Self-Care A-Z: To Care for Oneself Requires Finding Oneself—Self-Care Wisdom From Viola Davis


by Erlene Grise-Owens, EdD, LCSW, MSW, MRE, lead co-editor of The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals 

     Reading is a form of self-care for me; memoir is a favorite genre. Reading life-stories deepens my compassion, widens my worldview, and encourages my spirit—all aspects of expansive self-care. Similarly, as conveyed in previous posts, public figures can serve as self-care role models. From a range of examples, such as Michelle Obama, Mr. Rogers, Dolly Parton, and Lizzo, we can be challenged, informed, and inspired.

     I just read Finding Me by Viola Davis, the internationally-acclaimed actor and producer. As Oprah Winfrey said, when announcing its selection for her book club, “There are so many lessons to be learned from this breathtaking memoir about triumphing over adversity and trauma.” Here are four “big picture” aspects from Davis’s compelling life-story that we can all emulate in our own self-care journey.

Courage To Engage in Self-Exploration

“…to go on THAT journey, I had to [have] the courage of a lioness.” (p. 10)

     Generational trauma; insidious racism, colorism, and sexism; deep poverty; rampant abuse; devastating addictions: Davis unflinchingly describes her early life as a “minefield” of these. Her story is a case study of ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences). This minefield—and its reverberations—didn’t magically disappear in her adulthood. As she recounts, Davis decided she had to excavate her mine-field life, in order to go forward with success and meaning.

      Self-care is not some superficial fix. One cannot really care for oneself without knowing oneself. As Davis’s memoir illustrates, knowing/finding oneself can be complex, scary, and arduous. Self-care requires courage to engage in self-exploration.

Compassion To Embrace Our Self-Worth

“My elixir? I’m no longer ashamed of me. I own everything that ever happened to me…I have a great deal of compassion for other people, but mostly for myself.” (p. 291)

     Davis offers this response of self-compassion when asked how she “clawed her way out” (p. 289) of her past. She further explains, “There is no out” (p. 291). Rather, compassion reconciles our full human experience. Davis describes how this encompassing self-compassion led to “believing I deserved…joy and feeling worthy” (p. 288).

     Self-care is an expression of self-compassion. Through knowing ourselves, we can more deeply accept and celebrate our selves. This compassion compels us to own our stories, and effectively re-story them to embrace our self-worth.

Creativity To Express Our Whole Selves

“My biggest discovery was that you can literally re-create your life. You can redefine it. You don’t have to live in the past. I found that not only did I have fight in me, I had love.” (p. 225)

     Davis links her calling as an actor with her development as a human being. She describes how her creativity is a powerful connection with humanity—including her own self—as well as larger purpose and Creation.

     Creativity—such as play, imagination, artistry, spirituality, and so forth—is often neglected as a dimension of self-care. We become so burdened by the “fight” that we don’t access the creativity of love. Self-care involves both engaging in “fighting” injustice and oppression, and accessing the creative energy of love, hope, and joy.

Contentment To Accept Self-Love

“It was radical acceptance of my existence without apology and with ownership.” (p. 9)

     Davis begins her memoir as her 8-year-old “spunky, sassy mess” (p. 1), whom she believes she must “heal.” Throughout her memoir, Davis mentions her many years of therapy as critical in her growth. She recounts a pivotal revelation when her therapist asked her, “Why are you trying to heal her? I think she was pretty tough. She survived” (p. 8). Davis depicts how her journey of “finding me” involves “allowing that eight-year-old girl in, actively inviting her into every moment of my current existence to experience the joy she longed for, letting her taste what it means to feel truly alive” (p. 8). This pivotal revelation led to a loving contentment in “All I’ve got is me. And that is enough” (p. 284).

     Self-care is an ongoing enactment of self-love and expression of self-compassion. It’s an iterative, active process of self-exploration and development. Davis offers wisdom for all of us in finding ourselves, accepting self-love, and learning how to engage in the self-care necessary for celebrating and sustaining our contributions and our selves.

Peace, Love, and Self-Care, Erlene

Erlene Grise-Owens, EdD, LCSW, MSW, MRE, is a Partner in The Wellness Group, ETC.  This LLC provides evaluation, training, and consultation for organizational wellness and practitioner well-being. Dr. Grise-Owens is lead editor of The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals.  As a former faculty member and graduate program director, she and a small (but mighty!) group of colleagues implemented an initiative to promote self-care as part of the social work education curriculum. Previously, she served in clinical and administrative roles. She has experience with navigating toxicity and dysfunction, up-close and personal! Likewise, as an educator, she saw students enter the field and quickly burn out. As a dedicated social worker, she believes the well-being of practitioners is a matter of social justice and human rights. Thus, she is on a mission to promote self-care and wellness!

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