A Different Kind of Self Care

June 1, 2023

By Allison Iantosca, ACC

My husband and I have been married for over twenty years. Many couples have been together longer, many shorter. I don’t particularly feel like a marriage expert, but I suppose I have learned a few things along the way.

I recently found myself in conversation with another female executive leader. And as is often the case when you find someone who can so readily understand your world, things got personal. She is younger and married for less time and shared a recent frustration inside her relationship with her husband. She wondered aloud if they will ever be able to shift out of the exhausting spin cycle they seem to currently inhabit.

Our 24/7 lives, living on the precipitous edge of holding our teams, clients, and financial projections in place, can leave us somewhat bare and raw. Hours of being “on”. Seeking to satisfy the right decision/move/speech. To be seen, understood, loved, heard, accepted, known. All the very basics of human need after food, water, and shelter. Yet none of these more enlightened attributes can be purchased or sated by an abundant bank account. So, what does one do at the crossroads of ambition and true sustenance?

“Well,” I said to her, “are you seen, understood, loved, heard, accepted and known by… you?”

Because here is what I have learned in twenty years…whenever I don’t feel these things, I go to my husband and expect him to give them to me. In some instances, if he is feeling strong himself, this works. He has bandwidth for me. But most of the time, especially in relationships where each partner is building a career, a house, a reputation…maybe a family, a bank account, taking care of aging parents, the likelihood of being able to set aside our own stresses and desires for the other is slim. In fact, “back at you babe. I could also use a little.” And when I don’t have it for myself, it is hard to have it for him. 

It doesn’t mean we are involved in bad marriages or failed relationships. It’s just that the movie screen depictions leave out the deeper and more nuanced requirements of what it actually takes to honor the complexity of two humans navigating life together.

But instead of thinking about fixing the relationship with your partner, what would happen if we focused, first, on fixing the relationship with ourselves?

What would it feel like to have a constant companion in love, patience, and understanding? What if it were possible to have someone reframe every negative thought you have about yourself into a positive one? What would it be like to wake up with someone every morning who accepted you for who you are, believing you are doing the best you can with what you have? And what if that person is…YOU.

My new friend and I agreed, this is the definition of self-care. A willing change to the pattern of your own behavior.  Time to build a positive internal voice that can contend with doubt and shame. Finding a partner, be it a coach or a therapist or a mentor, that can walk beside you and hold you on the path, offering unconditional positive regard for you until you can hold it for yourself.

Someone sent me Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation post where Jim Finley explores how we internalize shame:

“…we’re punitive with ourselves and … it creates the secrecy of a shame-based identity. One is afraid that if anyone would really see what I’m really like inside, no one would love me.”

“When we risk sharing what hurts the most in the presence of someone who will not invade us or abandon us, we can come upon within ourselves the pearl of great price, the invincible preciousness of ourselves in the midst of our brokenness.”

My friend and I imagined the possibilities of the shifts in our marriages and our relationships with our co-workers and families. Of our ready availability to those we love and need our love. What could happen when we need less from someone outside of ourselves because we are so fully intact inside of ourselves?

At the very least, creating a depth of self-awareness and understanding so that our neediness softens and our patience can grow. We let go a little. And revel in the beauty of the, at once, selfish and selfless beauty of taking care of what matters. Me.

Allison Iantosca is a Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) trained coach certified by ICF with extensive leadership and management experience. She is an Executive Coach and is the Owner and President of Boston based FH Perry Builder.

*Photo Credit: Brian Lundquist

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