Friday, June 12, 2020

[Shadow Work Series] Self-Care in Shadow Work: Managing the Difficulties of Discomfort

Previously in this series, we've discussed the history of shadow work and its founder, Carl Jung.  We then defined the shadow self as a portion of the unconscious mind that is formed from traits we were told were not socially acceptable.  We even talked about the reasons why we tackle shadow work and what we get out of it, both as a human being and as a witch.  In the last article, we discussed skills we could hone in preparation for exploring our shadow selves with an important word of warning regarding mental health and shadow work.  In this article, we're going to expand on the skills to hone and focus specifically on self-care.

The Meaning of Self-Care
Too often, we think of self-care in terms of pretty pictures on social media: The gorgeous floral bubble baths of Instagram or the expensive side-by-side makeovers seen on Youtube.  Self-care is typically not as glamorous as we might think.  Instead, it's much more mundane and habitual - the culmination of small individual tasks we undertake as part of our daily schedule in an effort to keep ourselves healthy, aware, and relaxed.

Any activity that we purposefully do to take care of our needs is self-care.  That's not just our physical needs, but our mental and emotional ones as well.  Self-care helps us built a trusting, nurturing relationship with ourselves and gives us a much-needed break from the pressures of daily life.  Self-care, however, does not include activities that we have to force ourselves to do - activities that take immense effort, that drain us, that we might feel expected to do in order to appear healthy and happy.  The idea is that self-care, true self-care, doesn't deplete our energy but rather adds to it.

Self-care doesn't usually look like this!
How to Practice Self-Care
Making self-care a habit can be surprisingly difficult.  Not only do we frequently have busy, monotonous lives, but those same lives often encourage us to take our focus away from ourselves.  We're taught that taking care of ourselves in a way that doesn't serve others is selfish, but this is far from the truth.  While it might be a struggle, avoid self-patronage and feelings of guilt when taking care of yourself; there's no reason to feel guilty for recharging your own battery.  In the end, that recharge gives us the tools to be better in our relationships, in caretaker roles, and as members of society.  In other words, we're better able to focus on others when we focus on ourselves first.

In order to maintain some level of self-care, it's important to start with the basics.  Taking care of your physical body first can help you take care of other aspects of your life in the process.  From there, you can add little steps and choices throughout your day that will better help you take care of the rest of yourself, from your brain to your emotions, your friends and even your boundaries.  Let's take a look at a list of a few self-care activities.

Makeup-less pet snuggles?  That's real self-care.
Examples of Self-Care

Get a good night's sleep.
Maintain your body's nutrition through good food and vitamins.
Get your body moving a few times a day.
Maintain good bodily hygiene.
Get outside and enjoy the fresh air and sun.
Follow through with medical care and doctor's appointments.
Be aware of your body's needs - don't ignore them!

Keep the space you reside in clean.
Keep your surroundings organized.
Maintain a calendar and/or schedule.
Keep notes - Don't force-memorize or over-rely on your memory.
Set alarms for important reminders.
Pay attention to brain fog, confusion, or memory lapses!

Take a deep breath and be present in the now.
Practice grounding, centering, visualization, and meditation.
Let yourself feel, even if it's uncomfortable feelings - it's okay to cry.
Take opportunities to laugh.
Journal frequently to release feelings and events from the day.
Pay attention to your breathing - holding your breath or rapid breathing are negative signs!

Schedule a small chunk of time for yourself every day.
Give yourself enough time to recover from events.
Decompress from people and your surroundings.
Do something you enjoy - see a movie, read a book, go to your favorite coffee shop.
Get creative: Draw, craft, sew, write, sing, dance.
Take a break from technology, social media, or people.
Take a self-care trip to break the monotony of a schedule.
Pay attention to your stress levels and feelings of monotony, and adjust your breaks accordingly!

Spend time with your friends and family.
Get involved in a community you enjoy.
Seek out the help of a religious leader you trust.
Get a pet or enjoy the company of your pet companion.
Talk about your stress and feelings with loved ones.
Ask for help from friends and family when needed.
Seek out therapy when necessary.
Pay attention to small feelings of loneliness that can blossom into isolation and depression!

Learn how to say no and be firm.
Be clear about your limits - what you will and won't do.
Limit your time involving toxic people and situations.
Be assertive about your boundaries - don't allow someone to cross them for any reason.
Pay attention to feelings of being smothered, overwhelmed, or anger - they're signs that a boundary has been crossed!

A weekend away?  That's some real self-care.
Tips for Implementing Self-Care

If you're struggling to add self-care to your schedule, consider the following tips that may make it a little easier:

Prioritize. Put what absolutely has to be done during the day at the top of your list - ie work, paying bills, getting food, etc.  Whatever your basic needs are to keep yourself alive and well go first.  

Schedule your self-care time.  Right below your basic needs, list your self-care.  Block it out on your schedule.  Don't back down and don't let someone or something else trample it.  Guard it as being just as important as work, bills, or food.

Keep it simple and accessible.  If you're new to self-care, don't try to implement a 4-hour self-care routine into a daily schedule.  It's not going to be manageable and you'll inevitably struggle to keep up.  Instead, pick one or two small things to start with.  Set an alarm for a time to go to bed and time to wake up every day.  Once that becomes effortless, start ensuring you eat breakfast in the morning.  When that becomes routine, move on to taking a short walk before heading out to work.

Give yourself time. Schedules aren't made in a day or even a week.  Give yourself a few solid weeks, even a month or two, of adding in a single new task before moving on to the next one.

Listen to your personal needs. Frequently, our body, brain, emotions, or even others will alert us that something's not quite right, that we need to engage in a little self-care, but we'll push it aside.  Don't ignore small signs.  Small signs turn into giant flashing warning lights and those giant flashing warning lights turn into very real physical and mental ailments.  Catch it before it gets that far.

Taking a short walk in beautiful scenery with your dog and partner? That's real self-care.
When Life Gets Difficult

We all face major disruptions and trauma intermittently throughout our lives.  In the middle of implementing a new self-care routine, you may find yourself facing a sudden and unexpected difficulty - the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, trauma, or some other major life event.  You may find yourself breaking the self-care schedule you've created.  

That's totally fine.

One of the items on the list of self-care examples is, quite literally, taking a break from your schedule.  Sometimes, when life gets hard, your schedule might get thrown off course as you learn to manage new and overwhelming emotions and events.  Pressuring yourself to stick with a routine that's causing you duress is the opposite of self-care.  As long as you still have that schedule available and move back to it when you're feeling stable and ready, no harm is done.  Simply return to normal when you feel ready to do so.

If you find that self-care itself or the maintenance of self-care during shadow work is difficult, understand that the uncomfortable feelings surrounding it will pass.  Shadow work is tough stuff.  It's not an easy undertaking and can cause us to feel extremely raw and exposed.  Self-care is the opposite of that.  Constantly exposing and healing yourself is a difficult process.  If you're feeling overwhelmed, take a step back from the shadow work to simply focus on self-care for a while.  Return to shadow work when you feel ready.

Never, ever, neglect your self-care needs in the process.

Exercise Six
Make a list of ways you can take care of yourself when you’re struggling with shadow work and trauma.  This doesn’t have to be every self-care option available to you; just ones you enjoy or that have worked in the past.  Take a few weeks to really think about the list and add on to it.  Once you feel it’s complete, highlight a few types of self-care that are of particular interest to you – ones that have proven extremely useful in the past.  List each one on the top of a blank page and dive into what specifically that self-care option entails.  Create step-by-step instructions that could be easily followed if you’re unable to think clearly.  You will have two months for this exercise, so split it up accordingly and take your time.

Standard Approaches to Shadow Work: How the Rest of the World Does It
Shadow Work and Witchcraft: Incorporating Shadow Work into Ritual and Practice
Shadow Work: A Ritual of Self-Awareness and Transformation
Individuation and Utilizing the Shadow: How to Move Forward

1 comment:

  1. Hello! I've been a lurker on your blog for a long time and it felt like an appropriate time to say your writing has helped me immensely! Thank you.