By Maria Sirois
For those of us who remember the "new" notion of self-care that emerged in the 1980's (as an outgrowth of the mind/body integration movement) we were taught to focus on three primary goals: healthy eating, regular exercise, and good sleep hygiene. These were understood to be foundational to caring for the body and preparing the mind for clear and healthy thinking. And they are just that...foundational. In the 1990's with the burgeoning research on the benefits of mindfulness, we learned that adding in the practice of mindfulness would benefit us greatly, contributing to that sense of self-nourishment by creating moments of stillness and self-regulation. Through mindfulness not only do we become calmer, but we become more skilled at regulating thoughts and feelings, particularly those that are agitating. Through the daily repetition of mindfulness practice other benefits accrue, including an increased capacity to navigate stress in our day.
Yet...during the last three decades of working with thousands of people from around the globe, I've begun to realize that this model of self-care is absolutely important and necessary and at the same time insufficient. The model helps wonderfully when our focus of attention is bringing ourselves to a place of basic care, especially for the body and the mind. However, it often falls short of contributing to well-being when the stress in our lives is relational, when we are worried, for example, about the health of a child, or have to work with someone we cannot tolerate, or we have been dismissed, betrayed, invalidated, or abused. Most of the stressors that trigger ill-health are in the relational field and the traditional model of self-care doesn't provide enough of what is needed to navigate these stressors well.
A new model of self-care is emerging, one I call Self-Fullness. The term stems from conversations with Tal Ben-Shahar, a world thought leader in Positive Psychology, and refers to the capacity to experience oneself as full, nourished and energized, and also full enough to continue to contribute to the world in healthful ways. In addition to the sustenance provided by sleeping and eating well, exercising and meditating regularly, the new model creates room for elements that address how we show up and care for ourselves in the presence of others. These elements include self-compassion, healthy boundaries, saying yes to those things that excite us, and building positive self-regard and self-esteem.
Becoming our best selves is a process of, in part, becoming wiser about which aspects of the self need attention in order to both enjoy our days and bring to the world whatever we are here to offer or build or support. It requires knowledge about how we ourselves might make our relationships or commitments more challenging (even though we are getting plenty of rest) and how to best shift toward greater health when dealing with difficult relationships. This new model asks of us a capacity to forgive ourselves for our imperfections while moving toward permission to be the extraordinary human being we are, and the one we most want to become. By integrating into the traditional model of self care new aspects of practice such as setting boundaries, saying yes to life, building self-esteem, activating self-compassion and treating oneself with respect, we give ourselves the best chance of not only feeling nourished, but also clear-minded, clear-hearted, energized and full within ourselves.
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