• Paula Azevedo, PhD

Fierce Self-Care

Welcome back to the Cultivating Self-Compassion series. This is the fourth of a five part video series about inviting and practicing mindful practices that develop our capacity to be more compassionate to ourselves and others. In the last three videos I talked about intentionally including positive moments during your day, developing a gratitude practice, and how to investigate and be really curious about the “shoulds” we tell ourselves. By the way, if you missed any of the previous videos you can check them out HERE. In today’s post I’m going to share with you another way to cultivate self-compassion, which is self-care. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes because self-care seems impossible right now, but I have a pretty different perspective on self-care. The self-care I’m talking about isn’t the passive, consumerism self-care that popular culture tends to sell you.

Let’s be honest, teachers have always been overworked, under resourced, and even under appreciated. Schools and teachers tend to fill the gaps that society has failed to provide students and even families who are food insecure, homeless, have mental health concerns, and so much more. The pandemic has exacerbated the social and economic disparities and have added another strain to schools. In addition to that, teachers are juggling between in-person and remote learning. We’re working longer, harder, and with little resources and support. And as the crisis prolongs some are feeling more and more isolated. This is simply not sustainable. In a time when we need more experienced professionals in the classroom the nation is seeing a higher percentage of teachers filing for early retirement and others who’ve been in the profession for 10 or fewer years are seriously contemplating leaving the profession all together. As a teacher educator, I hear my students, who are just about to enter the profession, share with me that they’re afraid that they can’t meet the demands that teaching requires of them. They fear that they’ve made the wrong decision to become a teacher. This is a dismal state of education. That’s why we need to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves and that we’re prioritizing self-care. Because, what will happen when there are few teachers left to teach?

Self-care is important, but unfortunately, the self-care that is often discussed are things like massages, long warm baths, or treating yourself to a glass of fine wine. None of these things by the way are wrong or bad. I actually enjoy all of those things. However, self-care doesn’t always have to be passive. Self-care can be active and fierce, especially self-care that cultivates compassion and self-compassion. By the way, this fierceness isn’t coming from a place of hate or anger. Instead, fierce self-care arises from kind heartedness and a higher level of awareness that gives you the strength to take responsibility for yourself and your needs in order for you to make the changes that benefit not only you, but your colleagues, students, and even their families.


So, what does fierce self-compassion look and sound like? Fierce self-compassion is about taking action with compassion and care for yourself and even others around you. It’s stepping up into your own authority and leading. It's about setting clear boundaries and saying “no” when a “no” is appropriate. And sometimes it’s not even a straight up “no”, but rather a “no, not yet.”


Now this isn’t about being reactive and potentially doing something that will make an already difficult situation worse. But, rather this is about being mindfully responsive to a situation that isn’t sustainable, that is potentially dangerous, and that lacks compassion. Fierce self-compassion starts so often by being honest with yourself. And recognizing when you’re not okay. Listening to those whispers that tell you something isn’t right and boundaries have been crossed. But, this inner knowing doesn’t have to stay within you.


With fierce self-care you can make it known. Start by journaling these whispers you tell yourself. Sometimes you don’t even know what's really wrong or what’s underneath certain feelings until you write or talk it out. Once you can put your thoughts into words you can make your needs for additional resources and support known and heard. And, then taking clear steps to get the support you need. Fierce self-care is about saying “no” and sticking with it, while also providing more supportive solutions.


Being a teacher doesn’t mean being a martyr, because a martyred teacher is useless in the classroom. Teachers who practice fierce self-care aren’t indulging themselves or being selfish when they draw clear lines at work, they are preserving themselves to make sure that they are the best teacher for their students everyday in class. So, don’t let anyone tell you that fierce self-care is selfish or wrong. Don’t let anyone guilt you into doing something that you know isn’t helpful for you or your students when they say “But it’s for the kids. Don’t you want to help the children?” When someone says something like that to you ask yourself, “At what cost? And, does the policy really help children?”


Now this fierce self-care doesn’t have to be done alone. The drawing of boundaries and saying “no” can be done with other colleagues, parents, and students who agree and support you. There is definitely power in numbers when a collective of teachers draw a distinct line. And, when you’re fiercely self-compassionate with others the burden won’t simply rest on your shoulders and these fierce actions won’t be so lonely.


Is fierce self-care challenging? Of course, but like all things I’ve been sharing in this series, it’s a practice. It’s taking baby steps; and yes, sometimes you’ll stumble, but like a baby learning to walk you get up and try again. So, listen carefully to your inner authority and with compassion use that inner strength to be fierce.


If you want to learn more about self-care and the three forms of self-care read my latest blog post where you can read an extended post about self-care. On my website you’ll also find many other free resources, including guided meditations.


PEACE