Dimensions of Self-Care: Freedom and Unconditional Acceptance

For so many years, no decades, I looked for approval and validation outside of myself. I would morph parts of myself to fit into whatever situation I encountered.

Whether it was a job or social situation, I developed ability to adapt quickly to new environments. I gave up or hid parts of myself to fit in.

Some morphing wasn’t a bad thing. I could use my skills to help people get comfortable. I could develop rapport with others quickly.

In other ways, however, changing or covering up who I was hurt me.

My entire career was spent working with people, teaching, facilitating, and creating relationships. In fact I still love doing this.

But when I decided that using control on the children in my life was actually harmful, I began to slowly let go of controlling myself as well. I began to accept all of who I was. And in this process, I discovered that I am an introvert.

What this means for me is that in order to recharge I need time alone. It doesn’t mean that I’m anti-social. But because I had spent my life meeting the needs of a job, a system, or even the adults around me when I was a child, I had trouble accepting what I needed.

Instead of embracing who I was and what I needed, I would judge the need. So when my need for time alone came up against the expectations of those around me (or my own) I would think the need was bad and try to push it away.

How do we learn that a need is bad?

Children in our society must adapt to the environments in which they are placed.

If they are introverts and they go to school, they must learn to function around people all the time.

If they are kinesthetic learners, they must learn to adapt to sitting at a desk.

If they are not verbal or take time to warm up to others, they are told not to be “shy.”

If they don’t like to be touched or to hug others, too often they are forced to do so.

When what we need as children doesn’t fit the norms or expectations of our systems, society, and the adults around us, we must learn to adapt. We push our needs below the surface. We internalize the negative judgment of those needs.

We are rarely given the time and space to explore who we are and what we need as children.

We grow up and if our needs still don’t meet the expectations we internalized during childhood, we may decide there is something wrong with the need.

So as I let go of controlling the children in my life, I saw how different their needs were. I saw that different individuals adapt to situations in a variety of ways. It helped me to begin the process of letting go of judging and trying to control myself.

When I honored what children needed to be whole, it opened up the possibility that I could do this with myself.

What a revelation!

I began to give myself freedom to be who I am, just as I want to create freedom for children to be who they are.

Rather than judging what I needed to take care of myself, I started to accept it. (Ok, the truth is sometimes I still resist, but the resistance is less.)

A Different Dimension of Self-Care

Self-care takes on a different dimension when we create freedom to be who we really are. Rather than do what we “should” do, we can begin to focus on what we uniquely need in our lives.

As parents who care deeply about being fully present and engaged with children, I often hear self-judgment when a parent has a desire to be away or to stop playing with a child.

You may have done the same thing I have and said to yourself, “I chose to be a parent, I should be okay with playing with pokemon figures all day!”

When we fight against (or judge) our needs and emotions in the moment we invalidate who we are. We are doing the same things that were done to us as children.

The admonitions to “stop crying,” “stop being so shy,” or “stop being so loud,” turn into all the “shoulds” or “shouldn’ts” we tell ourselves as parents.

There is some reality that we may not get our needs met immediately when we are engaged parents.

Sometimes the need for more sleep gets pushed aside. When we would rather be in the bath, meditating, exercising, or taking a mental break by watching our favorite reality TV show, sometimes we decide we aren’t going to do it.

Or we do it, then feel guilty about not playing that game for the fourth time today.

Sometimes self-care is as simple and as challenging as not judging yourself.

Physical vs. Emotional Needs

Think about your physical needs.

You probably don’t admonish yourself for being thirsty. Even if you can’t get a drink right away, you don’t tell yourself, “I shouldn’t be thirsty!”  or “Why I am thirsty again!?!” You accept the thirst and when you are able to get the drink, you do it.

No judgment, no stories.

You could do the same thing with any other need you have. When you have a need to be alone, but can’t satisfy it, let yourself accept the need and the feelings without judgment.

We can learn to accept our emotional needs as much as we have learned to accept thirst or the need for sleep.

The irony I have found with myself and in coaching other parents is that when we stop fighting what we need, the need seems to get satisfied much more easily.

When we are in that internal battle, fighting against what we feel in the moment, fighting against whatever need shows up, somehow it seems impossible to satisfy the need.

We can’t get our needs met when we are busy fighting the need. Our energy and focus is on the battle.

Perhaps we miss the opportunity to get the need met.

Perhaps a child picks up on the internal battle we feel and mirrors that back to us. Suddenly battling our need to be alone results in a child who becomes “needy” or “clingy.” So we end up fighting what is showing up in the child while we fight our need.

Leaning into what we feel and need in the moment allows us to be creative and open.

Just as when we practice unconditional acceptance of children, unconditional acceptance of who we are and what we need in the moment allows us to use our intuition to find possibilities.

In that moment we create freedom to be and freedom feels good.

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