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Self-care: knowing what you need

Self-care is a phrase which gets bandied about a lot. We’re all meant to do it, whatever it is, and probably quite a lot of us feel some degree of embarrassment or inadequacy that we don’t do it as well as we should or as we perceive other people to be doing it. On the other hand, in an increasingly frenetic world, is ‘self-care’ judged to be akin to self-indulgence? I also wonder if ‘self-care’ is perceived as a more feminine than masculine activity – images of spa retreats and facials may come to mind whereas perhaps men are expected just to ‘get on with it’.

The French philosopher, Michel Foucault, drew on the writings of Socrates to argue that care for the self was a foundational moral ethic, and the obligation to care for oneself arose from and reinforced a second obligation – to know oneself.

So how do we know ourselves and care for that self we get to know? And, particularly, how do we self-care if we have experienced sexual trauma, when perhaps the imperative to know and care for ourselves is even more important?

Any internet search about self-care will yield dozens of lists of activities which we might engage in; mindfulness, exercise, yoga, good diet, better sleep hygiene, seeing friends, taking a break, the list goes on. All of these are, of course, helpful but we also know that when life is stressful and / or we feel bad about ourselves, we tend to reach for less self-caring survival coping strategies: caffeine, shopping, drugs and alcohol, isolation (or, conversely, rather desperate socialising), sleep deprivation, over or under-eating to name a few. So why can self-care present such a challenge?

Foucault perhaps sheds some light in his connection between self-care and self-knowledge. Just as a good parent needs to know and be attuned to their child in order properly to care for them, so we need to be attuned to our unique and changing needs. And, just like a good parent, not only do we need to be attuned to our needs but we need to value and cherish ourselves enough to believe that we are worth having our needs met. This is a significant challenge to those of us who did not receive such care as children but the good news is that we can learn these skills and apply them to ourselves as adults.

So, when we think about what we need to do to self-care, let’s draw on our knowledge of ourselves to identify what we uniquely need (not necessarily always what we want!) in that moment, and cherish ourselves enough to give ourselves what we need. We can be our own good parent to ourselves.

Katherine, Counsellor and Groupwork Coordinator, SurvivorsUK


At SurvivorsUK, we want to help men who have experienced sexual abuse – no matter where they are. That’s why we’ve assembled a list of self-help links. If you’re having a difficult time, perhaps you’re dealing with flashbacks, depression or any of the other common feelings and effects survivors experience, then hopefully one of these links will be able to offer you some help.

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