“You need directions to Las Vegas? I’ve never been there before, and I’m not sure where it is, but I can give you directions!”
To help someone get from one place to another, we have to know how to get there ourselves. In my interviews and observations of people who are skilled in self-care, I have come to understand that healing involves a specific skill set:
Self-love means having reverence for our self as a person. People who practice self-love do not take critics too seriously (external or internal), and they talk about themselves with the same positive regard for close family and friends. Another sign of self-love—especially among educators and other caring professionals— is to be as generous towards themselves as to those they serve.
Self-awareness means knowing who we are and what we need. Self-aware people understand and respect the messages that their minds, bodies, and hearts send by knowing how and when to set boundaries. For example, people skilled in self-care know when to plug into caring communities and when to unplug and take time for themselves.
While self-love and self-awareness are prerequisites to self-care, self-service is about doing the actual work. Self-service is not the same as being self-serving. A self-serving person protects their interests maliciously. For example, cheating on an exam, lying to avoid consequences, or manipulating others may help the cheater, liar, or manipulator but also causes harm.
People skilled in self-service understand that attending to their own needs rarely harms others. On the contrary, taking care of our bodies, minds, and hearts typically enhances how we can participate in communities, including the schools, nonprofits, and government agencies where we work.
The cornerstone of healing-centered schools
In healing-centered schools, teachers and school leaders understand that we cannot help children who have experienced trauma learn to practice self-love, self-awareness, and self-service without understanding what these concepts mean and how to apply them in our own lives.
Self-care is not a workshop that asks caring professionals to treat themselves to a latte to be ok with untenable working conditions. Instead, I emphasize self-care in my work because 1) my clients and their staff are human beings who deserve to be happy, and 2) as we learn and become more skilled in self-love, self-awareness, and self-service, we elevate our capacity to walk alongside those we serve who suffer lasting effects of traumatic events.
Self-care is a journey—and because we’re all in different places on this journey—helping others heal requires some familiarity with the map. Build healing-centered schools by practicing self-love, self-awareness, and self-service: first towards yourself and then your school community.