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Only 9 days before the start of DVAM 2019...

Healthy Me, Healthy We! Self-Care as a Strategy for Promoting Healthy Relationships and Social Justice

by Patty Branco, Senior Technical Assistance & Resource Specialist for National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

What is your self-care slogan? For Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month (Teen DV Month), our friends at Break the Cycle released the Healthy Me, Healthy We! campaign, which includes a video inviting youth to embark on a self-love journey and to find their “self-care slogan.” According to Break the Cycle’s video, knowing your self-care slogan is the first step to a healthy relationship with yourself and others. We at the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) couldn’t agree more!



Healthy Me, Healthy We!

Behind this year’s Teen DV Month theme is the understanding that having a healthy relationship with oneself is essential for establishing healthy relationships with others, including partners, family members and friends. And we have young activists to thank for this important reminder. The Healthy Me, Healthy We! theme was chosen by members of Break the Cycle’s Let's Be Real project, which is a movement led by young people (ages 12-24 from all across the country), for young people, about relationships.

Whether one’s slogan is “Self-Love is Not Selfish,” or “I Have the Power to Move Forward,” or “Who I Am Is Enough,” self-care does matter and should be practiced by everyone. As the young activists and social change makers from Break the Cycle remind us: when we affirm that self-love is worth fostering, positive results will trickle through all of our relationships. A myriad of tools and information is available to help young people, as well as adults working with youth, learn more about the importance of self-care, and how caring for oneself involves setting boundaries and honoring one’s needs, goals, feelings and values. “Basically, self-care is taking the time to care for yourself in whichever ways work best for you” (

Self-Care as a Radical and (Necessary) Tool for Social Change

This concept – that honoring our own feelings, needs and thoughts is important – is certainly revolutionary. In addition to better equipping ourselves to foster healthy relationships, when we affirm that self-care equals self-love and that we are worthy of it, we build our capacity to be better advocates, healers, community organizers, and social change makers. When we care for ourselves, we can have a more powerful impact on our communities and society. Self-care can help sustain our efforts by fueling our passion and energy to assist others and create safer communities.

At the NRCDV, we believe in creating a culture of caring for ourselves while we care for others and work for social change and justice. We are committed to developing resources and training to support self-care in advocacy and to lift up the importance of resilience and healing (for example, here, here, and here). In the words of Sterling Toles, “We must not only heal the suffering that oppression causes, but we must also heal the oppression caused by suffering.”

Throughout history, young people have played a key role in addressing injustice and propelling social change movements. Youth activism has the power to change the world. Yet, young activists, advocates and organizers are often underpaid and undervalued, performing jobs with high amounts of stress and trauma. As young people have indicated, “sometimes youth are not valued as worthwhile beings simply because we are youth” (Khan, 2015). For young activists and advocates – particularly youth of color and others living at the intersections of multiple forms of oppression – self-care can be an avenue for reclaiming one’s self-worth and for sustaining oneself in the face of oppression.

ArtReach, in partnership with young artists and community organizers, share a wealth of self- and community-care strategies and tools in Caring for Yourself is a Radical Act: Self Care Guide for Youth Working in Community. Some of their key reminders for young people in community organizing for social justice include:

  • Prioritize yourself. It is common to grapple with what it means to take care of yourself when our communities face ongoing and serious challenges. Keep in mind, however, that your health and wellness matter, and that taking care of yourself is a radical and necessary part of social change. As Audre Lorde – Black, lesbian, activist, and poet – wrote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
  • Be Intentional. To commit to self-care is to make time for it. Envision shifting your time to create space for practices that nourish you.
  • Be Gentle with Yourself. Self-care is about self-determination so you get to define how you will take care of yourself and what your needs are.
  • Set Boundaries. Setting sustainable boundaries between our life and our work can be challenging, especially when we work in communities we live in or are a part of. Setting boundaries takes practice and time but it is worth it.


“Think of yourself as already successful, important, cool, hip, stylish, beautiful without comparison to anyone else. Because you are all those things and more.

Call an old friend and talk on the phone, catch up on each other’s lives, hear each other’s voices.

Read a good book and don’t buy into that ‘high brow/low brow’ bullshit. Books carry stories. Stories matter.

Look at your reflection in the mirror and kiss your own beautiful self.

Dress up for no reason.”

A Self-Care To Do List by Danity Smith, Youth Worker

What do YOU need to thrive?

As we highlight the importance of self-care as essential to promoting healthy relationships with self and others (remember, Healthy Me, Healthy We!), as well as a radical and necessary part of social change, we must note that self-care might look different to different people. Resources providing self-care suggestions abound on the Internet, and often, they reinforce a classist model of self-care centered around spending money on new clothes or spa visits – model which can exclude activists and advocates, particularly young people, whose work is frequently undervalued and not paid a living wage.

Practicing self-care means being able to define what our individual self-care looks like. It is not as much about what we want but rather about what we need to thrive, to nurture our bodies and heal our minds and souls, so that we can work on making the world a better place. Young activists and social change makers may find it helpful to think of self-care as “recharging a player in a video game. You cannot make it to the next level with no energy cubes; you must stock up to sustain your energy” (Khan, 2015). It is only when we attend to our own needs, that we can properly care for others. The post, 5 Self Care Tips for Activists — ‘Cause Being Woke Shouldn’t Mean Your Spirit’s Broke, by Kim Tran offers insightful, self- and community-care, strategies specifically geared towards supporting activism and social justice efforts.

“(…) remind yourself how important all of the tools in your own kit are – no matter how strange or simple they may seem. We are all our own superheroes and no one else has the right to define what adamantiums make us indestructible.” – Irfan Ali, ArtReach Education Manager


Join Us!

This February, join us for a series of events and activities highlighting the power of young activists and the unique contributions of young people in community organizing for social justice. NRCDV Radio’s Stories of Transformation podcast station will feature the stories of young activists, advocates, organizers, and social change makers age 12-20, describing “Why I’m an Activist.” As part of NRCDV’s #ImAnActivist campaign and storytelling initiative, @NationalDVAM will host a Twitter Chat to lift up and learn from young activist leaders working to advance social justice. National, state, and local partners who aspire to embrace intergenerational, intersectional approaches to social transformation can benefit from the expertise of young activists in this dialogue. Throughout the month, we invite young activists, advocates, organizers, and social change makers to share “Why I’m an Activist.” Follow @NationalDVAM and join the conversation on Twitter at #TeenDVmonth #ImAnActivist.

“We must not only heal the suffering that oppression causes,
but we must also heal the oppression caused by suffering.”
– Sterling Toles