Self care is the highest form of care


“Self-care is the highest form of care.” The first time I heard Peter Reding of Coach for Life utter those words, I couldn’t follow the thought. After nearly twenty years of therapy and self-help, my default was still taking care of other people.

Not that I hadn’t learned a great deal in those years. I remember showing up at a counselor’s office in the beginning, sick as a dog. I wouldn’t cancel the appointment because ‘she needs the money and won’t be able to fill the opening on short notice.’ She hadn’t said that – that was the story I had because I was in a shortage of money. It didn’t occur to me that showing up in her office, highly contagious, might be far worse.

She tried to counsel me about taking care of myself; it just wasn’t getting through. Finally, she asked me what I would do for Scott (my infatuation of that moment) if he was as ill as I was. I happily went into a long explanation: the groceries I would buy to provide fresh-squeezed orange juice and homemade chicken soup, the clean sheets and cool washcloths, etc. At the end of my discourse, she said, “Now, go home and do that for you.”

I sat back, aghast, and said, “I can’t do that; it’s too expensive!”

I will always be grateful for that moment; I actually heard the words as they came out of my mouth. Shock, anger, despair – all sorts of emotions ran through me as I realized how little I valued myself. I thanked her, stood up, and left her office.

On my way home, sick as I was, I stopped and bought a gallon of fresh orange juice right from the grove. Then I went to the grocery store and bought the good stuff, white meat chicken and the ingredients for soup. As soon as I got home, I stripped the bed, started the laundry, poured a huge glass of orange juice and started cooking the chicken to make the soup. As I sat in front of the stove, with the laundry sudsing away in the garage and my orange juice in hand, I realized I was feeling better.

In her book, Heal your Body, Louise Hay explains the mental cause of fever as, “Anger. Burning up.” She also points to the cause of aches as, “Longing for love. Longing to be held.” When I rectified the reason for my anger at myself, the fever subsided. As I began those tasks of self-care, performing acts of self-love, holding myself in positive regard, the aches went away. Self-care is amazing medicine.

Decades later, I am still learning. Martyrdom, co-dependence, manipulation, etc. – they have bizarre roots that tend to reach into all aspects of life. My childhood training was thorough. Thankfully, my tool kit has grown very well over the years, and I have had many, beautiful models to teach me what self-care looks like.

“Self-care is the highest form of care.” My ears, my heart, my soul, they all hear it now, and I know it is true. I can only give to others what I give to myself. “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks,” says one book of wisdom. Whatever is in my heart is what I give the world. What is in my heart is what I have allowed to be there, and what I have nurtured.

I was discussing self-care with a coaching client a few days ago, and he just wasn’t able to absorb the concept. He was enmeshed in the story that if he pushed himself farther, did more, and gave more, that he would succeed in eradicating the demons instilled by his father. He would finally be “good enough.”

I asked him to write me a check. He said, “Sure, how much?” (Obviously, trust was established.) I calmly responded, “One million dollars.” He choked, coughed, and then said, “I can’t do that!” Smiling, I answered, “But, you said you would. Why can’t you?” He sputtered, “Because I don’t have that kind of money!”

“Precisely!” I exclaimed with joy, “You can’t give it away until you have it for yourself.” He grew silent, contemplative. As I allowed him to sit with his thoughts, I was deep in gratitude for the many lessons I’ve learned, and the love I’ve given myself. I couldn’t give that lesson away until I learned it for myself.

A few days later, my client happily reported that his interactions with family, friends, and in business have shifted. He is coming more from his authentic heart and less from his determination to not be like his father. He’s growing his practice of self-care, and loving the results.

Self-care is the highest form of care. I invite you to share your comments, your acts of self-love, how self-care has enhanced your life. Your story is our encouragement. Thank you for being you; you are a beautiful gift to this world.

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