WNT founder Jennie Duck shares her thoughts on how shame get in the way of self care and how spending time with her own shame and prioritising self care has helped transform her life and relationships for the better.
The idea of shame as an impediment to self-care has been niggling at me for a while. I wonder how much our ideas of what we ‘should’ be doing get in the way of what we really want to do and what we feel is a justifiable use of our time. I wonder how much we sacrifice ways we can nurture ourselves for the ‘greater good’ of work, family and duty and I wonder how much of a negative impact this has on our lives, and those around us, that we don’t always see.
When I talk about ‘self-care’ I am talking about things that nurture our bodies, minds and spirits. The things we love doing, things that make us come alive. Self-care is the things that nourish us. Self-care can be exercise, nutrition and meditation. It can also be music, art, creating something, playing with a pet, talking with a close friend.
For me, the exercise, nutrition and meditation side of things are easier to get to. This is because my personal version of shame means that for me to feel worthy I must be ‘healthy’. But it took an outsider view from my husband when he told me a couple of years ago “I’m scared the mornings you don’t do yoga” to recognise that the value in taking time for myself extended beyond just me looking after myself, that it had a knock on impact on the rest of my family and life.
I used to feel a lot of shame, too, around the good feelings that came from looking after myself in this way. I felt good and then felt ashamed that I felt good – life is meant to be hard, I’m meant to strive, I have responsibilities, I can’t be relaxed and happy??! So this led to spirals in how I responded and the ‘healthy’ behaviours became undermined by excessive consumption of sugar or alcohol or I just wouldn’t make a positive choice and self-sabotage myself.
Two years later, now that my own self care is a priority in my daily life, I don’t have these battles. My husband doesn’t have to be scared the mornings I don’t do yoga because if I haven’t it’s probably because I have done something else nurturing or I know I will find the time elsewhere for it. It’s not so pressured and the overall benefits of making this a priority mean I don’t have the same level of desperation around it, I don’t need to escape regular life so much and I don’t have the same shame triggered in me to knock me off course. I am more resilient.
To get to this point I had to spend time with that shame that trapped me. The shame that told me that I wasn’t good enough and that my time wasn’t only worthwhile if it was spent slogging on something or doing something for someone else. We all have our own shame triggers but there are common themes. Shame and vulnerability expert Brene Brown says “shame drives two main tapes: ‘never good enough’ and ‘who do you think you are’”. Both of these resonate for me and are shackles that still restrict me, but they don’t have the same power that they used to have.
And now the next layer of freedom I am discovering is that I am now more able to move toward the things that I really want to do but aren’t as immediately ‘justifiable’ in my personal shame-frame of reference. I am spending time creatively, for the joy and fun of it – I still feel guilty about this and about choosing these solitary and ‘aimless’ ways to spend my time. I had to fight myself using the word ‘indulgent’ in this description!
We can’t let go of all of these other things – my family, my work and paying the bills are all vital to me – but maybe we can ease up on the limitations we place on ourselves in honour of these if we can face the idea that perhaps its more than the reality of those getting in the way, that perhaps it’s our relationship with them and our relationship with ourselves that needs some attention first. And perhaps if we can do that then these things we are making the sacrifices for will become richer because of it.
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