One of the most fundamental shifts in healing from toxic relationships, codependency, issues of self-esteem, addictions, eating disorders, stress, burnout as well as more generally, supporting positive mental and emotional wellbeing, really comes down to good, gentle, kind and compassionate self care.
I believe that healthy, loving relationships begin with the one you have with yourself. As I explain in the book Never Again - moving on from narcissistic abuse and other toxic relationships, having a supportive, cheerleader, best friend-type relationship within yourself first and foremost is fundamental to self-care and essential for positive self-esteem. It is also a protective factor to unhealthy destructive relationships. If you learn to truly have your own best interests at heart and want the best for you, and believe that you deserve it - just like you would a best friend or loved one - then you are much more likely to make healthy, wise decisions for yourself. You are much more likely to have a clearer sense of who you are, what you like, what you don’t like, what you are willing to accept and not (a.k.a. healthy boundaries).
Developing a supportive, loving relationship within yourself is key to self-care. A daily practice I recommend is asking yourself;
“How am I today?”
“How am I feeling right now?”
“What do I need, that I can give myself, that is a loving thing for me?”
(page 119, Never Again…)
How often do you check-in with yourself in this way?
A key question to consider when wanting to make a healthy decision for yourself is: “What would I do if I really loved myself?”
Even if you struggle to grasp sometimes what it means to truly love yourself or to self-care, this question invites a curiosity about what you imagine you might do, if it was really true… if you really did love yourself.
The answers to this can help you, in time and with practice, to tune into recognising your own feelings. Identifying and acknowledging feelings are important to our emotional wellbeing - our feelings are a communication. This also allows you to give them the space they may need. This practice helps you to identify your own needs. We must first of all recognise how we are feeling in order to then have a sense of what we might need at any time, or how we might best attend to our feelings.
There is also then an invitation to develop healthy ways self-care. “What would I do if I really loved myself…” encourages healthier choices and can include things like; eating well, seeing friends, exercising, doing things you enjoy, relaxing and resting. It may also help indicate ending destructive relationships, better work decisions, lifestyle choices and so on. "If I really loved myself, would I get back with them again..?" "If I really loved myself, would I be doing this..?"
For many of us, the idea of self-care, considering our own needs or wants, or loving ourselves is an alien concept. Often, we inherit messages about this that may suggest thinking about our own needs is somehow selfish or inconsiderate. Perhaps we have learnt that we need to negate our own feelings in order to take care of somebody (or even EVERYBODY) elses (a very tall task!!). But please note, with these old inherited ideas comes an utter lack of healthy boundaries. Taking care of other peoples needs on their behalf is an over-responsibility and also interferes with the other persons ability to take care of themselves or their stuff. Crucially, it can get in the way of the other person ever learning or developing that responsibility. Constantly taking care of others, at the neglect of our own self-care, is how we encourage codependence rather than a much healthy interdependence.
Healthy relationships rely on healthy boundaries and with that comes taking care of yourself and your own side of the street. On a falling plane, you absolutely must attend to your own oxygen mask before you can attend to anyone else’s. Taking care of yourself and your needs is absolutely good self-care and with it comes many, many benefits - both for yourself, your mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as in your relationships. Healthy relationships begin with the one you have with yourself.
When making a decision, however big or small, try asking yourself: What would I do if I really loved myself?
What choices might you make then…?