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As a thinking, feeling human, I’ve made a discovery.
Yes, self-care is important.
However, the self-care it seems we really need isn’t just regular exercise, drinking smoothies, and getting massages.
What I’m talking about is emotional self-care because basically, life is hard.
That’s why I’ve put together the following set of ground rules for better emotional self-care.
1. Honor my feelings.
There’s no getting around it. If I don’t let them cycle through me, I walk around feeling off. When I finally get to have that good cry, it’s a relief. It turns out we are designed to constantly cleanse our psyches by allowing our emotions to move through us. Furthermore, when I delay, ignore, or stuff down my feelings, no one else gets to benefit either. This does not mean dumping those emotions on someone else. (See number two below.)
Our anger and our fear are here to protect us. So I’m learning to let them do their job.
2. Remember it’s all about the past.
We are always processing emotional sludge, most of which we think has nothing to do with us. But actually, all of it has to do with us—and the gigantic filters we have that constantly trigger memories from our past.
When something challenging or joyful happens, old memories automatically pour through our subconscious. They can make us euphoric, just as they can render us mute with anger. So the oversized, white-hot rage I feel when a car cuts me off is a flicker from my past. I can tell when I’m triggered because the event usually does not warrant the huge reaction I have.
Good self-care means gently reminding ourselves when we are triggered, then allowing our feelings to flow when we’re alone, until eventually they resolve.
3. Become humble.
It’s hard to be a humble human, and yet, when I am, I set myself free. Humility means I don’t actually need to be perfect, nor do I need to be right.
In fact, I don’t have to be anything other than just good old me, as I am, right here and right now. Humility also means everyone else gets to be the equally flawed creatures they are, because basically we’re all in this together.
4. Know and express my boundaries.
Seeing boundaries and being clear about them is a lifelong lesson for me. Sometimes, I’m great at it. Other times, not so much. If we didn’t learn to create boundaries as kids, we are often forced to learn as adults.
The key is to honor our emotions and then find the courage to speak up kindly. Requests work well here.
If you feel shy verbalizing your boundaries, keep this in mind: I’ve discovered people appreciate it when I am clear about them. Then they don’t have to awkwardly wonder, guess, and try to accommodate me somehow.
5. Own my stuff…and nothing more.
Good emotional self-care includes only being responsible for “my side of the street.” Those of us who have experienced abuse tend to say we’re sorry a lot. And we take on everyone else’s issues. But I don’t have to apologize for someone who dumps on me for no good reason, and neither do you. That would be their problem to work through, not ours.
6. Remember forgiveness sets me free.
That sticky pile of resentments I carried around most of my life? Turns out they’re a massive energy suck, mainly because they contain a piece of me that’s also waiting to be forgiven.
I’ve discovered that these conflicts are never one-sided. It takes two people to make a snit. But once I forgive myself and the other person, my heart can relax and my soul can breathe freely again.
7. Stay out of harm’s way.
Our emotions are always on, like finely tuned radar reading the people and places all around us, scanning for safety. So it’s worth noticing when I feel uncomfortable or even mildly frightened by someone else or the place I’m in. That’s when I usually leave. Or, if I can’t, I pull down my “invisible shield.” That would be our inner protective armor, which is always at the ready, waiting to help.
And, yeah, I can still love someone, and even respect them, though I may not want to spend much time with them. (I’m thinking of difficult family members here.)
Our guidance system is always on for a reason.
8. Be patient with myself.
Guess what? We are all works in progress until the day we die. But then, isn’t that the point of life? To learn, evolve and grow?
That means I probably won’t get it right the first time, or maybe even the 50th, nor may you. But we might just nail it the 51st time.
In the end, it’s about treating our tender hearts with care. If we really, truly show up for them, they will serve us abundantly in return.