Self-Care Systems – An Introduction

Have you ever heard of self-care systems? Most people who work in subtle energy have some familiarity with self-care systems because in our experience, they manifest themselves as energetic blockages. In psychology, these are called “self-sabotage,” “limiting beliefs, “conflicting parts,” and “self-care systems.”

According to Daniella Sief’s article in Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought, “The psyche’s internal response to trauma sets up a ‘self-care system’ designed to ensure the person’s survival, but that this defensive system ultimately re-traumatizes the person from within, cutting off life-saving attachments to others and eclipsing all possibilities of true-self living in the real world.”¹

Imagine a little girl wandering near a pool. Her mother sees her, and out of fear, screams at her.

After that, the little girl avoids going near any pool again. That little girl has set up a “self-care system.”

It’s like installing a piece of software on your computer that prevents one particular event from ever happening.

Her mother told her that water is dangerous, and so she automatically installed a behavior to protect herself. Now imagine the little girl as an adult woman. Times have changed, she has learned to swim, and the thing that was dangerous in the past is not as dangerous in the present.

The little girl who once wisely protected herself from drowning in pools is now a grown woman who feels anxious swimming, and never feels totally comfortable on a boat. She even turns down opportunities that will put her near water because of the associated anxiety. We leave self-care systems in place long after they have outlived their usefulness.

This is a part of life. Things happen. We create self-care systems out of love for ourselves and the instinct to survive. They are like over-protective parents that follow us around and don’t want us to do anything that might potentially cause us pain or discomfort.

Maybe we fear public speaking because we’ve been embarrassed in front of a crowd. Maybe we fear commitment because we over-committed ourselves once, and that caused problems. We don’t even have to suffer the consequences ourselves. Merely seeing someone else suffer is enough to make us modify our behavior. As a result, we truncate our lives in unnecessary ways, and we suffer from anxiety.

It’s much easier to see self-care systems in other people than it is to see it in ourselves. Part of the self-care system is to run underneath your personal radar, so you don’t dislodge it and expose yourself to danger. If you are not sure how to identify a self-care system, try looking at situations that seem stuck, or think in terms of it’s other name—self-sabotage.

Think about the people in your life who come to you with the same complaints over and over, yet, nothing seems to change. Maybe one friend doesn’t get along with his spouse, maybe another hates her job, another has a never-ending string of failed relationships, and another has a phobia or habit that he can’t conquer.

They try to fix their situations, but they don’t make any progress. They repeatedly use the same few approaches, and they continually fail.

To identify your own self-care systems, start looking for patterns. It doesn’t have to be a big dramatic thing, like hating your spouse, your job or your life. It can be a simple thing, like weight loss or not getting enough recognition at work.

If there is an area where you have been trying to make progress, but you feel like you are spinning your wheels, then chances are that this is the result of a self-care system. A good way to identify these things is first to identify the place where you are stuck (that’s the easy part), then start to journal, or talk it out with yourself (yes, you can talk to yourself, I won’t tell!).

How do those situations make you feel? How do you feel about the risks involved with making a real change? Where did that start? It may help to think about the advantages of keeping your patterns and the disadvantages of changing them. This will help you be completely honest with yourself and drill down to your self-care system.

Next week, I will be talking about self-care systems in terms of energy blockages, and I will post some subtle energy exercises to help you identify them and remove them. It’s going to be good, so stay tuned!

¹Sieff, Daniella. (2008). Unlocking the Secrets of the Wounded Psyche: Interview with Donald Kalsched. Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought. 51:2, 190-207.


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