On Valentine’s Day we devote ourselves to those we love most — our husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and yes, parents and children. But what about the one we neglect the most, berate the most and shame the most: ourselves. Surely, a little of that love should trickle down to us, too.
In The Screwtape Letters, the great C. S. Lewis wrote, “When they [humans] have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours.”
I suspect the majority of children from narcissistic and otherwise dysfunctional homes have perfected the art of loving and caring for our neighbors. But we haven’t got the first clue on how to love and care for ourselves.
So this Valentine’s Day, let’s chat about self-care.
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“When they [humans] have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours.” — C. S. Lewis
What Self-Care Isn’t
Self-care isn’t optional.
Self-care isn’t selfishness.
Self-care isn’t hedonism.
Self-care isn’t neglecting others.
Self-care isn’t having a pity party.
Self-care isn’t wallowing in victimhood.
Self-care isn’t wrong.
On the Contrary
When we care for ourselves, we’ll have a lot more “bounce in our bungee” for caring for others.
When we have empathy for ourselves, we’ll have more empathy for others.
Our fuses will be longer, our mood happier, our eyes twinklier and our laugh come easier.
Clues I Need Self-Care
The Fake Smile
Of course, everyone’s different, so I can only speak from personal experience. But when I’m at the end of my tether and desperately need self-care, there are signs. Boy! Are there signs!
The first clue is suddenly realizing that I’m going around with a fake smile plastered on my face, even when I’m alone.
It’s a hold-over habit from the old days of living with narcissists. I developed the habit to keep them calm, assure them that all was well so I wouldn’t get lectured and yelled at for, “having B.O. of the personality” from grieving their abuses.
Workaholism & Not Having Any Fun
I also stop doing anything I enjoy. I don’t have any fun. Don’t read books. Don’t watch the reality shows I love. Just work, work, work.
That’s another clue.
As my internal environment gets worse, I find myself acting out in the kitchen. Luckily, the kitchen sink faces an inside wall, so my husband can’t see my face while I’m washing the dishes. Wrist-deep in soapy dishwater, I find myself grimacing in caricature of my usual happy smile. Teeth gritted, neck muscles bulging, I smile a mirthless grin, mocking the dysfunctional training to never show pain and smile, smile, smile.
That’s a good clue that “I’ve had it up to here.”
Two-Faced & OCD Cleaning
Another clue is being all nicey-nicey and smiley to my terminally-ill husband’s face. But when I step out into a crisp, cold winter Minnesota night, stare up at Orion and talk to God, another “Lenora” emerges. My prayers betray how I’m really feeling.
And sometimes, when my husband is safely in the shower and out of earshot, I start furiously mocking every ingrained sermon I ever heard about not being selfish, not being sad and always being servant-hearted. “Oh sure! Take care of everybody else, except myself! Be servant-hearted, my ass! When is enough, enough!?!” I go on and on, furiously vacuuming, dusting and generally taking my vexation out, OCD-like, on an already clean house.
At this point, I’m getting close to exploding.
Back when I was a hostage, I used to mentally berate and shame myself for absolutely everything. By the time I’d brought myself to tears, my sense of humor would kick in and up I’d bob to the surface again, smiling and blushing with embarrassment at my ridiculous thought life. But that’s another clue that all is not well in the kingdom.
And the final clue is a good ol’ fashioned explosion of anger.
How Does It Feel When I Need Self-Care?
But that’s just what I do. How do I feel when I desperately need self-care?
I dissociate from reality. Lenora isn’t there any more, just an automated, wind-up life-sized Lenora-look-alike doll on auto-pilot who emotes, acts and talks like Lenora is s’posed to emote, act and talk.
Birds may sing, but I don’t hear them. Sun may shine, but I don’t see it. My puppies become a job, not a pleasure. Being Michael’s wife becomes a job, too, not a relationship and a pleasure. Work, work, work.
The dogs may bark and Michael may talk, but I wish they wouldn’t. They’re interrupting the deafening conversation of “why, why, why” in my head. Just a distraction from the endless confusion, the puzzling pain and wondering “why” those who claimed to love me the most, did me the most damage.
My heart becomes calcified. I feel nothing. I want nothing. I feel no joy, no happiness, no humor, no love…just pain.
Don’t let my emoting fool you. It’s just a well-rehearsed act. I’m going through the motions of living, but not really living. Wind me up and watch me go.
And Craziness Ensues
I’m blessed with an easy-going Norwegian husband with the metabolism of a glacier. As long as he has a full cup of coffee, he doesn’t care what he eats or if he eats tonight…or two months from now.
But at the height of un-self-care, I don’t even realize I’m hungry nor can I decided what to eat nor when. So, like any “decent self-respecting wife,” I turn the tables on my husband and blame it all on him! LOL
The crazy conversation goes something like this.
Me: “What do you want for supper, Honey?”
Michael: “I dunno.”
Me: “When do you want supper, Honey?”
Michael: “I dunno.”
Me: “I EXIST TO TAKE care of YOU! That’s my job. That’s what I live for! And when you refuse to tell me what you want, you’re making my job difficult! So, stop holding out on me and tell me what you want!”
Michael: “I dunno.”
Me: “FINE!” (stomps off, stage left)
That’s another clue that all is not well with me and a spot of self-care would make life a lot happier for both me and my long-suffering husband, who, by the way, really doesn’t care what, when nor if he ever eats again….as long as he always has a hot cup of coffee nearby!
So, What Does Self-Care Look Like?
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We’re gonna explore that together in Part 2. Subscribe to be notified as soon as it’s published! And thanks to my many Facebook friends who contributed their ways of caring for and loving themselves.
L’chaim and Happy Valentine’s Day!