Evelyn Ryan, Yourlifelifter
Most victims of childhood abuse (includes neglect and emotional invalidation) suffer into adulthood and become adult victims of adult abuse. Our self-esteem and personal identity and understanding of our self-worth suffer. We may have been punished for even attempting to care for ourselves. Consequently, we can feel shame for even taking care of our basic human needs. This vulnerability can be exaggerated in empaths who are predisposed to caring for and feeling responsible for others’ happiness.
We do not learn how to use our compassion responsibly and overcompensate by giving of ourselves too much and letting others who do not have our best interests at heart violate our personal boundaries and dishonor us. We allow them to control our emotions rather than we regulating our own. We bring this skewed thinking learned in childhood into adulthood and learn to neglect our own needs.
Self-care and self-compassion are needed for healing because they “neutralize” the toxic emotions and empower ourselves to learn how to regulate our emotions again. These are good “habits” that relieve the pain and help us assimilate and reconnect with ourselves again. So, in effect self-care and self-compassion allow us an opportunity to witness our healing. They allow us to actively participate in our own healing and regain trust in ourselves and feel safe and secure in our own bodies. Self-care and self-compassion allow us to nourish our souls and are also critical to building self-worth, self-assurance and self-reliance and feel like “ourselves” again, not the pain addicted wounded versions who rely on abusers and manipulators who do not have our best interests at heart to alleviate our discomfort.
We CAN learn how to replace these old “harmful” habits with those that are self-serving to our emotional health and personal joy. We can learn to use our compassion responsibly and learn to focus our compassion and self-care more on ourselves.
“What?” You may ask. “How am I supposed to learn how to do that? I have trouble even saying no.”
Well…like anything, by learning how to and by practicing.
Here are some helpful tips that can help to get you on the right track. And remember PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. Use the tips that work for YOU!!!
- Pay attention to your own needs and wants. Get out of your head and learn to listen to and heed your bodily cues and emotions that exist to protect you.
Listen to what your body, your mind, and your heart are telling you. For instance, if your body is telling you that you have been sitting down too long, stand up and stretch. If your heart is longing to spend more time with a special friend, do it. If your mind is telling you to clean up your basement, listen to your favorite music, or stop thinking bad thoughts about yourself, take those thoughts seriously.
- Take very good care of yourself…..ALWAYS!!!!
As you were growing up you may not have learned how to take good care of yourself. In fact, much of your attention may have been on taking care of others, on just getting by, or on “behaving well.” Perhaps you were even punished for thinking about and caring for yourself.
Begin today to take good care of yourself. Treat yourself as a wonderful parent would treat a small child or as a very best friend might treat another. If you work at taking good care of yourself, you will find that you feel better about yourself and you will learn you are deserving of your own self-care and learn self-reliance that will feed your self-esteem and self-worth.
Here are some suggestions:
- Eat healthy foods and avoid junk foods (foods containing a lot of sugar, salt, or fat). A healthy daily diet is usually: five or six servings of vegetables and fruit, six servings of whole grain foods like bread, pasta, cereal, and rice, two servings of protein foods like beef, chicken, fish, cheese, cottage cheese, or yogurt.
- Exercise. Moving your body helps you to feel better and improves your self-esteem. Arrange a time every day or as often as possible when you can get some exercise, preferably outdoors. You can do many different things. Taking a walk is the most common. You could run, ride a bicycle, play a sport, climb up and down stairs several times, put on a tape, or play the radio and dance to the music–anything that feels good to you. If you have a health problem that may restrict your ability to exercise, check with your doctor before beginning or changing your exercise habits.
- Do special personal hygiene tasks to pamper and make you feel better about yourself such as a bubble bath, special hair conditioning or styling, manicures and pedicures, and teeth whitening.
- Have a physical examination every year to make sure you are in good health.
- Plan fun activities for yourself. Learn new things every day.
- Take time to do things you enjoy. You may be so busy, or feel so badly about yourself, that you spend little or no time doing things you enjoy such as playing a musical instrument, doing a craft project, flying a kite, or going fishing. Make a list of things you enjoy doing. Then do something from that list every day. Add to the list anything new that you discover you enjoy doing.
- Get something done that you have been putting off. Clean out that drawer. Wash that window. Write that letter. Pay that bill.
- Do things that make use of your own special talents and abilities. For instance, if you are good with your hands, then make things for yourself, family, and friends. If you like animals, consider having a pet or at least playing with friends’ pets.
- Dress in clothes that make you feel good about yourself. If you have little money to spend on new clothes, check out thrift stores in your area.
- Give yourself rewards for being a great person such as listening to your favorite music or reading your favorite books or taking a trip to a museum.
- Spend time with people who treat you well and make you feel good about yourself. Avoid people who treat you badly.
- Make your living space a place that honors the person you are. Whether you live in a single room, a small apartment, or a large home, make that space comfortable and attractive for you. If you share your living space with others, have some space that is just for you, your own personal “slice of heaven” where you can keep your things and know that they will not be disturbed and that you can decorate any way you choose.
- Display items that you find attractive or that remind you of your achievements or of special times or people in your life. If cost is a factor, use your creativity to think of inexpensive or free ways that you can add to the comfort and enjoyment of your space.
- Make your meals a special time. Turn off the television, radio, and stereo. Set the table, even if you are eating alone. Light a candle or put some flowers or an attractive object in the center of the table. Arrange your food in an attractive way on your plate. If you eat with others, encourage discussion of pleasant topics. Avoid discussing difficult issues at meals.
- Take advantage of opportunities to learn something new or improve your skills. Take a class or go to a seminar. Many adult education programs are free or very inexpensive. For those that are more costly, ask about a possible scholarship or fee reduction.
- Begin doing those things that you know will make you feel better about yourself like going on a diet, beginning an exercise program or keeping your living space clean.
- Do something nice for another person. Smile at someone who looks sad. Say a few kind words to the checkout cashier. Help your spouse with an unpleasant chore. Take a meal to a friend who is sick. Send a card to an acquaintance. Volunteer for a worthy organization.
- Make it a point to treat your self well every day. Before you go to bed each night, write about how you treated yourself well during the day and how you will treat your self tomorrow.
- Learn how to manage boundaries.
Abusers and exploiters and bullies and especially narcissists are masters at pushing pain buttons, making people feel powerless, and getting people to let down their boundaries and getting them to give up their power to them. In fact, they enjoy doing it. They use charm and love as their camouflage. We become unknowingly complicit in our own abuse and exploitation. We innocently expose ourselves to some of the worst abuse and harm imaginable.
Part of healing for those who were victims and continue to be susceptible to their attacks, then, is learning to maintain and protect your personal boundaries so you are not vulnerable to emotional predators.
Unfortunately, there is no electronic monitor like a home protection system you can purchase to warn you of impending “emotional” predators and attacks. However, you can strengthen your own internal monitors and learn new skills including honing your narcissist radar otherwise known as “NADAR” and honoring and “feeling” for and caring for your own wants and needs with compassion and defending your personal rights and authorities. These include assertively expressing what your rights, authorities, needs, and feelings are and recognizing and regulating your own emotions especially your pain-based ones and learning when they are triggered and who routinely triggers them. Just as important, then, is knowing WHAT makes you happy.
Abuse survivors can also become notorious boundary violators themselves. We in healing must learn not only to manage our boundaries but also to respect other’s as well. People who are heavily dependent on others for self-worth particularly may have a hard time sourcing their own power and learning self-reliance. Codependents have learned to routinely not only let others violate their boundaries but also to violate other’s boundaries to source from them what they need to define their worth.
Learning boundary management by re-learning what personal rights are and where healthy authorities and boundaries start and finish will help you replace maladaptive thoughts, beliefs, and actions with healthy ones and help you make great strides in your healing.
- Learn assertiveness skills including how to say “no.”
Learning assertiveness skills will not only protect your personal rights that support your self-esteem and self-care but will also help you keep your cool and prevent you from being manipulated and abused by those who push your pain and shame buttons. These skills can help immensely in boundary management that support and sustain your emotional health and mutually respectful and loving relationships.
- Learn how to set and achieve goals.
Once you do be sure to develop your personal action and accountability plan, your life’s road map to achieving your goals and getting where you want to go and getting back on course when you “get lost.” Remember that your character, people skills, personal limitations, emotional makeup, and motivation level will impact achievement of goals. Mentors and coaches can help you generate your action plan, monitor your progress, hold you accountable, and develop alternate courses of actions when you hit roadblocks.