Sharing my Personal Practice & Journey of Self-care
In the initial stages of recovery from narcissistic abuse I remember a question I posed to myself was….
How do I get back to functioning and living in everyday life now I am physically free from abuse and my abuser?
This may seem simple and even counterintuitive to anyone who has not experienced long term relationship trauma. However for abuse victims, we often struggle for months, years even a lifetime trying to gain some form of normality and traction in our healing after exiting from a family or a relationship where our most basic needs were overlooked, denied or ignored.
Many of us come away stuck in a state of survival with acute symptoms of complex trauma in the aftermath, and though we are experiencing these symptoms life does not stop. We have bills to pay, and children to feed and so we must find ways we are able to support ourselves in showing up to function in life, in our jobs and in our roles as parents and as caregivers.
I understand firsthand how trauma symptoms can interrupt our most basic daily tasks and that is why I initially created a list of reminders for myself. These simple yet effective tools continue to assist me to not only cope, but with the fine art of balancing life through all its ups and downs. Giving me practical everyday tools to deal with the inevitable emotions and feelings that may arise, while keeping me feeling safe grounded focused and supported. Assisting me as I navigate my way through healing, helping myself to cultivate a calmer happier mental state of being moment to moment and day by day.
These tips are a guide only to get you started, please feel free to adjust them to your specific and or personal needs or requirements. The aim is to bring simplicity and ease into your everyday, through listening to the cues of your body. When we learn to listen to how we are feeling in any given moment we are learning to honour ourselves through gentle focused attention. With this attention and through the completion of what may seem like menial tasks we are in fact taking actionable steps of self-kindness.
Take Time to Tend to Your Basic Needs
Some of the most important steps of self-care are the simplest of all. It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness of life that we can forget to take care of our most basic needs. This first step has become a foundation of what my day is built on and will set you up for the day.
Eat a healthy breakfast, see to it you eat something, preferably something of sustainable sustenance to get you through the first part of your day. When we come away from living in a toxic relationship our nervous system is on high alert. While our nervous system remains like this it continues to flood toxic chemicals back into our bloodstream. These chemicals can then contribute to illness and disease in the body. One of the ways we can start to reverse these affects is through our food. I will be expanding on this is weeks to come but for now let’s start with eating a nutritious breakfast and try reading up on healthy ways to reduce stress on the body through your food. There are so many things we can do.
While eating a healthy breakfast should be at the top of our list, being ‘hangry’ can also distract us from staying focused and on task, wasting time and making our day less productive. Something simple but effective that has helped me to have less distractions, is having a snack along with a bottle of water close by at all times. This will help to keep your blood sugar levels up, while also aiding to keep yourself hydrated.
Staying hydrated is essential for the body and is imperative for us to heal. Dehydration can have major impacts on the body, for one it can cause our brain to shrink, literally making it harder for us to think and to recall information. When we are managing complex trauma there are already significant stresses placed on the body, so by including these things in your day, you are already alleviating some of the ‘controllable’ stresses, while also seeing to some of your most basic needs.
Check In With Yourself
It is important to check in with ourselves throughout the day. Take the time to check in with how you are feeling physically emotionally, and mentally, repeat this process throughout the day. As we continue to check in we show up for ourselves in a new way. Repeating this begins to build a stronger connection and relationship with ourselves based on self-care and trust.
Self trust is almost non-existent after experiencing narcissistic abuse, so it is imperative for us to take the time to be with ourselves and to cultivate genuine feelings of self trust. This will also allow us to make better and more informed choices, in our own best interest.
Here are some suggested questions you may like to incorporate into your day to begin this process
How do I feel? Do I feel safe? How does my physical body feel? Am I holding tension anywhere in my body? Do I feel hot or cold? Notice if you are holding your breath or if your breathing is relaxed or shallow. What is my state of mind right now? Am I feeling open and optimistic or am I feeling nervous or withdrawn? Am I focused and attentive or am I distracted or scattered?
When we start practicing to check in with ourselves, it can feel very strange or maybe even overwhelming at first, especially in the beginning stages of recovery. What I have found to be useful in helping me with this process of ‘checking in’ is to include some form of meditation and journaling into my day to complement this process.
Meditation helps to quiet our mind giving us some much needed relief from the turbulent emotions we may be experiencing, even if they are only brief moments of peace. You don’t need to make this a long process just a few minutes once or twice a day is all we need to begin to calm the mind and to give our brain a rest from thought.
Meditation helps us to be more aware of our mental, physical and emotional states, bringing more awareness into everything we do. A higher level of personal awareness or consciousness sets us up to be better human beings and better parents. Meditation continues to be a key part of calming my nervous system and assisting my body to heal itself. There are many benefits of meditation, I hope these few inspire you to try it for yourself.
Get in Touch With How You feel
One tool that can help us get back in touch with our body is any form of grounding exercise. Grounding like meditation gets us out of our head giving us a break from the circular thoughts we so often experience and can get stuck in. Getting grounded puts us back in our physical body and is a great way to minimise any stress response symptoms we may be experiencing.
Getting in touch with how our body feels is an essential step in healing work. I am sure most of you are aware survivors can be prone to getting lost in dissociative states, these dissociative states or sometimes episodes can completely disconnect us from our body. When we are disconnected from our body we are unable to monitor our environment or emotions to keep ourselves safe. Feeling safe is the first step towards making tangible progress in our healing.
With the help of grounding the practice of feeling into our body and listening to our emotions then becomes easier. The skill of tuning into our emotions can assist us in making micro decisions towards safety, allowing us to then make necessary adjustments throughout our day to our environment, which enables us to meet our need to feel safe right there in that moment.
Learning who and what was safe was a crucial part of my healing. When we have unresolved childhood attachment trauma it can be especially difficult to know who is safe and who is not. Early childhood trauma bonds related to fear can cloud our judgement, often resulting in choosing unsafe partners.
What I found especially helpful through this process was to start to really listen to my body’s responses, tuning into who or what exasperated the stress response or feelings of fight flight freeze or fawn and then to do the same with who what where allowed me to feel safe. I found this to be especially helpful with weeding people out of my life, and also to show me where I had gaps in my boundaries.
Suggested Grounding Exercise
Do a full body scan, you can do this simply by focusing all your attention towards your body. Close your eyes if you can, taking a few deep breaths and starting at your toes, slowly moving your focus up through your whole body. Once you have completed your body scan, ask yourself if you noticed any emotions feelings or sensations come up in your body?
For some of you this exercise may feel foreign or even silly to do at first, however I would encourage you to continue to try this exercise or to find new and different ways to connect yourself to your body. Some other great ways to do this is through exercise, gentle stretching or breath work. Anyone of these can be incorporated into your day or morning routine and doesn’t need to take longer than ten minutes.
It takes time to build these new habits, and new ways of living, and as you rebuild your life it may take a lot of effort in the beginning. However if you stick with it, these new practices will become second nature and with practice and repetition we begin to understand ourselves more and more. Gradually as we tune into the queues of our body, these emotional and physical indicators help us as we learn new ways to support ourselves each and everyday.
When we continue to get in touch with how we feel at any given moment this then acts as a very important tool, helping us to form and enforce healthy boundaries. Having healthy boundaries allows us to feel safe as we reestablish our sense of self after narcissistic abuse. Forming strong healthy boundaries is another way we can continue to support ourselves in keeping safe in our body, our mind, our emotions and in our environment.
Through practice and repetition of these behaviours we are better able to take care of some of our most basic needs and through doing so, it will allow us make better judgements regarding our safety and wellbeing. Feeling safe is built on micro steps of self-care and through nurturing of self trust. I believe each one of us has the capacity to take care of these needs for ourselves. We owe it to no one but ourselves to put in the effort. If you need some more support around any of what I have covered here today please reach out here on WordPress, Twitter or alternatively you can connect with me on Facebook.
Thank you all for the hard work you are doing, I see you, I appreciate you. With love and support. Evelyn xx
All words written by ~ Evelyn Wayde