Personal development Self-care

Too much of a good thing: when self-care backfires

After years of careful self-inquiry, I have come to the conclusion that I truly want what is best for me. For real. I am totally rooting for my own well-being and personal growth. I really want to be the best and happiest person I can be. Realising that was quite a liberating discovery. There’s no inner saboteur that attempts to undermine my every move. But here is where it gets tricky. Well-intended as I am, I often push or judge myself to the detriment of my own well-being. And then everything backfires.

I’m probably not the only one who has the habit of pushing herself. I think this characteristic is common among us highly sensitive peeps. We have high expectations of the world and ourselves within it. And we can get discouraged or beat ourselves up when things aren’t moving as fast as we’d like them to.

But trying to do good for yourself really is a fine line to walk on. Precisely because I want so much to be the best person I can be, I already know how to take care of myself, and I take care of myself all the time. I don’t enjoy eating unhealthy food (often), don’t smoke, rarely drink, and generally don’t have many bad habits beyond some innocent quirks. I meditate daily, do yoga three to four times a week, go bouldering ever so often, and make space to journal or reflect on my life at least once a week. But I still hinder my own growth by pushing myself to keep growing. Or get frustrated with myself when I’m not doing all these things as much as I “should”.

I’m like that parent who pushes their own child to do well in sports, because they know it will help them in the future. Sure, cheering on the team is definitely welcome every now and then. Necessary even, to keep your eyes on the ultimate goal. But sometimes, I catch myself, standing on the sideline, and if what I’m doing is still considered cheerleading, well… then I want to switch teams.

I see myself, yelling at myself that I’m not trying hard enough. Judging myself for not being the best I could be.

That’s when I know that I’m no longer caring for myself. Because I’m not being very kind to myself about whatever I think I should be doing. That I’m hurting myself in the process of trying to do well. This became painfully clear to me on one occasion where I did ayahuasca, and where we were supposed to “just” meditate and maybe see some weird stuff probably, I was stuck in an inner dialogue that focused on all the ways I wasn’t going “deep enough” and wasn’t making “the most” of the experience. I came out of that ceremony feeling very disappointed with myself.

It’s incredibly easy to then create a vicious cycle. To beat yourself up for beating yourself up. In a way, it’s a perfect mind-fuck. Ingenious even. But if you don’t become aware of what you’re actually doing to yourself, you can get pretty stuck in lineair thinking.

What has helped me to get me out of a lineair mindset is simply that: awareness. Because anything more than that already is a strategy, and even a well-intended strategy can all too often bring you back to the same mind loop that you’re trying to escape. I know that this is also a pretty unsatisfying answer, to some degree. But I just try to ask myself who it is that is speaking to me and what that voice is saying. Am I dragging myself over to yoga because I want to or because I have to – because “it’s good for me”? What are the consequences of not doing it? Will I beat myself up about it?

If the answer is yes, then you’re pushing yourself. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do that thing that you think is good for you. It probably is good for you. But it also means that before you do anything else, you need to establish a healthy relationship with yourself. And approach anything you do from as much self-compassion as possible. Because that’s what personal growth and self-care truly are about.

In the end, I’ve come to believe that dogmatism is not going to get you very far on a day-to-day basis. Nothing in life is static, so neither should your opinions and beliefs be. Instead, I believe – and this should be obvious by now, because I am, in many ways, a broken record – in the power of intentions. Meaning to do well. Now, I’m also not saying that intentions are the solution to everything. They’re not going to prevent the planet from dangerously heating up, for example. But in many other areas in life, and especially when it regards everyone who’s a little like me and who deserves to cut themselves some slack, intending to do well is more than enough. You’re doing what you can.

To finish off – because there are so many people who are much more gifted at writing about these things than I am – I would like share this quote by Anaïs Nin, which always helps me to put things in perspective:

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.

The Diary of Anaïs Nin Vol. 4 (1971)

Let’s all try to remind ourselves that we are enough. And let’s embrace the uneven constellations that we ultimately are.