• Tara Palmer

Understanding the Relationship Between Self-worth and Self-Care

Updated: May 17

I was getting ready to create a post about taking self-care to the next level and was interrupted by my own thought, ‘not yet.’


The discussion in the last post, How we may be giving more energy to caring for others and our stuff, rather than to ourselves, may have stopped some of you in your tracks and resulted in an internal ‘Heck yeah! I deserve to be my own priority.’ For those of you who resonate with this, you may have had a ‘starting today’ moment where you drew a line in the sand, and decided that moving forward, you will make yourself a priority. If that is you, that’s great! New or refreshed awareness feels so good; I am happy for you!


I’ll be looking forward to sharing creative ‘how-to’ ideas in the near future that might help you maintain and build on what you’ve started. Today, I’d like to focus on the rest of us who did not get a ‘jump start’ of energy into our system with the idea of prioritizing ourselves.


Why do I not find ‘how to’ or informational ideas about self-care motivating?


Perhaps you feel you are already sinking in the deep end of ideas for how you could or should care for yourself. You might be accustomed to patterns of ‘should-ing on yourself’ about self-care.


Many of us have all the ‘how-to’ information we could possibly need, and instead of feeling inspired or encouraged by it, we use it to routinely punish ourselves with an internal dialogue of incessant shoulds or why bothers.


I should get better sleep.

Why bother getting better sleep?


I should eat better.

Why bother eating better?


I should exercise.

Why bother with exercise?


I should organize my house.

Who cares if I organize my house, no one will see it anyways?!


I should start working on creative goals.

Why bother; it’s not like I am going to become the next Picasso, Mozart?!


We may have grown up around a lot of should messages. Many of us had parents who were concerned with teaching us healthy, responsible behaviors. How lovely. They wanted us to become healthy adults. The problem came into play in that the teaching of ‘should’ behaviors was not always paired with teaching a solid ‘why’ for the behavior.


As kids, we may have asked ‘why?’ ‘Why do I have to brush my teeth, take a shower, make my bed, take out the trash?’ The response may have been overly simplistic or disconnected from the deeper reasoning behind teaching a behavior. Responses like, ‘Because I said so,’ or ‘Because we are all a part of this family’ often proved too simple to satisfy our genuine need to understand and feel motivated to participate. Without the supporting structure of the ‘why’s’ we often do not find an internal source of motivation for doing the healthy behaviors.


We learn to do the ‘shoulds’ to make others happy with us, to assure we are received as a ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl,’ or to avoid ‘trouble.’ In this case, shoulds are often full of fear and shame. If we have to comply with ‘shoulds’ to be good, the implied message is that if we don’t, we are bad. The last thing that will help with creating peace in our lives is to reinforce ‘shoulding,’ messages that have proven to be, at best, unhelpful and, at worst, damaging.


So ‘why’ do we take care of others, our stuff, and not ourselves?


Before we decide to use our energy toward caring for a person, or possession, we likely determine that the care we will provide is ‘worth it.’ It is worth caring for our home or car because they have value. A possession may have monetary value that we hope to secure or build upon; it may have personal value to us through its form or function. And relationally, we rarely extend care to someone that we do not personally value. We simply do not go out of our way for things or people we don’t feel are ‘worth it.’


Why care for ourselves?

If the ‘shoulds,’ (or perhaps more helpfully considered the ‘what’s’ of healthy behaviors) were not tied to the ‘why’s’ in our early years, we might benefit from tying them together now.

Where do I start with the ‘why’s?’ Surely, I don’t need to have an answer to ‘why’ I should brush my teeth, why I should exercise?, why I should sleep? I think I have the intellectual answers figured out by now.


Absolutely. As an adult, we have enough information to know the logical ‘why’s’ to caring for ourselves. It is the emotional, relational ‘why’s’ that many of us don’t have.

Let’s start with the idea that you are valuable, that you are ‘worth it.’


When children are young, their parents take care of them. Remember, generally, we do not take care of things or people that we do not deem worth taking care of. If parents meet their children’s needs with tenderness, kindness, and care, children are likely to receive not just a cognitive message that they are cared about, but an embodied experience of feeling cared for… the care feels warm, safe, friendly. They often come to understand from this experience that they are valued.


Of course, we know that all parents deliver care for their children imperfectly. Most parents have off days, or times of higher stress where the emotional quality of their engagement with their children may not be as warm as would be optimal. Needs may be met at times with tones of irritation or frustration because of the overwhelm parents are experiencing related to feelings about themselves and other challenges in their life.


To the degree that our parents experience frustration, irritation, and overwhelm in the process of providing for us, we may come to understand and experience ourselves as more of a liability or burden than a source of value. We may begin to feel we are not ‘worth it.’ We may start trying to ignore or hide our needs in order to avoid the experience of feeling like a burden.


How does the experience of receiving care from our parents translate into our own self-care?

If our parents experience caring for us as somewhat of a chore, it is not a stretch to see how the association we would later make to self-care would be one of feeling like a weight or a burden.

In an ideal world, what emotional relationship would we want to have with our self-care?

In an ideal world, parents would have the wherewithal to provide for our needs with tenderness, kindness, and care. They would have a healthy relationship with their own self-care practices allowing them to care for us from a full vs. empty tank.


As we develop increased abilities each year, our parent(s) would teach us additional ways to care for ourselves. When children are young, they are often eager to learn these things from parents who are patient and calm in their process of teaching.

In this situation, we would learn through experience that self-care feels good, and is important.


It’s wasn’t an ideal world, so what now?

The good news is that we can begin building a new emotionally supportive experience with our self. Rather than continuing in unhelpful patterns of viewing the care of our self as a weight or burden, we can begin offering tenderness, kindness and care to ourselves as we engage with self-care.


Instead of carrying around ‘shoulds’ or ‘have to’s, we can shift to recognizing that we ‘get to’ prioritize and enjoy various forms of care to our self.


We get to have bedtime routines that feel good and encourage a restful night sleep.

We get to discover foods that don’t just taste good, but also make us feel good and full of energy.

We get to discover forms of exercise that we genuinely enjoy.

We get to take baths instead of showers, and perhaps treat our self to bubbles or bath salts.

We get to choose clothes and haircuts that match our sense of comfort and style.

We get to keep our house as tidy or relaxed as serves us well.

We get to try on new hobbies for the sake of enjoyment.

Best wishes in discovering self-care practices that feel good.

© Tara Palmer

TaraLPalmer at yahoo.com