Secrets of Self-Care
by Diane Linsley
Once we master it, everything else becomes easier.
Taking care of our basic physical needs should be simple, right? As
adults, we know what our bodies need to be healthy. So why do we
often struggle with self-care?
I've noticed that when I am feeling negative emotions, I have a
tendency to punish myself. I sometimes do this by ignoring my
body. I might go for too long without eating, or I fail to exercise or
care for my body in other ways.
I suspect that this tendency originated in childhood when I was
punished for expressing feelings of sadness, anger or fear. We tend
to treat ourselves the same way our parents treated us as children.
While some people punish themselves by withholding things,
others swing to the opposite extreme and overindulge themselves. They may become addicted to TV, computer games, alcohol, drugs, food or recreational activities, while avoiding what's good for them.
This could be the result of having parents who were similarly addicted or who tried to silence their children by sticking lollipops in their mouths, instead of spending quality time with them, listening to them, and meeting their emotional needs.
I dated a man who thought that his mother abused him by making him eat his vegetables. As an adult, he would only eat junk food. When I prepared a gourmet dinner for him, he got angry and accused me of trying to control him like his mother did.
That's a funny story. But the point is that we need to take a close look at our patterns from childhood.
Self-Care Writing Exercise
Grab a pen and paper, and write down the answers to these questions:
In what ways did my parents meet my physical and emotional needs when I was a child?
How did my parents fail to meet my needs?
If I were my own parent, how would I care for myself?
How do I want to look and feel? Be specific. Make a picture in your mind of the healthy body that you have the capacity to achieve. See yourself in your favorite outfit with a smile on your face. Make the picture large, detailed, full-color, front and center in your mind's eye.
Now, what specific steps can you take to achieve this future vision of yourself? List at least 5 things, then number them in order of priority.
Choose one thing to work on for the next week. Write a goal statement. It might sound something like this: "For the next week, I commit to focusing on self-care by exercising for 15 minutes each day."
Overcoming Blocks to Self-Care
Look at the writing assignment again. As you slowly read through your answers, pay close attention to the feelings in your body. Do you feel any tension or tightness? This is resistance. Focus on the feelings in your body and name any emotions that come up.
When I look at my list, I feel some tension in my shoulders and stomach. I identify the feeling as fear. When I ask what the fear is about, I realize that I'm afraid of taking care of myself because "it's against the rules." Where did that come from?
As a child, I was taught to ignore my body and avoid feelings of pleasure and joy. I was taught that it's wrong to touch my body, compliment myself, or give myself enough food, rest and play time. I had what Claude Steiner, author of Scripts People Live, calls a joyless script. This caused a disconnection from my body and an inability to feel joy. I also had a loveless script.
Because of these inhibitions, I attracted people who treated me poorly. Living in chronic self-denial, which feels like trying to survive on crumbs, just felt normal. Even after ridding my life of abusers, it took a while for me to learn how to care for myself.
When you think of caring for yourself, do you hear any voices in your head, such as the Inner Critic telling you that you don't deserve it? Or does the voice of the Pusher tell you that you don't have time because you have too much work to do? Maybe you hear the voices of friends who also struggle with self-care, and you feel guilty when you are having more fun than they are! What voices are running your life? Invite these voices to speak, and listen to what they say. Thank them for their input. Then tell them firmly but politely that you are now in charge of your own life, and you are committed to doing what's best for you. Assertiveness begins with the voices in your own head.
Here are some questions to stimulate new ideas for self-care:
What are your favorite healthy foods? How would you feel if you ate more of them, gradually replacing the less healthy foods in your diet? Remember the picture of yourself looking healthy and happy. This picture is your motivator. Bring it up every time you need to make a choice for self-care.
What are your favorite forms of exercise? Do you prefer exercising indoors or outdoors? Do you value having fun while exercising, or are you more motivated by the physical results of exercise?
If you are looking for a quick routine, check out Metabolic Aftershock. This is the exercise program I do when I'm short on time. I do it with my favorite music to make it more fun. It only takes 15 minutes, and I love the quick results. Walking past the mirror and seeing a firm butt makes me very happy!
What are your favorite hobbies? Is there a new hobby you'd like to try? How do your hobbies help you develop yourself as a person?
What are your favorite forms of entertainment? Do you truly enjoy your entertainment, or do you use it to zone out and ignore your deeper needs? How does entertainment meet your needs?
Are there things you should do less of in order to take better care of yourself? I'd like to propose that most of us could spend less time in front of screens (computers, cell phones and TV). See this article on how electronic screens cause brain damage.
Are you getting enough sleep? What are your attitudes and beliefs about sleep? Do you listen to your body and sleep when you are tired? Or is your sleep schedule imposed by your mind - or worse yet, by other people's demands on your time?
You may have heard the Zen story about the student who asks the master, "How do you practice Zen?" The master replies, "When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep."
Meeting Your Needs for Physical Affection
I believe that much of what we do in life is an attempt to compensate for a lack of physical affection and emotional connection. Workaholism was my favorite way to compensate for all the CRAP in my life (criticism, rejection, abandonment and punishment).
I find that the more love I give myself, the less I desire money, fame and possessions. I've become almost immune to both criticism and praise from others. I'm also more self-disciplined with diet and exercise. The urge to eat junk food disappears when I realize that what I really need is self-love.
I grew up in a family without physical or emotional affection, and my relationships with men were equally lacking. Sex with a narcissist leaves you feeling empty, used, and more lonely than before. As long as you believe that the narcissist is your source of affection, you'll keep going back.
It took me a long time to figure out how to love my own body. It wasn't just about sex. I needed stroking, caressing and kind words. And I needed it daily. Narcissists put you on a starvation diet consisting of a few crumbs at infrequent intervals. If you ask for more, they punish you - like Oliver Twist being punished for asking for more porridge. "Please, sir, I want some more." How dare you ask!
At first, it felt awkward taking care of my own physical needs. But eventually I learned how to touch myself. I began asking myself, "How do you want to be touched?" I learned to listen to my body.
I now hug, stroke or pat myself periodically throughout the day while saying kind words like, "I love you. You're a good person. You're going to be fine. You can do this." I even sing to myself.
I have a teddy bear, too. He doesn't turn me away when I want someone to hold and talk to. I never had a teddy bear when I was a child, so this was a new experience for me. At first, I felt silly talking to a toy. But my daughter reassured me by telling me how wonderful her teddy bear is. So I started practicing. She was right. A teddy bear can be a good friend. He never gives me any CRAP :)
By loving myself, I'm training myself to expect better treatment from others. This is the best protection from narcissistic abuse.
If you need another reason to practice self-love, consider that the way you treat yourself (and your teddy bear) is practice for future relationships. You are strengthening the neural pathways for love.
I hope this article has given you some new ideas and increased your desire to take better care of yourself. This is your responsibility and your great privilege.
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