The One Where I Share With You The Insights That I Have Gained Into Why I, as A Survivor of Childhood Abuse (CSA), Resist Taking Care Of Myself.
Why is it that we resist taking care of ourselves, for example:
- Resting when we need to,
- Eating well,
- Asking for help and support,
- And taking the time to do things that we enjoy. That nurture and energise us?
Why is it when we are run down, low, pushed to our limits, over tired and exhausted that we often push harder when what we actually need is to rest? When we are feeling low, sluggish and low in mood, why is it that we turn to sugary foods that after their initial ‘feel good’ hit make us feel worse? When we know all the time in the back of our minds that our bodies are calling out for some fresh food and water to drink! And why do we resist doing those things that make us feel joyful and happy, connected and inspired, at peace, balanced, calm and grounded. All the things that are ‘good’ for us. But instead choose to do things that, in reality, only prolong or keep us stuck in the state we are so desperately wanting to get ourselves out of?
Sometimes, even with all my knowledge and awareness, all my best intentions and will in the world, I just go against everything that I know, to be good for me, when I need to self care. I do the opposite and resist taking care of myself. This is me, when I haven’t slept properly. When I am overwhelmed, mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted from processing and dealing with my everyday life challenges.
Even despite all the tools, knowledge, understanding and awareness that I have learnt, developed and gained over the decades, I still in certain moments choose not to practise what I preach …not to take care of myself. And choose rather instead to resist that which I know is not only good for me, but that which my body and mind is telling me that I so desperately need.
Do you resist, and choose not to, self care at times, too? If so, do you know why?
Is it because of false beliefs and false premises, fear or out dated narratives? Is it out of habit? Self sabotage, societal pressures and influencers? Maybe you don’t know why or even you don’t know how to self care?
This blog is the first part in my self care series entitled Self Care After Abuse. In this series we will explore and understand why we resist self care, how we can overcome that resistance and put a sustainable and achievable daily self care practice in place.
In this first part of the series, I would like to share with you my experiences and some of the observations that I have made, from my continuing process of self awareness and growth, that have led me to a greater understanding as to why I resist self caring at times.
With this sharing, I hope to provide you with some insight and understanding, from my own personal experience, as to how and why we, as survivors of CSA, can choose to resist, and perhaps also be unable to, self care.
It is my hope, with this blog post, and my Self Care After Abuse series, that we will be able to open up a conversation around the subject of self care that will invite us all to consider how we view self care and indeed whether, and how, we can at last give ourselves the permission we need to take care of ourselves.
Before we begin I would like to make sure that we are on the same page in our understanding of what self care is.
What Self Care Means To Me.
To me, self caring means checking in with, and tuning into, all the different parts and aspects of myself. Listening to my mental self, emotional self, physical self and spiritual self. My inner child and adult self. To hear how each part of me is feeling and what each part is needing in any given moment in time. Self caring is more than just listening though, it is meeting those needs too. Taking the necessary time and measures to ensure that all the parts of me are being witnessed, held, heard, nurtured and cared for.
For so many years I have wondered about why, at times, I have been so unable, unwilling and resistant, to self care. In and around some of my most desperate moments and times of need, such as in moments of deep depression, anxiety, stress, overwhelm and disconnection, I have never been able to understand how and why I would resist using what I knew, to help me to take care of myself.
I would go on training courses, read books, and attend workshops and learn some amazing new tools. I’d come home full of hope, inspiration and enthusiasm about the new ways I had learnt to care and support myself on my healing journey. Only then to resist using them when I needed them the most.
It wasn’t until recently that I took the time to reflect on my resistances and below are the insights I have gained.
Before I share, a quick note on semantics:
When I started this blog I entitled it ‘Why we resist self care’. As I went through writing the blog, however, I realised that it isn’t just always a case of us resisting self care. Sometimes our acts of ‘non self caring’ can be to do with more than just our resistances. Sometimes it can be to do with not knowing how to self care or, indeed, not being able to take care of ourselves. So when I talk about ‘resistance’ in this blog, I use the word as an umbrella terminology to encompass all the challenges that we face as survivors of abuse that mean we resist, don’t want to, can’t and even, are not able to self care.
Why I Resist Self Caring.
Reflecting on the past 20 years plus of my healing journey, I realise now that I resisted, and still can resist to this day, self caring because of the following reasons:
The Beliefs and Narrative That I Told Myself Around Self Caring.
As I began to reflect on the beliefs and constructs that I was telling myself around self care, I was so surprised at the narrative that I was telling myself, often subconsciously. From messages and imprinting received from caregivers as a child, from my experiences of abuse and societal imprinting, I have gathered quite a plethora of false premises around self care.
As you will see from my list of beliefs below it can be very easy to be driven by our thoughts, to the extent that those thoughts not only become the norm and lens through which we choose to live our life, but also the viewpoint through which we so easily and ‘naturally’ can deny and resist our need to self care. This can often be done out of fear and desperate need to fit in, belong, be loved and protected.
Here are some of my beliefs around self care. (I can’t believe how many of them there are!):
- I need to put others first in order to be accepted and loved.
- The only way I can ever be loved is to take care of others and to not help myself.
- I have no right to take care of myself.
- Self caring means that I am selfish, weak and self indulgent.
- I can’t be seen to be happy. [I will feel] Guilt and shame for being happy…when others are suffering and struggling…but it’s ok for me to suffer and struggle.
- I feel guilty and even shameful for doing something for me and for putting myself ahead of others.
- I need to struggle. That’s what life is… a struggle! Life is hard and it can’t be anything else.
- I need to stay stuck and continue to struggle so that I can get attention, love and acceptance from others.
- I need to play the role of victim, martyr, and ‘poor me’ in order to get love and attention from others.
- I am not worthy of feeling good, being happy, feeling joyful or being taken care of.
- I am bad, and don’t deserve anything good.
- It is not safe for me to self care or put myself first. I will be rejected, abandoned and no longer loved if I change who people expect me to be by self caring. Or, if I ask for help.
- If I am happy, coping and managing, I won’t be loved anymore.
- I can’t be seen to be happy, coping or managing because then I will lose my power and control over people. My power to manipulate others into loving me, caring for me and doing things for me.
- I need to stay weak and helpless to be loved and cared for. If I stay like this I can get attention.
- I need to stay small, stuck and struggling…in a ‘poor me’ state so that others will ‘do it’ for me. That way I can avoid all responsibility for my feelings, my life experiences and for myself.
- It is not safe for me to self care. I cannot self care because if I face my pain, my past and how I am really feeling inside, through self caring, then it will overwhelm me and engulf me and I will not survive it.
- I cannot self care because I am afraid of the truth, of change and of what’s inside of me.
- I want all the attention to be on me. I am not going to self care because the only way I can get attention is if something is wrong with me or if I am seen to be weak and helpless.
- I need to be seen to be pushing, driving and working hard in order to be accepted and to be seen as successful and lovable.
- I can’t self care. I’ve got to get things done to prove my worth and my value…to be loved so that I am not rejected, unloved and abandoned.
- I need to be seen as always doing something of worth and value. Taking care of myself is not of any value.
It’s incredible just how many beliefs I have around self care. It’s shocking in fact. All this has come, over the years, from my experiences and interactions, from society, from imprinting from caregivers and from my abuse!
No wonder I have been so resistant to self care!
The positive out of all this is that beliefs are just thoughts that we have told ourselves over and over again. To the point that they are what we have come to expect and believe as true. Beliefs are thoughts and thoughts CAN be changed! I’ll talk more about this another time when I talk about how we can overcome our resistances to self care.
So, you’d think that my list of beliefs alone would be more than enough to hold in place the weight of my resistance to self care. But, there is more!……
I have also resisted self caring because of…
It being, at times, just all too much.
Sometimes I have just been too exhausted and overwhelmed to help myself. For the best part of the last two and half decades, until recent time, I, like so many survivors of CSA, have had to travel alone on my healing journey. Yes I’ve had counsellors, for 50 minutes a week. But during those remaining 10030 minutes of each week, I have had to carry myself alone. Sometimes I have barely had the strength to get myself up, out of bed and dressed. And so in those moments I have not had the strength to overcome or work through that which I have been faced with, and have had no choice but to resist and let go…and just do whatever I could do to get through the day…even if it meant making choices that were not perhaps the most self caring at the time.
And that is ok!
Sometimes what may seem like doing absolutely nothing, or making choices to do something that we may otherwise consider to be ‘non self caring’, can in fact be in itself a form of self care. So many years later, with the emotional strength and resilience that I have developed I can see just how challenging, demanding, exhausting and all consuming the healing process from CSA and trauma can be. Sometimes we just have to do the best we can and not be hard on ourselves for it!
Being Stuck in a rut
Also at times, I have found myself so stuck in a rut. And by that I mean. I have become so engulfed and lost in my processing, in my trauma, in flashbacks, memories, emotions and my wounded child state that I have not been able to grasp hold of my adult sense of self or inner parent to find a way to help and care for myself. In that state of regressed pain and trauma I have only ever been able to hear the voices of my wounded child. Her pain, terror, fears and beliefs that, as you have seen above, have driven her (me) to do whatever it takes, in the name of protecting herself, to resist self care and in turn avoid having to feel the pain and torment of the past.
Being stuck in depression
In my mid 20’s to 30’s, I spent the good part of a decade of my life stuck in depression. I never realised it at the time. It’s only now through increased understanding and awareness of myself, through all the healing practices that I have used in the years following what I call my ‘dark decade’ that I realise and recognise how, the life that I thought was normal, was in fact far from normal as I experienced life under the dark shadow of depression. Whilst I will talk more about depression in future posts, I wanted to mention this in relation to self care.
Apathy, exhaustion, mental and emotional confusion, lack of interest in self and life, suicidal thoughts, social withdrawal, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and despair were all states of being in which I found myself stuck as I lived with depression. States of being from which I was unable to see past, in order to be able to self care. When I was thinking about how to end my life, feeling that there was no point in going on, there was no way that I was able to see past those feelings of despair to be able to even consider self care. This was a big part of what kept me from taking care of myself for so long.
Getting into Bad habits and Using Avoidance Strategies
Another way that I found myself resisting self care, was to take refuge in the comfort of bad habits. You probably know what that’s like. You just fall into them. They make you feel good or at least better in some way and that’s it…that’s the path you find yourself going down. Their attraction and ease at which they managed to soothe and distract me from my pain drew me in, like a mild addiction. Past the refuge and distraction that they offered, I was unable to see anything else that could or would help me or make me feel any better.
I feel grateful that, somehow, I found great strength, resilience and courage within myself over the earlier years of my healing journey, to look for alternate ways (bad habits and avoidance strategies) to cope with and manage my pain, that had minimal impact on my health and wellbeing, in terms of being low level self harming strategies. I didn’t turn to work, food, drugs, gambling, alcohol, tobacco etc. to avoid having to feel my pain.
For me my bad habits formed around social withdrawal and for such a long time, wasting days on end… for weeks, months and years, eating junk and ‘box set binging’ or just watching whatever reality TV stuff I could find on ITV or BBC iplayer.
Watching ‘the reality’ of other people’s lives made me ‘feel better’ in some kind of way. It took me away from the reality of my life and away from my pain and torment. Away from it all so that I didn’t have to face it, feel it or deal with it.
Playing the role of the Martyr
This is a card that I played many times as a way of getting the love and attention that I needed as a child. It seemed to me, growing up, that the only way that my parents would ever notice me in any way, would be when I was struggling in some way. So I soon adopted the role of the weak and helpless one. The ‘poor me’, victim state. The one who was always suffering in order to be noticed and loved.
Then, through lack of awareness I carried this through into adulthood. Always needing to be seen as suffering in some way or another to get sympathy and in turn the love and attention that I, like so many of us who have experienced CSA, so desperately needed and craved for.
Playing the victim, the martyr or the ‘poor me’ card, kept me in a vibration and subconscious state of struggle and self limitation. And as my list of beliefs around why I shouldn’t self care illustrated above there was no way that I was going to hand over this Ace in my card deck as it would, in my state of false belief, mean that I would no longer be lovable or loved, if I were to choose to swap my role of playing the martyr for a more self empowered version of myself who self cared. For most of my life, subconsciously playing the martyr would always win in my eyes as the strategy that I would play over self care otherwise, as I believed for so long, I would never be loved.
Self care is a lot more accepted and spoken about today than it was, say, 20 years ago when I was, as a young adult, starting out on my healing journey. Seen more as a selfish act of self indulgence and weakness, it was something that was certainly not the ‘done thing’. Very ‘uncool’. The decade that was the 80’s, in which I grew up in, was all about driving and striving to achieve and become successful. To make money and obtain material wealth and happiness. It certainly wasn’t about taking time out to put health and wellbeing more at the forefront of our lives. So for me I really felt that weight, of societal pressure and pressure from my family, to succeed. This, coupled with my deep seated lack of self esteem, worth and value drove me in the opposite direction, away from the self care which I so desperately needed.
Subconscious behavioral patterns that I was playing out in my daily life and interactions, for example:
- Feeling hopeless, believing that there is no point and that things will never change.
- Feeling self pity and in a constant mind set of struggle.
- Feeling helpless and like a victim, believing that I needed others to take care of me because I was unable to do it for myself.
I’m sure too on some level that I also resisted self care out of self sabotaging, self destructive and self punitive patterns of behaviour. I, like so many survivors of CSA, turned anger, rage and blame relating to my abuse, inwards on myself rather than outwards in the direction towards those who abused me. This coupled with my feelings of lack of self worth, low self esteem, self- loathing, hate and shame for sure would also have led to a subconscious punishing of myself through self destructive tendencies that were greatly lacking in self care.
Self harming can be a very common practise in survivors of CSA. For a long time, I used to think that self harming was just about someone cutting themselves as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations, experiences and trauma, such as CSA. I never did that so never thought of myself as someone who self harmed. But I know now, that I was for a very long time in denial, maybe out of shame or lack of understanding or awareness, about my own practise of self harming.
Undereating, biting myself, picking and scratching at my skin, stabbing my gums with a sharp object, hitting myself or walls, getting into mental and emotional fights, conflicts or confrontations or other people’s business where I knew that I would get hurt, were all ways that I would self harm.
Despite being a million miles away from self love and self care practices, I would choose self harming over self care, and the pain that it caused, in any way I could to avoid having to feel the pain and torment of my abuse…and quite possibly as mentioned above as a way to also self punish myself.
I will talk more about self harming in a future blog.
Sometimes we don’t so much resist self care but more don’t do it because of:
Lack of knowledge, awareness, education and understanding about self care
Self Care….What’s that??? ….. I was never taught how to self care as a child. I grew up in a family that had no concept of boundaries or self care. Self care was never spoken about or practised in my family circle. If anything it was regarded as selfish. Putting yourself first, expressing and wanting to meet your own needs was surely swiftly followed by a disapproving dose of guilt and shaming. I grew up believing that I had no right to take care of myself or have my needs met or taken care of. And instead grew up believing that all responsibility was on me to take care of others.
I never grew up seeing those around me taking care of themselves, or me in the way that I really needed. I just grew up knowing that I was responsible for taking care of them. So self care wasn’t ever something that I grew up knowing about.
So it’s no surprise that as a young adult I never properly took care of myself. It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I started to learn Yoga that I started to learn about self care and its importance.
Simply not knowing any other way of being…
…other than trapped in the cycle of abuse. For so long all I ever knew was my life of abuse. I knew nothing outside of that. I knew nothing different and thought that abuse was all that there was in life for me. I knew no way out. Trapped in that space, self care would have seemed like something alien to me or even like a foreign language that I had no way of interpreting. It was something that I was not able to see or understand through the lens or viewpoint of abuse which shaped and directed my life. Even if I had known, on some level, about self care I would, for sure, have felt too vulnerable and scared to even dare step out of the manipulation and control which I was experiencing in order to do something different that would have helped me to take care of myself. So self care was something that I never practised.
The Messages that we Received From Being Sexually Abused
As a result of my abuse, I grew up believing, amongst many other false premises, that:
I have no right to have my needs met.
I need to always put others first.
I am selfish to even think about myself.
I have no right to boundaries.
I have to push myself and work hard to achieve and to prove my worth and self value and therefore don’t have time to self care.
I am unworthy, I am bad, I am undeserving and rotten to the core and therefore deserve nothing.
These messages that I received as a result of the acts of abuse that I endured as a child for sure distorted my perceptions and beliefs relating to my sense of self, and worthiness of self care. This distorted sense of self worth, self value and what I believed I deserved in life and how I deserved to be treated certainly shaped my inability, resistances and unwillingness to self care. In the eyes of my abused child self, “I simply didn’t deserve it [to be taken care of]”!
Old habits dying hard
Still today, with all my tools and awareness I have to keep bringing myself back when I fall back into old habits and self harming ways of being. Sometimes when I am overwhelmed, tired, triggered or heavily processing my trauma, I automatically just get drawn back into the old familiar and comfortable ways and habits that for decades led me to resist self care. I do this not because I want to self harm and hurt myself…but because it’s such an ingrained and subconsciously automatic response, reaction and pattern of behaviour which I practised for decades as a means of self protection and ‘self care’ in its own way.
Fortunately, I find that the falling back into old ways happens less and less now. The more I practise self care and the more I notice how good it makes me feel. The more that new ‘feel good’ feeling motivates me to learn more, to practise and self care more to the extent now that, more often than not, it becomes self care that is my new norm, habit and natural way of being.
WOW!…Just scrolling back up my computer screen I can’t believe how much I have written on this subject and how many different factors have affected my ability to self care over the years. I can understand, with a greater sense of compassion now, how at times I was simply unable to self care.
Does any of this resonate with you? Do you have a similar experience? Similar feelings, thoughts, blocks or resistances to self care?
Driven largely through the viewpoint of my wounded inner child I was held in a state of resistance and inability to self care, for so long. Reading the above you may resonate with my reasons why. But my list of reasons and experiences are just that, my experiences. Whilst you may resonate with some, none or all of them they are just some of the many reasons why we, as survivors of CSA, resist self care. Whether it be out of fear, control, lack of awareness or something other that holds our outdated beliefs and patterns of behaviour in place, the impact of these factors on our ability to self care can be huge and detrimental to our health, healing and wellbeing.
The blocks and barriers, not only to self caring but self healing, can only be broken down when we start to shine the light of our awareness and consciousness onto the subconscious patterns and programming that defined our resistances to taking care of ourselves, in the first place.
Over the coming months, starting next month I will follow on from this blog by inviting you, through a series of exploratory questions to ‘Explore and Understand Your Resistances and Blocks To Self Care’. I will then go on to discuss ‘How to Overcome Resistance to Self Care’. And then I will talk about ‘Ways to Self Care’ and ‘How to Set up a Daily Self Care Routine’. I will then conclude this series with the launch of my 28 Day Self Care Challenge.
Learning to self care has been one of the more challenging aspects of my healing journey. As I have had to meet, face, hear and challenge so many beliefs, fears, behavioural patterns and programmes and avoidance and self protection mechanisms, in order to learn how to self care.
At the same time too though, learning to self care has been one of the most important, transformative, catalytic and crucial components of my healing process. That has enabled me to find inner peace, wisdom, truth, understanding, clarity, hope, and self:- awareness, compassion, forgiveness and love. Without it I would probably only be half the person that I am today… if that!
I look forward to sharing our journey into self care together over the coming months and I hope, as always, that my sharing has inspired you in some way.
Comment Below: As always I’d love to hear from you and would love for you to get in touch and share your thoughts about your resistances and blocks to self caring on your healing journey.
My love is with you, as always.
Until next time, take care