The concept of self-care brings about a million different ideas of what self-care means in your life. The pandemic has taken a toll on most of our mental health in various ways. Self-care has become a term we see more often and in a more positive light. That’s a good thing, as self-care isn’t just indulging in pleasures such as spa days. Instead, self-care is radical, and forgiveness may be the most radical way to love others and yourself.

What Do People Think Self-Care Includes? 

The thing about self-care is that it is unique to each person because it is about being kind to yourself. That means self-care for you may be different than self-care for me. There are some universals about self-care, though. A BirchBox study found that 74% of people considered self-care to mean taking care of their bodies, and 57% thought it meant taking a mental break.

It’s definitely both of those.

The sad fact is that many people think self-care is indulgent and luxurious instead of necessary to your health and happiness, and we don’t take it as seriously as we should. People are quick to call taking time for a massage or pedicure as extravagant and will quickly judge you if you dare to put yourself and your health as a priority.

That same study found that 1 in 3 people feel guilty for taking care of themselves. Guilty for caring for oneself? This is a misconception about self-care and why we need to break the silence about self-care, and how radical forgiveness is one of the highest forms of taking care of oneself.

What Self-Care REALLY Means

As I said, self-care means a lot of things–different things because people are different. Personally, my idea of self-care has changed over time. I admit that I used to find myself in that ‘feeling guilty’ camp because if I happened to take time to get away from my responsibilities for a few hours and have a massage or take a bath, I felt like I should have been committing that time to my family. A morning at the spa or even a lunch with a friend felt very selfish of me–we women and mothers always have something to do or somewhere to be as we always tend to put our needs at the bottom of the to-do list.

Self-care felt like exorbitant pampering, and in truth–that hot bubble bath or relaxing massage rarely happened, so it was pampering for me. Like many of you, I felt I had to make sure everyone else was taken care of first and foremost. As is the case for many of us who find ourselves in codependent relationships, if there ever WAS any time for ourselves, it was always in small snippets, and always after every other need, want, and desire of those in my life was met.

Guess what that meant for me (and likely for you)? It meant I was pouring from an empty cup, which doesn’t typically pan out well. As cliche as it is, there’s a reason we’re told to put our oxygen masks on first when we’re on an airplane. We’re of no good to anyone else if we’re not first okay ourselves.

The same goes for our everyday life. I found myself pouring and pouring and pouring out to others, only to drain an already very dry cup. I wound up frustrated no one saw my efforts and resentful of the fact that no one seemed to pour back into me. If you’ve ever felt like you’re a pitcher of water and everyone else is a sponge, you may know just what I’m talking about.

That’s where self-care comes in. Self-care is an obligation–a responsibility to yourself! Yes, you DO have a responsibility to yourself and your well-being. You are as valued and beloved a creation of this earth as any other, and you deserve to give the same care, effort, and concern for yourself as you do for others.

Self-care means reflection–learning who you are and what you need to be the best version of yourself. That takes time–time that we often feel guilty for taking. To truly and wholly learn to care for ourselves, we need to take the time and then commit to making choices and taking actions that will help us be who we were created to be.

Self-care is about forgiving others in your life, but just as importantly, it’s about forgiving yourself for past mistakes too.

Why Is Forgiveness Self-Care?

A turning point in my life’s journey came after struggling with adrenal fatigue, a back fusion, neck fusion, and a brain tumor. During that time, I was still doing for others. You would think that I’d have had a full cup serving so many others–as service to others is fulfilling.

The thing is… I’d let my cup become so empty. Putting myself last didn’t leave me fulfilled–it left me struggling and suffering and feeling pretty resentful about the situation. I was at a crossroads and realized that slowing down and looking at how to better care for myself meant that I would be able to serve others better. I started looking at what made self-care difficult for me and how I could tackle those obstacles. That purposed time allowed me to look at self-care differently, and it was through that purposed and intentional reflection I could see the work of forgiveness as radical self-care.

The forgiveness work allowed me to find and examine the beliefs and patterns of not feeling worthy that were underlying my thoughts. You see, that’s why we neglect ourselves and forfeit self-care–we think we’re not worth it. We feel others in our lives and relationships are MORE important, and it’s our job to ensure they’re fulfilled, even at our own expense.

Now my thoughts about self-care and self-help are so different. OF course, I consider the physical aspects of self-care as necessary and not indulgent. Massages are not pampering; they’re therapeutic and part of my healthcare routine. Massage therapists are trained in helping us get ‘the kinks’ out and giving us preventative care. Massage therapy doesn’t just relax our bodies but lowers our stress hormones and improves our immune system’s overall health and efficacy.

The same can be said for my bubble bath time, walks, and other pieces of my day that are just for me.

It’s not just the physical aspects of self-care that have become so pivotal in my life–it’s the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects, including forgiveness of myself and others.

You see, forgiveness is self-care because it helps free you. Forgiveness is a purposed act of self-healing that allows you to acknowledge the pain you may feel (or may have even caused) and accept it for what it is. Too often, we confuse forgiveness with compliance, consent, or letting someone off the hook.

Instead, I’m telling you that forgiveness means you are willing to accept the past without needing to change what you can’t alter. More than that, it’s permission to move on and toward what is waiting for you in this life.

Forgiveness is a radical self-care process that gives you control and empowerment because you purposely choose to forgive. It’s your choice, whether forgiving someone for something they’ve done to you or forgiving yourself for whatever you believe you need to. You’re not a victim of your feelings but instead in charge of soothing your soul and working toward growth. You choose to lose the resentment and ill-will, and in doing so, you place the ugly, hateful feelings that accompany them out of your life.

How To Incorporate Forgiveness As Self-Care

The best way to incorporate forgiveness as self-care is to purpose it. Purpose it in a daily routine where you pray, meditate, and/or journal. Or create purpose by having a close friend with whom you can share your authentic self and feelings. Plan activities that focus on self-acceptance and compassion, as these will help you feel more well-rounded, confident, and connected. Most importantly, doing so will help you feel energized in your life instead of drained by it, and that’s when your true joy can shine through.

One of my favorite forgiveness activities is pretty straightforward. Create a forgiveness list!

This exercise has been so helpful for me to get clarity around the energy that’s stuck in my body. Taking those first steps of finding out where we sit in our feelings is the way to healthy forgiveness and, ultimately, self-empowerment and genuine self-care.

The hard truth is that forgiving those who have hurt you is challenging enough; forgiving yourself can be just as difficult, if not even more challenging. Working on forgiveness as self-care helps you feel better and helps strengthen and build relationships with those you love. You’ll be able to be your truest, most authentic self, and when you do, self-care comes much easier and doesn’t feel selfish, I promise!

If you’d like to hear more about how a connection to ourselves helps our connection to others, check out The Conscious Coaching Hour podcast, where I talk with my friends Sakura Sutter and Rory Reich. If you want to learn more about self-forgiveness, download my free e-book Untying the Knot!