your money responsibly so that you can ensure a strong financial future for yourself.
Fundamental self-care may look like facing the reality of your withering romantic relationship, the professional dead-end you are encountering at work, the numbers on the blood pressure cuff, the unopened mail from the IRS, the little voice at the back of your mind which, despite your efforts to silence it, says, “something is not right here!”
At the end of the day, fundamental self-care looks like confronting reality and sometimes (or often) making hard choices about what you need to do in order to live your life in a more sane, safe, and fulfilling way.
When we do this level of fundamental self-care work, we are, proverbially, cleaning out the “basement”, repairing the foundation and working on the structural issues holding up our house to ensure that the other floors of our “house” are sustainable in the long term.
If we focus just on decorating the top two floors through a roster of nice-but-not-necessary self-care activities and don’t focus on the basement, we may be ultimately distracting and self-sabotaging ourselves.
And that’s not self-care.
But of course, if you’re working on all levels – doing the deeper psychological and logistical work “basement work” to support your well-being in life AND you are nourishing yourself with yoga, green juice and the like on the “upper levels”, that can be wonderful!
And honestly, those lovely treats can often make the “basement level” work more palatable.
Just remember, until we tackle the basement and foundation of our house, all the bubble baths in the world aren’t going to help you live in a truly, fundamentally self-caring way.
I hope that you found this post helpful and that, maybe, it even caused you to see the self-care work you do or need to do in your life in a different way.
And now I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:
Do you agree that fundamental self-care often looks like attending to the basement level of your “house”? What would other “basement level” work you include in the examples of what fundamental self-care can look like?