Over the years, I have seen many people come in for therapy to work on feeling happier. They are sad, struggling in relationships, recovering from divorce or struggling with parenting. Yet, in their struggles they have forgotten about themselves. Their focus has been outward on relationships and pressures, but stopping, turning attention inward, and nurturing themselves has been overlooked. Without properly nurturing ourselves, we run out of fuel faster, leaving us with nothing to give. We also may run into difficulty genuinely feeling good about others if we have forgotten how to feel good about ourselves, or have allotted no time for ourselves, hence causing friction in our relationships.
Take for example, the case of Julia, a thirty-something mother who works part-time and has two young children. Her states that her marriage is good, although both she and her husband seem to always be busy or exhausted and in recent years have had very little time to devote to their relationship. Julia is feeling sad and lonely, in spite of the constant time spent with her children or work. She also is feeling anxious, worrying excessively about her health or her children’s health. After spending some time hearing about her frustrations, I ask her how she spends her “alone time” and how she feels about that time, and about herself. Not surprisingly, Julia really has to think about it. She has no “alone time” and really has taken little to no time to consider how she feels about who she was before her life became so busy, who she has become, or who she wants to be. She has lost touch with herself and her feelings of individuality. In doing so, she has also lost some enjoyment of the simple pleasures that life offers.
At our very core is the need to love ourselves and enjoy our journey. Enjoyment doesn’t always mean “fun,” but often means simply finding time for peace and contentment. It can be as simple as a sense of satisfaction for a job well done or taking pleasure in a beautiful sunny day. Without this, our mood can become dark or overwhelmed, triggering anxiety or depression. If any of these feelings ring true for you, here are some ways you can break the cycle of self-neglect:
- Take action right away when you become aware of having overlooked yourself. It is much easier to get back to feeling good if you make some changes early on, rather than letting the bad feelings affect relationships.
- Make it a habit to spend at least 20 minutes alone each day doing something you enjoy. It could be exercising, soaking in a hot bath, reading a book, or working on a craft. As long as you enjoy it, and do not feel demands from others when doing it, then it can be extremely helpful in allowing you to regroup and center yourself.
- Try not to judge yourself. This is a hard one, as judging comes so naturally for most of us, particularly in this competitive society. Nevertheless, particularly during your alone time, allow your thoughts and feelings to flow without judgment of whether they are good are bad, productive or unproductive. Thoughts and feelings just happen, and, at times, it is good to let them float in and out of your soul just like the clouds passing through the sky.
- Try to be your own best parent. How would you compliment your child for a job well done? Try to do the same for yourself. The same thing holds true for consoling. If you have had a bad day, comfort yourself with kind words or by wrapping yourself in a warm blanket and relaxing. It is healthy to nurture ourselves and love ourselves just as we would our child.
- Be open to accepting that you are human and will make mistakes. By accepting your shortcomings, making amends, and moving on, you are carrying less weight and are more apt to forgive others. This goes a long way towards contributing to happiness.
Remember that finding joy in life is often about taking pleasure in the small things and about loving yourself. Setting aside time to be still and listen to the voice inside is a habit worth nurturing, and is one that can lead to satisfaction and peace both within yourself and in your relationships.
Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC http://www.thcounseling.com