For anyone with codependent tendencies, self care is not a concept that comes easy. Used to giving and not receiving, it can be difficult to turn that attention inward when needed. It is generally needed at all times, however in the process of recovery from narcissist abuse, it is essential. In therapy, it is something I try to encourage as much as possible and help clients realise that it is more than just making themselves feel good. Healthy self care is not about escaping and distraction. It is not about impulsive behavior based on self pity. It is about the basics and more. If we look at the basics first:
Stephen R Covey wrote: “Feeling good doesn’t just happen. Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself. It’s all up to you. You can renew yourself through relaxation. Or you can totally burn yourself out by overdoing everything. You can pamper yourself mentally and spiritually. Or you can go through life oblivious to your well-being. You can experience vibrant energy. Or you can procrastinate and miss out on the benefits of good health and exercise. You can revitalize yourself and face a new day in peace and harmony. Or you can wake up in the morning full of apathy because your get-up-and-go has got-up-and-gone. Just remember that every day provides a new opportunity for renewal–a new opportunity to recharge yourself instead of hitting the wall. All it takes is the desire, knowledge, and skill.”
The Physical. The benefit to your body when you eat well, when you exercise, when you get the right amount of time to relax and to sleep! For example: Maintain a good diet, go to the gym, go for a run, walk the dog, work in the garden, sit in the garden when the sun is shining for 10 minutes to top up your vitamin D. Turn off the TV and discover what is outside. This does wonders for self-esteem building and lifting mood. Even on a cold winter day, there are still positives to be had from activity outside rather than inactivity inside. How many of us can truly say we do enough in this area?
Social / Emotional The benefit to you of making social and meaningful connections with other people. For example: Plan a get together with old friends, email/Skype/phone someone you haven’t seen for ages, arrange a family party. It is all too easy to neglect this part of us or to think it is too much trouble. However, as humans, we need and appreciate contact with others and it is vital that we do it. Additionally, are we doing enough for others without expectation of return?
Mental The importance of learning – it might be a new hobby or just building on skills that you already have. For example: Learn a new business skill, go to a night class, read a book that makes you think. Build this activity into your schedule…keep your mind sharp. Vitally important is to plan personal growth into a busy schedule. This can be reading activities or seminars.
Spiritual The importance of being in touch with your inner self. To have that time for stillness – perhaps you find strength running, from exercise or yoga? Perhaps you find strength from religion or meditation. Perhaps just walking to the shops or sitting in the sun is enough to give you the connection with the world around you so that you can set your intention for the day ahead. Looking at the spiritual side of life keeps us grounded, helps us focus and is a key element of relaxation.
All good advice. However, my belief is that self care also entails other important aspects too. This includes among other things:
1. Maintain routine and self discipline. Structure is very important in recovery and having a routine of healthy diet, exercise , sleep and relaxation provides just that. Self discipline is needed to maintain this.
2. Replace and restore. After coming out of the other side of narcissistic abuse, there will be a lot of gaps to fill in. Replace and restore means to find an alternative to practical issues that an ex might have covered and restore means to work on the emotional abuse that was suffered. Here a therapist who understands codependency might be helpful.
3. Facing your fears. As a codependent, being alone can evoke feelings of being abandoned. Fears of failure could result from the fact that the relationship failed along with the guilt and shame that generally accompany this. Work on this, do the work. Fight the irrational thoughts that will drag you back into thinking the way you did before. Get professional help if this becomes difficult
4. Set a plan of action around relationships. Many codependents would rather jump into another relationship straight after one finishes than be alone. Learn from previous experiences, look for red flags, don’t commit too early if a relationship comes along. Vow to work on yourself before looking actively for a new partner.