Self Nurturing - If it's so good for us, why don't we do it?
As a person with a history of eating disorders, I can answer that in just a few words: we don’t believe we’re worth it.
There are layers and layers of interwoven cultural conditioning, distorted thinking and destructive beliefs that get in the way of us delivering our own high quality self-care.
After working with people with eating issues for the last twelve years, I can say with certainty that almost every person I have worked with has major issues with self-nurturing. As a collective group, we are notoriously bad at taking care of ourselves.
Our fears (False Expectations Appearing Real) and resistance are in charge here and I regularly hear little variation on these themes:
I don’t have time for that
I must take care of others before myself
You have to be smart/thin/attractive/rich/evolved to do things like that
What a ridiculous waste of time, I must get this done instead
I can’t because I don’t have anything to wear, none of my clothes fit
I’m too busy/tired/stressed/overwhelmed to even think about that
I’d feel guilty if I did that, what will people think?
If you honestly believe these statements are true and that you don’t really have a say in the matter, consider this: if you carry on the way you are going – with low or no quality self-nurturing - you will get sick. Sooner or later you will crash and burn in some form. You may have a minor accident that requires weeks of rehabilitation or maybe you’ll get a persistent virus that you are unable to shake off.
Now, when you are in this space of being sick and needing others to take care of you, is it selfish to self-nurture?
So, where do these statements come from? You may notice in your own inner dialogue a lot of shoulds, musts or ought to’s. This is a case of “musterbation” and we need to stop “shoulding” all over ourselves. The effect this has on us is that we are burdening ourselves with an enormous pressure caused from our unrealistic expectations.
Then when we fail to live up to these expectations, the fall-out pounds our self-esteem further into the ground with follow up thoughts like:
I failed. I’m hopeless. Today was a disaster. I knew I couldn’t do it… which leads to a more deeply entrenched belief that we’re just not worth it and we should give up. Not worth the effort, not worth the time. I don’t deserve to do anything pleasurable. Not me. Not today.
These beliefs and many others like them are the very same ones that prevent us from meeting our own emotional needs too. We feel powerless to change our lives, so we will either stuff ourselves or starve ourselves of food. We’re attempting to fill the emptiness and make the pain to go away. There’s nothing wrong with that desire, in itself.
Our beliefs are so strong because we replay them in our heads 24 hours a day. This is not a planned act of sado-masochism, it’s our conditioned response; a bad habit, an ineffective coping mechanism that worked for us early on, that now only serves to keep us feeling disempowered and disconnected - firstly from ourselves, then naturally as the flow goes outwards, from others.
Most of us are very comfortable taking a trip on ‘the dark side’ of our heads, we basically live there. It takes a big breath of courage to visit the light side because in order to do that, we first need to make a decision that we want a better life.
Keep looking ahead to cultivate and grow your vision of your Ideal Self. How would you like to be treating yourself? How would you like your relationship with food and your body to be? How would you like your future to look?
Whichever side we ‘feed’ gets bigger. We can choose to feed the dark side or we can choose to feed the light side. If we work on developing an awareness that in the moment, we do have a choice, then one day soon we will become aware that we can live our lives by design, rather than by default.
It’s a case of noticing our resistance and walking with it, which is in the same vein as “feel the fear and do it anyway”.
If we don’t go out of our way to create healthy, appropriate, feel-good rituals when we are in a neutral state of mind, we will naturally, in times of high stress and anxiety, revert back to our default reaction, which just happens to be those unhealthy, inappropriate and punishing rituals designed to hurt us.
And don’t they work well? We pretty much guarantee there will be no growth in our lives because we make sure there is no risk either. This is our convoluted version of ‘safety’.
Moving forward, for a classic analogy of this self-nurturing process, think of the heart – a symbol of love and nurturing – the heart muscle always pumps a tiny bit of blood to itself first before it pumps blood to the rest of the body.
As one of my clients, a therapist herself, described her self-esteem transformation: “Oh I get it, before I was addicted to punishing and depriving myself, now I’m getting addicted to self-nurturing!”
When your fear-based voice of self-contempt is in full swing, instead of running to the bathroom to weigh yourself on the scales - hopefully you’ve already taken a hammer and smashed them or given them to someone you don’t like - you could begin your self-nurturing cycle by meeting your eyes only in the mirror and making a self-compassionate statement:
“Just for today, I’m going to treat myself like I’m worth something”.
Then tomorrow, repeat the process and renew your commitment to yourself.
© Copyright 2016 Karla Cameron