1.Meet your shadow with love
All of us have a shadow side which is made up of the parts of ourselves that are hurt, unloved and afraid. These are the feelings we never let ourselves feel, and so they are pushed under the surface. While we remain unconscious of them they drive our decisions, making us do and say things that our intellectual minds cannot fathom. This can be seen in any addiction; the drinker knows she shouldn’t drink, but is powerless against the dark feelings that drive her to the bottle, while the mother wants to shower her children with love, but instead finds herself yelling at them. Piling more guilt on ourselves for the actions of our shadow sides will do nothing to eliminate their existence. We will never ‘get rid’ of these unsavoury parts of ourselves. Instead, we need to use the magical light of awareness to make our peace with them. If we see them and acknowledge what they have to say, with deep compassion, we cannot be controlled by them. Be brave. Notice the feelings that you don’t want to feel and lean into them, asking them what they are yearning to tell you. Notice the impulse to run away, and choose not to. When you run towards your shadow, soaking it in kindness, saying to it, ‘I love you, and I know how you feel,’ you release its power over you. This is the deepest form of self-care I know.
2. Become aware of the stories you tell yourself repeatedly
As you meet your shadow with love, diving deeper into your unconscious, you will inevitably become aware of the stories that drive you at a subterranean level. When I began this journey, I first observed surface stories, like, ‘I’m unorganised and I always procrastinate, so I’ll never be successful,’ and ‘I can’t handle anything so I’m not strong’. As I delved deeper into these stories, I tearfully realised that underneath them, as if on the bottom of the ocean, lay, ‘I’m not good enough’. I began to see how this deep story permeated every aspect of my life, undermining my ability to enjoy simply being alive, always having to prove something to myself. Becoming aware of ‘I’m not good enough’ has allowed me to identify it when it arises, acknowledge it, and say, ‘I hear you, I understand you, and yet, I belong here, and I choose to enjoy this moment.’ Now I know, it is just a story, like the fanciful tales I read to my children. Knowledge of our deep stories is power.
3. Introduce new stories
Once we know what the deep stories that drive our decisions are, we are free to change them. Here, we become the artists of our own lives, wielding our creativity to invest stories that will free us to be ourselves. This is the fun part, where we can use a variety of creative processes to introduce the new stories to our subconscious. Try writing a day of your life ‘as if’ you feel good enough and worthy of your highest dreams, eg, ‘I wake up feeling purposeful and excited to be alive.’ Or create affirmations like, ‘It feels wonderful to be alive. I love being me. There is nothing I need to do. I belong here.’ Notice how these new stories feel. Observe any resistence and lovingly acknowledge it. Be aware that the old stories may get louder, shouting before they disappear, and that this is natural. Just love them, constantly and lightheartedly reaffirming your new stories, imagining how it feels to know that you are good enough, you are loved and you belong, no matter what. These new stories are the greatest gift you can give to yourself, and to those you love. The beautiful stories you tell yourself will spill over to all aspects of your life – they will be the stories you tell to your children and anyone else who comes to you for guidance.
4. Identify and prioritise your highest values
As you do the work of deep self-care, you may notice your values beginning to shift. This can look like a lack of motivation in some areas. For example, you may no longer be driven to be a ‘success’ in a worldly sense, losing your professional drive or you may stop socialising with the same crowd. Stick with the discomfort of change and reframe it as transformation. Use your journal to discover what your deepest, truest values are. Ask yourself what lights you up. What brings you joy. What activities you lose yourself in. Ask yourself what means the most to you. When I did this, I realised that I had to sacrifice some things I didn’t truly care about, like external approval, to prioritise something I cared deeply about – my relationship with my authentic self. I also realised that, because I care more about my relationship with my loved ones than I do about professional success, that I would naturally put more energy into my personal relationships than my business – especially at a time when my kids are still young. Since I’ve become acquainted with my deepest, truest values, I feel more equipped to make heart-felt decisions that contribute to my highest good. Knowing and prioritising your true values is an essential part of deep self-care.
5. Make forgiveness a practice
While we all make mistakes, our ability to bounce back from these mistakes lies in how we treat ourselves in the aftermath. Think about what happens in your mind after you yell at your kids, say something stupid or screw something up at work. My own internal chatter around mistakes is almost always a variation of, ‘this just proves that I’m not good enough’ – not good enough to be a mum, a wife, a writer, an artist, a human. This leads to relentless guilt, producing an unstoppable torrent of anxious thoughts as I seek to control the situation or escape from it. The only remedy for this destructive process is forgiveness. While this commentary is running in my head, if I’m aware of it, I can choose to simultaneously and gently introduce kind thoughts like, ‘I love you. This is just a mistake. I forgive you. I shower kindness on you. You are so loved.’
These kind thoughts and words are like cooling balm on burned skin. While forgiveness won’t immediately relieve bad feelings, it can put you back in a position of self-love, where you will find all the resilience and creativity you need to bounce back from the mistake a richer person.
6. Allow yourself the luxury of joy
Letting go of the old stories that keep you on a treadmill of proving, doing and striving will open up space for joy to make its merry way into your life. Begin to look for pockets in your day when you can just revel in the joy of being – perhaps noticing your kids playing happily together, or becoming aware of how it feels to dive into the ocean. As you strengthen your awareness, you’ll notice that joy will move in when the winter sun shines through your window, or when you’re out walking and hear a new bird singing. Joy will find you in the sound of rain, or in a warm hug from someone you love. It will come over you when you’re in the shower or watching your child sleep. Eventually, you will realise that these moments have always been here and that your life has always been beautiful, and it always will be. This allowance of unconditional joy is self-care at its highest.
A moment of self-care
I notice the anxiety
I notice the winter sun pouring into my morning
I notice the buzz of coffee
I notice the drowsiness
I notice the warmth
I notice the impulse to do something productive
I notice my body’s need for rest
I notice the joy of being –
In my solar system –
Like planets orbiting
Around it’s magical light
I choose to dwell