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Self-care has more to do with setting appropriate boundaries than it does pedicures (but those are great too!)

Funny Yorkshire terrier dog taking a bath isolated on white background

We are running on fumes, many of us. We work, we nurture, we tend, we manage, we attend to, we contribute, we perform, we do. We do all the things. And then we get up the next morning and we do it again.

It’s no surprise we long for vacations and we crave some pampering.

And let’s face it; it’s nice to be on the receiving end for a change. This explains a lot about our love of eating out. Let somebody else do the dishes, right?! In fact, for the first time ever in 2015 Americans spent more on restaurant food than we did on groceries.

Now, I love me a little pampering as much as the next girl. And I’ll come clean and say that I get a mani / pedi every few weeks, and my hair hasn’t seen it’s natural color since the 90s.

These small acts of self-care are great if they enhance our sense of wellness and vitality. But when the glow of a good facial mask wears off many of us are left still feeling depleted. Why?

Because all of that tending and managing and doing is frequently at the expense of our own needs. Not the needs of our cuticles, but our need to be heard. Our need to be seen and loved unconditionally for who we really are. Our need to live a life that is aligned with our values.

These are not small needs. And they are not easily achieved, even after soaking for fifteen minutes.

In 2007, at the age of 44, I had a crisis, or “rock bottom”, in my life. I was more than 100 pounds overweight at the time with a BMI of 43 which, by medical standards, is clinically morbidly obese.

In fact, I had been morbidly obese for more than 20 years.

I won’t belabor the details of the crisis here as I’ve written about it extensively both here in this blog and in my book Eat Like It Matters: How I Lost 120 Pounds and Found My Inner Badass (And How You Can Too!), but I will say that the weight was just the outward manifestation of my emotional heaviness. I was lonely and frustrated in my marriage, as well as overwhelmed and anxious in my roles as worker and mom. Being a perennial “good girl” though, I was unable to give voice to feelings that I judged as insignificant in the greater scheme of things (my inner critic is harsh and shrill), and that I imagined would just stir up trouble. (Spoiler alert: they did.)

People-pleasing, perfectionism, being the “good girl” are really about fear. We’re afraid of confrontation. We’re afraid to stand up for ourselves. We’re afraid of the voice inside that says, “Wait, when do I get to matter?” because somewhere deep inside we suspect the answer will be: “You don’t!”

Every day I reflect on my years – decades, really – of living a life of deference and self-sacrifice. A life that I thought defined me as good enough. But all that deference just made me resentful, and I’ve come to believe that the powerlessness I felt was really my own inability to accept responsibility for my feelings.

But the heart has a way of showing us the truth.

As I peeled back my sadness, frustration, resentment, fear and even ambivalence, I discovered that no one took away my power to assert myself; I handed it over willingly.

Now it is with both awe and humility that I know I have the right to be happy. And I have the power – and the obligation – to claim it and to expect others to respect it as well.

This is the heart of self-care and self-love.

We think of transformation as a physical process, and it often is. But because the physical body is a reflection of our emotional experience, true transformation – true healing – comes from speaking our truth, asserting our needs, and championing our boundaries



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