I talk a lot about self-care journeys, self-love journeys, and healing journeys. And someone who has been on one of those for over three years, it’s a topic that is very dear to my heart. Many of us began our self-care, self-love healing journeys after hitting what most of us would call an emotional rock bottom. Whether we were coming out of an abusive relationship, letting go of addictions, or putting an end to our people-pleasing ways, we all recognized that we had spent too much time neglecting ourselves and were ready to change that.
For most of us, the first step of journeys like these is to turn inward. To focus, perhaps for the first time in a very long time, on what we need. It is a time of self-reflection, of self-compassion, of me first for once, damn it. We begin re-evaluating our relationships, often cutting ties with people who we probably should have removed from our lives ages ago. We learn to set boundaries. Learn to share our needs. Learn to stop shrinking ourselves so goddamn small that no one even realizes we’re there.
There are those who, incorrectly, call us selfish during that time of our lives. Those people, un-surprisingly, tend to be the ones we took a step back from at the beginning of our journey because they weren’t good for us. Our choice to put ourselves first instead of them is offensive, unallowable. Rather than celebrating our journey to self-love and healing, they call us self-involved. That’s a tough part of the journey, but I haven’t known one single person who didn’t have that experience. So, I guess it’s just something we have to acknowledge and let go of.
But there does come a time in our healing journeys when—as a result of all the work we’ve done—we should emerge from this time of inward focus. That time of intense self-love and self-care should naturally lead us to a place of turning back outward to the world, but now with a sense of separation between it and ourselves. That means we now have boundaries. We know our worth. We know we don’t have to explain ourselves to those who would prefer to misunderstand us. We recognize that we can engage with the people in our social sphere without making their problems our own. We understand where others end and where we begin, which was something we didn’t have a firm grasp on when we were living to please everyone else. With this knowledge, we can step back into the world with empathy and compassion, now knowing how to be present with others—to help and support them, to care for them—without losing ourselves.
Unfortunately, some of us end our healing journeys before we get there.
I’ve noticed this pipeline that seems to run directly from beginning a healing journey to becoming the main character of the universe. What I mean is that some of us never exit the phase of healing that turns us inward. We stay too self-focused, almost to the point of self-absorption. Some would say, to a point that seems narcissistic.
We become so rigid in our boundaries that we forget how to let people in altogether. We get so focused on having our own needs met that we begin neglecting everyone else’s. We have spent months, or maybe even years, allowing ourselves to be deeply, profoundly interested in ourselves (an objectively good thing), but have come to expect everyone else to find us just as fascinating. We talk about ourselves too much. We forget to listen. We become like the people we decided to get away from when we began our healing journey in the first place.
I want to gently encourage us all to make sure we don’t cut our healing journeys short at this phase. The point of our healing journey, after all, is to learn to love ourselves so that we can make our re-entry to the world being better able to both receive and give love. If a healing journey ends in us being self-absorbed people who love ourselves deeply but who are hard for other people to love, we have done ourselves a disservice. It is not self-loving or self-caring to abandon our journey when we are at our most self-involved place. No one likes grown-ups who act like the main character of the universe, and our relationships will be difficult if we don’t figure out how to avoid that outcome.
So, dear reader, if you are on a healing journey now, you’re already on the right path. Take that time to love yourself. Take however long you need to do your healing. Stay inward focused as long as you need to.
Just make sure that’s part of the journey, not the destination.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.