WIP: A Writer’s Guide to Self-Care
For me, self-care is about my development as a person, which has inevitably made me a better writer.
1. Shadow Work
Self-care for me equates to self-healing, which really began with shadow work. Shadow work is consciously looking into the unconscious: the shadows we have ignored or hidden from ourselves for any number of reasons.
Every human being on this planet has experienced at least one trauma of some kind—from the trigger-warning sort of trauma, to the traumas we don’t realize can shape our personhood: the trauma of having a best friend move away, for example, or the trauma of experiencing jealousy from friends. A trauma is any sort of experience that shapes who we are today in a way that doesn’t align with who we are, or who we want to be: thinking that we can’t let ourselves be too invested in friendships because our friends will only leave; or thinking that we can’t allow ourselves to shine too brightly, or we will lose meaningful relationships. Shadow work means looking at the roots—uncovering those traumas and shining light on the reason we have particular beliefs about ourselves and the world.
Shadow work can also mean looking at the things that we don’t necessarily like about ourselves, because we know this doesn’t align with who we want to be. Why am I so jealous of this other person’s success? Is jealousy something that aligns with who I am and what I want for myself? Am I jealous because I need to feel like I am the best in everything I do, because being seen as the best by others has been a form of validation I’ve needed? Have I needed this validation because of traumas I have experienced where I’m only shown love and respect from others when I am successful? Do I need others’ validation and, therefore, love, to feel like I am worthy of love?
Do I love myself? Truly, unconditionally, without judgment for any mistake I have or will make? Do I love myself, even if every single person in the world does not love me, and insists that I’m unworthy of love?
Shadow work can also mean looking at the hurtful cycles in our lives to fully understand the root of those cycles. Why do I always find myself in similar groups of people who don’t accept or support me in the way that I need them to unless I am, in their eyes, successful? Why do I always end up in situations where friends betray me or hurt me or leave me, making me feel unsafe to fully be myself, worried that I am actually unworthy of their (or anyone’s) love? And it’s funny how these same situations come up again and again and again and again… Different people, same situations and feelings in reaction, waiting for us to learn the lessons we need to learn.
Shadow work for me involves journaling with full honesty and vulnerability, with the commitment that I will not judge myself for anything I uncover. There are a lot of shadow work prompts online, asking questions of things we might not otherwise ask ourselves. What is a quality that you dislike in others; is it possible this very same quality is one you have as well, and this is why you are judgmental of others for having it? What are the roots of every pain you encounter, every cycle of hurt you experience? Is it possible that these cycles of hurtful human beings in your life are at least in part caused because you unconsciously search for the same situations, over and over again, because this situation is familiar, and you’re afraid of experiencing the unknown?
I realized through shadow work that I actually sought harmful cycles. I looked for groups of people who were unaccepting and unsupportive of me because they reminded me of the same harmful people I’ve had in my life. I sought the same sorts of people who would inevitably hurt me, and who only showed me respect once I was, in their eyes, successful. I refused to leave jobs where I wasn’t respected as a human being, wanting to first prove to everyone there that I was the best, and that I deserved their validation, their love; to prove to myself that I was worthy of love because of someone else’s reluctant acceptance of me.
Even though many of those people in these situations did not support me and were generally harmful, it was still familiar. The brain is wired to seek the familiar. At least we know it isn’t dangerous—I know I will not be killed by people who talk badly about me behind my back or who wish me harm. Consciously breaking myself away from groups of people who are harmful, with the knowledge that I will be alone as I heal, with the vague hope that I will eventually find people who align with who I am, and who I want to be? That’s unknown. The unknown can be scary. But it’s in this space that true healing has begun for me.
Meditation… I’m not sure what I can say to fully encapsulate the importance of meditation. The internal power that we each carry—this immense, incredible ability to heal ourselves. It’s in meditation that questions began to appear for me, and guidance is gifted. It’s in meditation that I began to experience hidden truths.
For me, when I first tried meditation a few years ago, it never worked out. I would sit and close my eyes and get angry at myself whenever my thoughts began to wander, thinking there’s a specific way to meditate, and that I wasn’t doing it right. This time around, I let my thoughts wander. I watch those thoughts, and eventually, a question finds its way to me. I listen to the answer that similarly comes, the guidance and wisdom.
I let myself feel the emotions in my body, the pains and bursts of energy. I pay attention to the imagination: the images that come to me, in the same way that so many images can come to us in our dreams. Often times there are messages in these images that we can learn from, too. There’s not one single way to meditate. There are even forms of meditation that involve movement, chanting, dancing… Sometimes, I even feel I’m meditating as I’m writing, and words simply come to me.
There are so many resources that have been incredibly uplifting and supportive in the delving into healing:
Spiritual Shit podcast with Alea Lovely (if you listen to enough of the podcasts, you’ll eventually hear me asking Alea a question and her giving the perfect response!)
Brené Brown—just everything Brené Brown, honestly, but her work around the difference between shame and guilt has been life-changing
Speaking of YouTube… YouTube has a plethora of information. There are a lot of wonderful guided meditations—here are some of my favorites:
I really do recommend the rabbit hole of YouTube. There’s so much guidance for inner-healing.
5. And a question: why is self-care so important for writers?
Self-healing for the writer means a stronger sense of potential themes, which (for me) means better writing and storytelling. I’ve written about the importance of theme in my What’s the Point blog post: to me, themes in our stories really are the lessons we’ve learned in our own lives, the traumas we’ve had to heal in order to find these messages. We’re all characters in stories; and like the characters we write about, there are traumas that lead to our misbeliefs about ourselves and about life, misbeliefs that we need to relearn in order to grow.
As I mentioned, these lessons are often cyclical—and the deeper we go into the cycle, the stronger the lesson. It’s the difference between knowing, logically, that we’re all worthy of love; and energetically loving myself with all of my being, regardless of what anyone in the world thinks. That energy we foster by learning these lessons more and more deeply transfers into our writing. Readers begin to heal through our words. They begin to understand a deeper sense of self-love too, or any other lesson we’d like to share. Writing is truly gift. I guess, in this way, it’s a form of self-care, too.