Psychology of self-care: it’s about self-worth


24 September 2019

Have you ever wondered why some people really struggle to take care of themselves, through sufficient sleep and exercise, for example, while others with high-demand jobs and lives prioritise their health no matter what?

Clearly there are many influences.Self-efficacy (a combination of motivation and self-belief), as well as support from family and friends, are two important success factors when it comes to sustaining healthy behaviours.

There is another critical factor that sits beneath these, and that is self-worth.My observation during 15 years of working with people one-to-one as a dietitian and now as a wellbeing and productivity coach, is that self-care efforts fall over pretty soon if they are not strongly grounded in self-worth.How so?

If you don’t truly value and appreciate yourself, you will be dependent on getting external validation from others to feel good about yourself.A common way to get recognition from others is to be a super parent or super worker, always going the extra mile to get work done, or do it exceptionally well. The quest to please others typically leaves a person prone to overriding their own limits, depleting them of valuable time and energy that could be dedicated to their own wellbeing.Simply telling a person like this to leave work on time is futile, as they dare not risk losing the appreciation they do not, or cannot, give themselves.

A person who is acting out this dynamic may not even be aware that a self-worth issue is at play.This is not surprising since so many of us were raised being praised for what we do, rather than who we are.It is only when a person considers setting limits or saying no that the underlying lack is exposed.

In contrast, when you really connect with your essence and all the valuable qualities you bring to the world every day, you have every reason to want to protect these precious attributes that only you can bring.You don’t get so stressed about others’ possible (and often imagined) reactions to your boundaries or choices, because you have your own supply of self-appreciation to draw upon.You also know that self-care is a win-win, and that by taking care of yourself you are also taking care of others.When you are well-slept, for example, your mood will be so much better the next day, and your colleagues will be spared your bad vibes.You could argue, therefore, that not practising self-care is selfish!

Here’s one way to start building your health and wellbeing practices on a foundation of self-worth.

Write down:the qualities that you appreciate about yourself. Try to focus on how you go about your work and day rather than what you do.Is it good humour? Clear communication? Integrity? Sensitivity?

Ask yourself:does your family, your workplace, your community, the world need these qualities right now? I suspect the answer will be a resounding “yes”!

Then ask: when you don’t take care of yourself, how are these qualities affected?

What happens to your good humour, tone of speech, even your integrity, when you are exhausted?

Take a moment to register: this is what’s really at stake when we talk about self-care.It’s not just your blood pressure or weight that suffers when you don’t prioritise your wellbeing. It’s the quality of your presence and the unique gifts that you lose out on, and the world loses out on also.

Build self-care on a foundation of self-worth: on waking, start the day by bringing awareness to the qualities you know you will bring to your day, and take a moment to appreciate this about yourself.Then let every act of self-care, even tiny ones like adjusting your posture or giving yourself enough time to eat lunch, be in honour of these wonderful attributes you bring.

This article was originally published in the QLD Teacher’s Journal May 2019.

Author Thea O'Connor is a wellbeing and productivity advisor, coach and presenter (