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It’s fascinating how our minds work. First of all, half the time we don’t even realize what we’re saying to ourselves; the thoughts just slip by us. Second, when we use harsh words and are hard on ourselves, we generally don’t get the results we want. In fact, often, with eating and other activities, we get the exact opposite of what we intend.
For example, I was talking with a client recently about self-care. For months, she’d been telling herself she had to do things like take care of her skin, wash her hair more often, get enough rest, and eat right. Every teletherapy session involved her berating herself for not doing these tasks and failing in her quest to improve her self-care. Might I add that she tends to her husband and children superbly. No need to push herself there because she automatically attends to their needs.
As time went on, however, no matter how she bullied herself into taking better care of herself, it didn’t happen. Her skin remained uncared for, her hair remained mostly unwashed, her sleep remained insufficient, and her eating continued to be unhealthy. Finally I told her to stop pushing herself and give herself permission not to do these things. I suggested she give herself permission to eat unhealthy foods, not get enough sleep, and forget about her skin care regime and washing her hair. I reminded her how busy she was and that this evidently was not the time for focusing on herself.
We talked several weeks later and, lo and behold, she reported that she was actually doing better in the skin/hair/sleep/eating department, that suddenly she was doing more for herself on a regular basis. When we examined what might have caused the shift, she realized that she’d been rebelling against all the pressure she’d put on herself. Given permission, what felt like a barrage of self-care directives she “should do” and “must do” eased off and she got in touch with the part of herself that really, really, really did want to do these things.
If you are in this same boat—brow-beating yourself to do self-care activities but consistently not doing them—stop and change your stance. Quit pushing and give yourself permission to slough off. It’s a scary step to take, to be sure, but the fact is that riding yourself hasn’t produced the behaviors you want, so how much worse can things get. When I’ve tried this approach in the past with clients, it usually worked. The key is to take yourself off the “responsibility” hook and give yourself total permission to ease up so that your healthier feelings about self-care can surface and do their job.
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