Self-Care Can Be Surprisingly Challenging

Self-care seems like a common sense thing, something to balance out the stresses of life. However, certain kinds of anxious people have special difficulty with practicing self-care:

Workaholics: These folks are always focused on the next problem, and don’t stop to appreciate how much energy they have spent on previous challenges. Driven by feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, living with an underlying sense of impending doom, they believe they have no right to rest. If the next project doesn’t get finished pronto, disaster will arise. Telling such a person to rest and look after himself makes no sense to him; he is convinced the only way to feel good is to get the next task done.

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He needs to be super in-control, and often, he is operating in crisis mode. He has trouble accepting praise and rarely gives himself pats on the back, because anxiety only allows him to see what hasn’t been accomplished; yet there is only so much he can control. The workaholic can benefit from disciplining himself to rest, play and enjoy life.

Compulsive Givers: Another “type” of person who doesn’t practice self-care is the constantly giving, care-taking person. While the workaholic believes achievement is all that matters, this person can only see good in herself when she is helping others or giving them time, love, energy, gifts and money. And, just as the workaholic does get reward from getting things done, the compulsive giver is often rewarded by her giving because recipients are grateful for people like her who are around to boost, support, help out. But the compulsive caregiver is not looking after herself at all. She is trusting that the universe will pay her back eventually, but it just keeps on taking. Eventually she burns out, wondering what happened. She has put herself last, and must learn to allot only so much time to others. She needs to fight inner self-accusations of “selfishness” to practice self-care.

Both workaholics and compulsive givers are driven by “have tos.” They are highly anxious, feel powerless, and have lost sight of personal choice. They are badgered by seemingly insatiable inner critical voices. These critical voices are actually parts of the self who are trying to protect him or her, by telling him/her to play safe by doing over and over again what parental authorities expect: follow the rules, be a good boy/girl, do as you were trained to do (“work”/”give”)–usually by parents who were trained with the same rules.

The same points apply to any kind of compulsive, ritualistic behavior one may practice, even at mild levels–for example, invariably following strict, regimented routines in life; compulsively dieting, exercising, playing video games, procrastinating, gambling, etc. “Compulsive” means you feel compelled to do something, even if you don’t really want to. You fear that if you don’t satisfy the compulsion, something bad will happen–that you won’t be admired or loved or that you may be criticized. These ritualized behaviors help in the short run to evade past traumas, or current fears. They distract, and postpone dealing effectively with problems.


It is important to find the courage to think for oneself, and to establish work-life balances that nourish and sustain the self. Compulsives of all stripes need to reject beliefs that they cannot manage without resorting to rigid, stale rituals to hold them together. They may want to seek professional help, to help them grow in confidence, self-determination and self-management.

Self-Care Can Be Surprisingly Challenging
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Simon Hearn has been counselling since 1981 in a variety of settings including private practice, hospitals, forensic units and vocational rehabilitation. He graduated with a Ph.D. in Psychology from Simon Fraser University in 1994 and is a member of the BC College of Psychologists and the BC Psychological Association.

Simon works with adults, couples, families and teens, using a collaborative approach to counselling; this approach encourages clients to develop their own resources to grow in understanding themselves and making wise choices. He has also done research in aging and has a special interest in personality disorders.

Simon draws on a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives in his psychotherapy work and has completed the second level of training in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a powerful method for helping people get over trauma and build self confidence and self-esteem.




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