Barriers to Self-Care

As I’ve begun to focus on taking care of myself, I have come to see certain inconsistencies between what I say I want for myself and my actions in following through on what I say I want. For example, I want to take care of my skin. Yet, often when I am trying to get out the door, there is no time after showering to slather unrefined sesame oil on my legs, something that is especially important in winter and becoming more important year round as I get older.

Situations like this prompt me to consider what kinds of barriers prevent me from taking care of me. I want to share these as I believe I am not the only one who feels this way or who encounters these issues. These are in no particular order:

Supposed lack of time. I head for the door for an appointment or work and have no time to make a tea that might help me feel a little less run down. I “suck it up,” in other words.


Salvador Dali’s flexible clocks in The Persistence of Memory

When we are young, it’s important to develop good habits and not a “devil take the hindmost” approach to our own care. Unfortunately, this approach permeates our culture when it comes to making good choices around our priorities: Is it all that important that I watch an episode of “NCIS” (even zipping through commercials, it still takes up valuable time)? Or is it more important that I make my lunch for the next day so that I am not eating out or just grabbing something that is not as good as something I’ve planned?

How I manage these decisions—and ultimately, the hours I have—determines my health and my joy. And I’m not knocking “NCIS” or any other show; they have their place, but their value needs to be weighed against so many other things that are important.

Lack of will to choose and settle on something. This one feeds back to the time issue. What do I really want? We are overwhelmed with choices and this abundance can make it hard to determine what sort of abundance we want for our lives. I would need a small city to enclose all the things I’ve ever been interested in, from chemistry to race-walking. Unfortunately, I do not have enough lifetimes to accommodate all of my dormant interests. Each of us has to define the sort of abundance we want for ourselves. Certainly, that can be having a bazillion interests, or it can be ensuring that we get to see the sun rise and/or set several times a week or to make sure we make time for birdsong. The fact is, the better we take care of ourselves, the more energy we have for various pursuits. Or we can make space just to be: to enjoy being alive.

A few years ago, I considered why I was interested in so many things and I realized it came down to a need to feel smart. That was not something I was pleased to admit, but admitting it has helped me to push beyond grabbing for this or that interest and to really begin to focus steady attention on a couple of interests.

Stripped wool awaits project designs, hooks and linen.

Stripped wool awaits project designs, hooks and linen.

“One more won’t hurt” thinking. How many times have I said, “Well, I’ll just take one more of these”? The “these” in question might be a piece of dark chocolate or a tortilla chip. Self-care means combining rationality and intuition to learn and decide what is most healthful for us. It means not being led around by our taste buds! I know that’s often easier said than done, but there are plenty of people—you probably know some—who’ve been able to get past small addictions and large.

Fear of self-intimacy. To make the most of self-care, we need to know ourselves. Really well. Only in that way can we truly understand our needs, be able to say “no” firmly, but politely, even to ourselves.

“Who am I?” is a scary question for many of us. The masks we wear are more to keep ourselves from seeing ourselves as we really are. We fear our shadow and only want our light to shine. But when we suppress the shadow, our light also dims. The shadow needs our attention just as the light does. The opposite also holds true: People spend so much time dwelling on what’s bad about them, their own light blinds them.

Making the time for self-care offers a middle way through shadow and light and helps us to become more grounded, more comfortable with, more appreciative of all that we are. We are human, after all. We don’t have to spend our time here feeling as though we need to be super-human, no matter what’s going on around us.

I’ll offer some more barriers in my next post.

4 thoughts on “Barriers to Self-Care

  1. Such an interesting discussion! It takes some courage to define our own boundaries–especially for those of us who are most interested in opening up to possibility. It can turn into an immoveable object! Looking forward to part two.

    • So, true, Brynn! One thing that has become apparent to me is there is a lot of dogma around this subject, and boundaries that are very appropriate at one stage of our growth may become less appropriate over time. In other words, rigidity for a time can serve us well, but it is important not to get stuck. I think this kind of evaluation is what makes humans among the most adaptable of species, and part of that ability to adapt to change is that we can evaluate/re-evaluate from time to time, let go of what doesn’t work, welcome what does. I agree — it’s scary and it takes courage to look at all of this honestly. Thank you for reading! Leigh


      • Aha, yes–the idea that different ways of being can serve us well for a period of our lives and then cease to be useful is a concept that is just beginning to make sense to me. My own experience lately has been that I feel the need to slough off old modes, but it feels strange–as if I shouldn’t be allowed to discard them and move on so simply. But your comment above makes me realize that this is the work of the living and to resist would be very limiting. Thanks as always for your inspiration and wisdom.

      • LOL! I think this is evidence of how and why we are so young as a species, Brynn. Those who have shells, assuming they have the material they need, must not find it too difficult to grow more shell and/or find another to occupy. For what it’s worth, I think we humans are pretty good — and getting better — at integrating things that are useful. Leaving outgrown ways of being is good, but so is remembering what it felt like to be in those ways. Remembering from time to time for ourselves and, when the opportunity arises, sharing with others. This is all part of what humanizes us, in my view. Kindest blessings and best wishes on your path, Brynn!


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