You’d have to have been living under a rock to not see all those stories urging you to ‘take care of yourself.’ Get a face massage, pamper ourselves in a bubble bath or relax in a spa. Although those things are all important for self-care, they’re insufficient on their own.
Self care takes a community
What do I mean by that? We also need to practice communal care. We need to look after our loved ones, elderly neighbours, etc.
While it’s easy to understand the allure of self-care to the stressed individual, self-care is only part of the solution. Coupled with communal care, self-care could improve our lives.
How? We humans are social beings. We love being in groups and chatting, and socialising instinctively feels a lot better than spending excessive time alone.
Encouragingly, the narrative around self-care has shifted in recent years. In the last decade, a much more humane counter-narrative has emerged. The narrative goes like this: remember to surround yourself with supporters and loved ones. This is terrific advice for those who have robust support networks and need communal care .
Sadly, there’s one enormous problem with this bit of advice: many people have zero personal friends, people or family connections.
Most times, this isn’t because someone is a loner. Their isolation could be because of their having literally no one in their lives because of relationship or family breakdown.
Many people come from families that were dysfunctional. Many children who’ve suffered abuse or neglect find it’s difficult as an adult to get close to others. Ironically, connecting with others is one of the best treatments for childhood PTSD sufferers.
These people don’t need self-care; they need to have their emotional and/or physical scars treated sensitively. That requires counselling and communal care.
Similarly, anyone who’s been harassed at work needs communal care. So often, harassment victims are treated as the architects of their own misfortune when, in fact, most are the victims of systemic injustice.
To further compound this injustice, victims of harassment are told they are the problem. This misplaces the blame. It means that workplaces can point three fingers at the victim instead of providing a safe workplace environment.
Sure, victims can try the self-help approach. They can take up meditation, join a choir, learn to tango, or whatever. None of these therapies makes up a long-term solution.
Why? For a start, even though systematic reviews show that yoga and meditation are most useful if practiced regularly and many people’s lifestyles prevent practising proven treatments for reducing stress.
Also, continual re-exposure to trauma means that victims keep getting exposed to their trauma continually. So the only way to resolve the issue is to leave the toxic workplace or relationship.
Arguably, this places far too hefty a burden on victims of workplace abuse. These people have done society a favour by holding up a mirror to society’s face. Instead of berating victims, we should use communal care to help people support and help people recover from this vicious form of abuse.