July 18, 2013

What Going Natural Can Teach You About Self-Care

by Esther Boykin of Group Therapy Associates blog

I know that for many people the journey to “go natural” is a meaningful decision about embracing a chemical free life or pushing back from cultural dogma about what it means to be beautiful. And I respect those who have passionate and or political motivations in making the transition. However, for me, giving up relaxers and embracing my naturally kinky hair was mostly just a function of boredom and exhaustion. I was tired of the wrestling my hair into submission and sick of the same old styles. But despite the fact that I did not start my hair journey with any profound life lesson in mind, I have certainly learned a few things along the way.

You already know what you need most; you just have to listen closely.
Hopefully you are more diligent than I am but maybe you can relate. Often my hair care routine is pretty basic with little thought to what my hair needs. It’s not the best plan but with a business to run, a couple of kids to keep up with, and a husband who I would still like to spend time with, my hair often falls to the bottom of the list. It’s so easy to ignore because it doesn’t call me or demand my attention… usually.

Read On>>>

A few weeks ago my hair had decided it had had enough. It was limp, looked thin, dull, and felt heavy. It was not happy and neither was I. Fortunately (or maybe not so fortunately) I’ve been in this place before. My hair was not suffering from some mysterious ailment, it was simply being ignored and so it started to ‘yell’ for help.

It’s dry and dull texture was just a symptom that I was not providing enough moisture. The thin, heavy feeling was just my hair telling me that it was time to get rid of all the buildup. Years ago I would have not only been stressed out by my lackluster locs but also by my confusion about how they got that way. But now I understand that if I tune in and “listen” carefully, my hair will tell me what it needs.

And often in life that is what happens with our spirit and our relationships. There is rarely an issue in which we don’t know at least part of what we need or how to change whatever is not working in our life. More often than not, the biggest problem is that we aren’t listening carefully enough to what our body and emotions are telling us.

Just as it is with our hair, when we learn what the symptoms (“my hair feels dull and heavy”) really mean then we can create the solutions (“time for a clarifying shampoo and hot oil treatment”) and get back to loving our life more fully.

Discovering the “right” routine takes trial and error.
I have a confession to make, I don’t particularly like self-care articles. I know, kind of a ridiculous thing to confide in the middle of a post all about self-care. But here’s the thing, I DO like the concept of self-care and believe in it wholeheartedly. The problem is, much like many hair care guides, the articles that are written give a prescription of what you should be doing to get it “right” and for so many of us what’s suggested is not the “right” routine at all.

If you’ve been on a naturally curly hair journey for more than 5 minutes then you already know that finding the right products and the right order in which to use them is nothing more than trial and error. It’s a guessing game, an educated one thanks to CurlyNikki.com and others, but nonetheless we are just experimenting till we each find our own unique path.

About 9 months ago my daughter decided to give up her flat iron and really try to embrace her beautifully curly hair. After a few weeks of trying what others did on YouTube and in forums, she was frustrated and ready to give up. I sat her down and said that it was up to her to decide what she wanted for her hair but that developing a healthy and effective routine was not something she could just swipe from someone else. Her hair was her’s to learn about and understand. And while what others do can give us guidance, it will never be the perfect answer because the routine has to be tailored to each unique head of hair.

The same is true for self-care. I can list 20 things you should do every week that will help you to find greater work-life balance, peace, self-love, and acceptance and many will be good ideas. But what combination will work for you? I can’t dictate that. You have to be fearless and committed to the idea that you deserve to live a life that is full and joyful in order to stay motivated to find your best self-care plan.

Flexibility is your greatest strength.
Along the same lines of trial and error is a willingness to flex. One of the most frustrating things that us curly-kinky gals have to deal with is that the “right” routine is only “right” some of the time. The weather has to be just right, and we can’t sweat too much, and the humidity in the house, and our hormones that day, and on and on and on. Curly hair is a fickle thing- bouncy, beautiful, and shiny one minute; limp, frizzy, and unruly the next.

And so is life.

It’s a wonderful feeling to find a routine- be it for your hair or for your self-care- that is working. Life is good and you are happy. And then something shifts. Maybe it’s a circumstance at work or at home, maybe it’s a new challenge in your path, or maybe you don’t know where it came from. Your greatest asset in that moment is an ability to be flexible and open to change. To keep going even when what used to work stops working is the test of true self-confidence, because it requires you to step back and remember that you figured this out before and that even if you haven’t, you are capable of doing it now.

Embrace what’s messy… it’s part of your beauty.
I’ve been locking my hair for more than a decade now but I still remember those first few years of growth. My friends lovingly tell me that I am very particular (really it’s just their way of telling me I’m bossy and like things my way but that’s another story). So in the early days of growing my dreads, with my very “particular” expectations of neatness, I really struggled with learning to let them be. I was used to sleek, smooth hair and I wanted that same look… just with locs.

Thankfully I had a wise and honest hairdresser at the time. As I was complaining to her one day that I was always spending time re-twitsting and trying to smooth and tighten each loc, she spun me around in the chair, looked me in the eye and said, “you’ve got to learn to embrace the messy. It’s part of their beauty.”

It was a simple but profound statement to consider both in hair and in life. Things are not meant to be smooth and orderly all the time. Life, much like a head of kinky, curly hair, is often messy. But messy doesn’t mean bad or ugly or unworthy of love and appreciation.

Messy just means that you’re alive. As we grow and change and the people and circumstances surrounding us grow and change, things are going to get messy and unruly. But therein lies the most beautiful thing of all, life. Because the only things that stay neat and tidy are the ones we put behind glass cases in museums and never really touch. Life, like hair, is meant to be touched and experienced even if that means things are going to get a little messy sometimes.

Esther Boykin, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist, relationship coach, and co-owner of a private practice in the DC metro area. You can read more of her writings on the Group Therapy Associates blog. Better yet, chat with her live at Q & A with GTA, a free monthly webcast where she and other therapists answer your more important questions live! Sign up now to get your personal invitation.

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