Self Care for Activists

One goal of Empowered Boundaries is to expand on mainstream notions of self care, which tend to be centered primarily on individual wellness and personal health. There is nothing wrong with focusing on individual well-being. However, individualist approaches often ignore how deeply interpersonal and interconnected care, healing, and recovery are. When I taught self-defense classes at Home Alive we were constantly widening conversations about self care to include community care. Our work was grounded in an understanding that we have to take care of one another and that our safety and well-being are intertwined with the safety and well-being of everyone around us. This included developing boundary setting curricula that included community and bystander intervention skills, rejected the “bad apple” theory of violence and abuse, and grounded self care in a complex relational context.

Empowered Boundaries, continues, in this vein, to challenge individualistic frames of self care (i.e. activities focused on making oneself feel better), pivoting instead to more collective, connected, and communal ways of engaging in care (i.e. activities grounded in an understanding that individual wellness is bound up in the wellness of everyone). Self care from this vantage is not necessarily focused on feeling better and sometimes may actually result in feeling difficult emotions. For example, having to say no to someone you love, agreeing to an accountability process, developing alternatives to institutionalizing people with severe mental illness, checking in with neighbors around safety and health issues, or reaching out for support in a time of crisis may not feel good at all, but all are important self and community care strategies. Taking care of ourselves and one another with a sense of interconnectedness, in community, can be challenging, uncomfortable, vulnerable, and at times may even be beyond our capacity.

This self care paradigm means engaging in social, interpersonal, and collective work, which strives to create all kinds of healing conditions. This means tending to our own bodies, friendships, families, and neighborhoods while also tending to the social, political, and economic conditions in which we are attempting to survive and thrive. Self care in this context does not weaponize boundary setting as a way of privileging oneself above others (for those who have the power and privilege to do so). It also recognizes the need for interpersonal boundaries. Care in this context dispels the myth of the selfless caretaker. It also centers wants, needs, bodies, emotions, and spirits, while recognizing the impacts of white supremacist heteropatriarchy.

Whether it’s called radical self care, community care, or collective care, linking and interweaving individual care with the care of other people, including non-human beings, other communities, other countries, and the natural world takes courage and commitment. It takes valuing ourselves as we value others (or valuing others as we value ourselves depending on our relationship to power, privilege, community, and care) because we are intertwined and ultimately inseparable.