Self-Care is Not A Punishment

At many points during  my life, my understanding about caring for myself was skewed.

As in, oh honey, you’ve had such a bad day, that cupcake will totally make you feel better.

And, you’ve worked so hard, skip your workout, you’ve earned the right to have a Netflix marathon. 

Or, don’t go out and spend time with your friends, it all sounds so exhausting, just hop on the couch.


And after having lived much of my life under the tyrannical rule of my inner critic, I really believed that this was taking care of myself. Because, I was being nice, right? I was talking to myself gently! I wasn’t pushing too hard.  This was the second layer. 

However, I have never felt better after eating the cupcake or skipping the work out or hiding away when I’ve been upset.

It’s not that any of these things are bad, it’s just that for me, they are not the solution.

And that each and every one of us has an individual body and individual process that we must unearth, so that we can begin to take spectacular care of ourselves.

Layers of self-responsibility

First layer: Unbearably cruelty, motivating out of fear and punishment.

Second layer: Learning how to speak to yourself kindly, but confusion about what it means to take care of yourself.

Third layer: Realizing that self-care is not a punishment, and digging in with both hands – even when it’s not easy or when you don’t necessarily feel like doing it – because you are worth caring for.

Fourth layer: It feels so good, you couldn’t imagine not caring for yourself.

But here is the (very important) thing: taking care of yourself – real care, the kind that heals you – is not a punishment. 

You have not done something wrong.

It is not because you are in such disrepair that you’ve been burdened with the task of learning to care for yourself.

You haven’t been “bad.”

This isn’t your fresh start.

Taking care of yourself is the foundation of healing your relationship with your body. 

Taking care of your body may in fact look like any of the options listed above. It may look like a Netflix marathon or a cupcake, but it is also going to look a lot like getting out in the sunshine, moving your limbs, eating your greens, drinking enough water, and getting adequate sleep.

It will be imperfect, but we cannot allow our fears of imperfection relegate caring for our bodies to the backburner.

Taking care of your body is a process. It requires that you pay close attention to yourself, taking copious notes and experimenting as you go.

Neck and back - Leonardo Da VinciIt requires that we pay attention to how our bodies feel instead of how it is or isn’t pleasing us by it’s appearance. 

Our bodies are beautifully resilient. They move us about in the world, operating as well as they possibly can, even when we don’t give them a second thought. They show up, even when we ignore them. They support us, even when when their support is indicative of an  unrequited love affair.

They work, even when we are too consumed by how they appear to others or the number on a scale or the size on the label to notice. 

If we are set to the task of developing a loving and trusting relationship with ourselves, we must first turn our attention to meeting the daily physical needs of our bodies. We must look past the number on the scale, to see our bodies as they truly are – a collection of skin, bones, and organs. A gorgeous system of moving gears that we can support and nourish with our daily actions.

Too often, we ignore our bodies because we are angry with them. 

We believe that they have betrayed us by growing in size, or being resistent to our constant plans for renovation.

Over time, we separate our heads from the rest of our selves, and, intellectually, we leave our bodies behind.

We ignore the signals that indicate our needs.

We silence the voice of our inner wisdom.

We get angry when our body further betrays us by getting sick or tired, when our bodies won’t DO what we want them to do. 

Within this interwoven web of our daily lives – our bodies play a huge role, but too often they receive the smallest amount of attention.

Taking care of our physical selves is not a punishment, it is the foundation of how we commune with lives. It is how we heal ourselves – how we tend to our weak parts. 

It is how we support ourselves as we move about our day.

It is the love that we show ourselves, even when we feel deeply unlovable.

With time, as we prioritize caring for ourselves, we are able to see that we are worth caring for.

This is the first step in the reunification process – beautifully reconnecting the pieces that have been disjointed.

You may struggle to look at your body in the mirror.

You might be mad at your body when you pull on a pair of jeans in the department store.

You may be thinking angry, violent thoughts about your body.

Wherever you are today, no matter what your relationship with your body has been up until this point – it is time for the white flag of surrender. You can no longer afford to ignore your body because you are upset. This is the moment.

Wherever it is that you are trying to go, you will not get there through punishment or cruelty.

It is only through love – love for yourself and love for your body – that you will find your path.

Today, carve out the space to care for your body.  Spend time thinking about what that might entail, and how you can weave it into your schedule so as to support yourself more tenderly.

Your body is worth your greatest care and attention. 

As it cares for you. Every day.

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What do you need right now?


Figure out what you need + how to meet that need in a way that is deliciously DOABLE, sustainable, and kind. (I pinky promise.)

17 thoughts on “Self-Care is Not A Punishment”

  1. Mara – you’re so on the money, as usual. I love how you pick things apart and make help me to see them in new light through your posts. “Our bodies are beautifully resilient. They move us about in the world, operating as well as they possibly can, even when we don’t give them a second thought. They show up, even when we ignore them. They support us, even when when their support is indicative of an unrequited love affair.” My body is totally in a one-way relationship with me! I take it for granted every single day.

  2. It’s hard to decide when staying on the couch is the right or wrong idea, because somedays the only thing that feels right IS watching half a season of BSG at once. But I also know that if I skip my workout I feel unwell all day, mentally and physically.

    • Absolutely Sheila. And truly, this is more of a both/and conversation than an either or conversation. We definitely need rest – rest is HUGE. But, at the same time, our bodies were made to move. When we are able to fine-tune our relationship with our bodies, we have access to the data that shows us which one we need at any given time, instead of relying on what our minds want to do. Which, well, is a whole other blog post ; )

  3. This is such a great post, and has really made me think. I’m quite happy with how I look and the appearance various of various parts of my body. It took a while, but I’m starting to become a big fan.

    Saying that, you’ve now made me question if I’m caring for it well enough. Being happy with how I look isn’t enough if I’m filling it with crappy food. And… I now have so much more to say, I’m going to continue this comment in a blog post. I shall post a link when I’m done, in case you’re interested.

  4. I add exercise to this. It’s PART of my self-care. Exercise relieves stress, helps me stay healthy and it helps stave off anxiety and depression. I’ve had to draw some serious boundaries with people over the years who dismiss my gym time as something I don’t have to do…or “skip the gym and come out instead” type of invitations. Most of the people in my life realized how important it was and tried to be supportive instead of discouraging.

  5. I also love how clear this is! Especially the “Four Layers of Self-Responsibility” – it was so great to see it spelled out like this! This is the kind of self-help blogging I really appreciate and just “get”.

  6. This is incredible, honest and beautiful. This made me realize what a treasure my body is even more so than before. Thank you for sharing this Mara. This was very touching.

  7. Mara! I cannot tell you in words how perfectly timed, how important, and how necessary it was for me to read this post right now, where I am in my life. It was just what I needed to hear, right now. Thank you SO very much. 🙂


  8. I think one of the hardest things for me to learn in this whole process is that negative thoughts/emotions deserve a place to exist and to be cared for. What do I mean by that? We need to give ourselves love and compassion even on our bad days. It’s the only way (that I know of) to survive the endless barrage of voices (internal/external) telling us that we’re not good enough.

    So when I say “I feel fat” it’s not necessarily because I feel fat, I fear failing or I feel my body is holding me back. I’m only able to discover that if I greet the negative emotion with love and compassion.


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