Spiritual Self-Care – A Transpersonal Approach to Mental Health

GoodTherapy | Spiritual Self-Care – A Transpersonal Approach to Mental Health Self-care really exploded as a topic in self-help and psychology over the last 10 years. And since we are heavily focused on doing things in our society, you can find countless articles on eating healthy, exercising, doing yoga, meditating, good hygiene, sleeping, journaling, gratitude lists, and pampering yourself. And it isn’t that any of these things are bad. It’s just that when people google “self-care strategies,” they often know what the answer is. On some level, they are aware that they aren’t doing what they need to for their mind or body, but they struggle to commit to any type of change. It’s as if every intention becomes a failed New Year’s Resolution.  

What is Self-Care?  

Self-care is paying attention to what you need in each moment. It involves holding your awareness open, becoming present, and listening to your intuition (rather than your thoughts).  

Here are some examples: 

  • Trusting yourself 
  • Accepting your emotions 
  • Quieting your mind 
  • Being patient with yourself 
  • Practicing honesty 
  • Making decisions based on your real values 
  • Saying no (or yes) when it is right to 
  • Having compassion for yourself 
  • Letting go of unhealthy thoughts 
  • Slowing down and coming off auto-pilot 
  • Observing your mind and looking for the truth 
  • Stepping out of distractions and facing real issues 
  • Respecting your life process 
  • Staying true to yourself 

Reading over this list isn’t helpful if it becomes intellectualized. Sustainable self-care isn’t just about picking an idea and sticking to it. That would require willpower, which is a limited resource that is unhelpful to many people. There are stages we have to work through in order to get to a state of balance in our lives. One of these stages involves connecting to our innermost Self – the part of us that is actually providing the care. When this happens, people feel capable of taking responsibility for their well-being and applying the examples above in a sustainable way. Self + Care = Self-Care.  

In my practice as a mindfulness and transpersonal therapist, I focus on teaching people to cultivate spiritual well-being, which means having that connection to the Self. Some people refer to this as being “centered.” Clients often come to me with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and stress, and they feel severely disconnected from who they are. Their minds tend to be out of control, and their emotions can drive their decisions whether they are repressing them or not. They often feel like they are acting in ways that are incongruent with their values, but they aren’t sure how to break free.  

 From a spiritual perspective, the opposite of being centered is Identification. Identification means to lose yourself to something. We can lose ourselves to our thoughts, our emotions, our body sensations, our roles, our beliefs, and so on. Here are some examples: 

  • You are feeling good as you are on your way to a party with friends. You enter the room and start thinking about how great everyone else looks. Your mind starts comparing your looks to others, and suddenly you don’t feel good about yourself anymore (identification with a thought and the body). 
  • You are talking to a group of friends about some political beliefs. The conversation starts to get heated as the group is venting. Anger starts to arise in you and you begin to say things you don’t really mean. The feeling stays with you as you return home and you are irritable with your family for the rest of the night (identification with a thought, emotion, or belief). 
  • You’ve had a difficult day parenting and are feeling a lot of anxiety and stress. You put your children to bed and start to think about the treats in your cupboard. You spend the rest of the night binge eating and zoning out in front of the TV (identification with a thought and emotion). 
  • You’ve been working on recovering from dieting behaviour by listening to your body and nourishing it. You sit down in a chair and feel the sensation of your belly sticking out. You’re overcome with anxiety and thoughts of being fat, so you spend the rest of the day fasting (identification with thought, emotion, body). 
  • You work in a job that gives you a strong sense of identity. You never take breaks like your colleagues, but instead, push through and avoid thinking about your needs. At the end of the day, you have a build-up of stress in your mind and body. You worry about how you’re perceived at work, and your thoughts constantly focus on pleasing others. You know that you should at least take a lunch break, but the next day at work the personal neglect happens all over again (identification with thought, emotion, role). 

As long as we are identified with something, we will struggle to take care of ourselves. It is as if something much more powerful takes over and controls our behaviour. It is important to recognize that identification isn’t real – it is happening in our minds and is connected to our conditioning. Our thoughts are very influential, and if we aren’t working on slowing down and separating from our thinking, it can have big consequences. As soon as we notice a thought in-the-moment, we are disidentified from it. This means our connection to Self is present and we are able to observe the thought without reacting. With practice, we become capable of deciding whether to let the thought go or to take action.  

In my work with clients, we practice disidentification, cultivating inner silence, observing thoughts non-judgementally, staying with emotions (without repressing or indulging in them), separating out from conditioned beliefs, and trusting intuition. These experiential processes transform our patterns by allowing us to experience life fully without losing ourselves. People learn over time that they have a wise, steady center of being that they can come back to over and over again as an anchor in difficult moments. It is the foundation for true resilience and inner growth. When we are connected to our Self and we disidentify, we can have a thought and let it go, experience an emotion and work through it, participate in our roles while also caring for ourselves, and have a body without obsessing about it or neglecting it. In other words, we become free to make choices based on our real needs and values, which is the heart of self-care.  

 To learn more about how I guide people towards healing from the inside out, check out my blog at www.katiedunnigan.com or connect with me directly for a free phone consultation.  

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