#LoveTakesAction: Self-Care, Self-Compassion, Service And Reciprocity

When we care for ourselves so we can do more and give more, rather than receive more, we are missing the true reward.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Beyond Self-Care

You eat well. You move your body most days. You sleep a solid 7 hours each night. You live by the mantra of “everything in moderation.” Meditation has become an important tool for managing your stress.

But, something is missing. Right now, life is kinda “vanilla” and you are searching for more flavor and a deeper sense of joy.

Let’s not confuse basic self-care with self-love. Taking care of ourselves as something we simply have to do as opposed to something we want to do as an expression of self-love is unfulfilling.

When we care for ourselves so we can do more and give more, we are missing the true reward and are dangerously close to slipping into self-sacrifice. Hell, we are probably fully immersed in it at that point.

Self-compassion is the highest expression of self-love. Self-sacrifice is not a loving gesture ― it doesn’t feel good to you, and it doesn’t feel good to others either.

When you love yourself, taking care of yourself is easy ― it is the natural result. And the beauty is that the energy begins to overflow to others in that same natural way and giving feels good ― that is reciprocity.

Self-Compassion and The Capacity to Receive

What is my capacity for self-compassion? Well, up until a very short time ago, not so great. I have had a habit of being harder on myself than any external enemy could ever be. When feelings too difficult to feel emerged, I ran off ― sprinted in the other direction and left my heart alone to deal with it. I needed to escape.

I have learned over time that self-compassion requires deep self-connection and the ability to sit gently with ourselves, within ourselves, to observe and actively inquire with love and curiosity in hopes of knowing our own hearts.

To be self-compassionate means that we care enough to give ourselves what will bring us deep joy. I’m not talking quick fixes like,, “I’m going to eat this bag of chips and oversized chocolate bar while I polish off another bottle of wine” feel good approach; I’m talking about following the soul’s guidance towards what holds meaning in life.

It becomes less about giving ourselves what we think we want and more about opening to receive what our soul knows we need.

I attended a retreat a few years ago where I noticed that the other women there all appeared to be in very loving relationships. They talked about their partners with admiration and respect and exuded a sense of deep connection. It was remarkable to witness this energy of “being in love” all around me. Perhaps, I noticed it so intensely because it was so lacking in my own relationship ― and in my life ― at the time.

I shared my observations with one of the women. Her comment literally stopped me in my tracks. She said, “I believe that the experience of being in love has everything to do with one’s capacity to receive.” Wow.

The evaluation of my capacity to receive began in that moment. And as life does, I began to notice more and more information cross my path to help illuminate my personal dilemma.

I realized that I knew how to get what I wanted for the most part. I knew how to take from others what I thought they owed me. This had nothing to do with being able to receive and everything to do with controlling ― or the attempt to control ― my access to what I perceived as a limited resource. I came face to face with the recurrent feeling that I was taken for granted or taken advantage of by others with very little recognition or validation. Add in my lack of self-worth and deservedness and well… I’m sure you get the picture.

As I continue to invite self-compassion into my life, it is amazing how much more valuable I have become and how much more I do deserve. And this is true for you too.

Service and Self-Compassion: It is The Saving Grace

My vocation has always been a huge part of what brings me joy and a sense of fulfillment in my life. For more than three decades I have worked in human services and adult education.

Vocations of Service come with a high level of emotional labor and a high risk of burnout. What I have learned over the years though is that burnout is not inevitable. It is preventable.

I have recently read articles by helping professionals that highlight some of the biggest challenges we face within health care and human services systems.

An article written by a junior doctor in Sydney, Three of my colleagues have killed themselves. Medicine’s dark secret can’t go on, states, “Medical training has long had its culture rooted in ideals of suffering. Not so much for the patients – which is often sadly a given – but for the doctors training inside it.”

The author goes on to review standards of practice that clearly perpetuate an outdated belief that service involves self-sacrifice. He writes, “To be a good doctor you must work harder, stay later, know more, and never falter.” In other words, you are expected to be superhuman, to always have your shit together, and to put everyone before yourself. The epitome of self-sacrifice.

Suicide. Could there be a grander demonstration of self-destruction? I have been personally impacted by suicide when we lost my nephew just over a decade ago. I can recall thinking at one point, “If only he knew how much he was loved.” And I realized that he probably did know it, but couldn’t feel it or receive that love because he did not love himself. He had not developed the capacity for self-compassion ― the very antidote that could have eased his depression and suffering.

Most of the people I know who have chosen a Vocation of Service expect that they will experience a career in connection and service to others and don’t realize that connection and service to self is part of that package. They don’t realize it because most of the time no one has told them that.

This is often very true in the human services sector as well. I read another article several months ago where a social worker described her suicide attempts after many years working in the child welfare system. Her intense struggle ensued for a number of years in silence, as she feared how she would appear to colleagues, friends and family if she spoke her truth.

A few months earlier, I came across an article where the author, a social worker, spoke of a felt pressure so intense that it was common to forget to even take a bathroom break throughout the day.

This kind of work environment would take its toll on anyone. And far beyond anything that a good night’s sleep, a super-food smoothie and a jog around the block are going to alleviate.

It appears a deeply rooted paradigm shift must occur in order to see our systems of healthcare and social services transform from dysfunction to vibrancy.

I could go on and on about changes in preparatory training, professional development, organizational structures, funding challenges, and other external influences.

I’m not going to do that.

The quickest route to shifting paradigms begins within us. And this is true whether you find yourself involved in a Vocation of Service or not. That is just my experience and the world I have been immersed in myself.

The truth is it hasn’t always been a source of joy in my life. Over 35 years, I have also come face to face with exhaustion, frustration, and disillusionment. Beneath that was a desire to continue to discover what brought me a sense of fulfillment and what held meaning to me personally.

As I continue to explore this path, it has continually led me to my desire to be of service and has guided how that manifests in my life. It has also led me to make significant changes and shifts in my life that were in alignment with my desire to feel joyful.

Amazing ― the more joy I have access to within myself, the better the view of the external world and the people in it. Really, everyone just appears to be more friendly, easy going, and lovable. Who knew?

Self-care has become something that has emerged as a result of feeling deeper levels of self-love and self-compassion. It just flows. Habits I have wanted to release are leaving with ease and new ones are falling into place without force.

There is only one thing missing: the need for willpower. And I’m good with that.