Counseling psychologist Rosy Saenz-Sierzega, Ph.D, works with many clients whose parents emotionally neglected them. Maybe they were struggling with substance abuse or bereavement or other issues that kept them preoccupied with themselves. Maybe they fought in front of their kids. Maybe they expected nothing short of perfection. Maybe they relied on their kids to care for them, and placed their own needs ahead of their kids.
Saenz-Sierzega helps these clients reconnect to their inner child—to talk to their younger selves and explore how their childhood has affected their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors today. She also encourages them to attend to their innermost needs, to nurture the child who was once neglected. Because each of us has the power to give ourselves what we need.
Whether or not you’ve had similar experiences as a child, I think this is a powerful approach to practicing self-care.
Saenz-Sierzega suggested writing down your needs, committing to fulfilling them, and making a plan to meet them. She shared these examples:
- If you have the need to be loved, you commit to loving yourself: “We are never going to be in control of whether or not someone else loves us, but we do have control over whether or not we love ourselves.”
To create your plan, you consider how you’d talk to yourself if you loved yourself. You stop criticizing your looks and remind yourself of your talents. You also consider what you’d do for yourself, what you’d expose yourself to (e.g., new opportunities), and what you wouldn’t expose yourself to (e.g., toxic situations).
- If you have a need for fun, you think about what fun really means to you. You plan on taking several days off work, trying new activities, and making new friends. You also remind yourself that you deserve to have fun.
- If you have a need for self-forgiveness, you remind yourself that you are not your past; you are your current self: “I will not hold my past against myself. I will actively choose who I want to be and engage in behaviors that match who I want to be. I will be grateful of the changes I have made and give myself a break for any mistakes I made in the past. I will learn from my mistakes but also understand that to make mistakes is normal.”
- If you have a need to be in charge of your own life, you commit to living a life that makes you happy, instead of abiding by someone else’s standards and values. You plan to make a list of your values and make decisions based on what matters most to you.
Nurturing ourselves starts with identifying our needs. Take the time to reflect on your deepest yearnings and longings. Think about where you’re feeling empty. Where is there a gaping void or a small crack? Think about what you need emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Think about what a fulfilling, satisfying life looks like for you.
Do you have a deep need for a healthier relationship with yourself? Do you have a deep need for rest, for calm, and for peace? Do you have a deep need for self-discovery, to figure out what you sincerely want, and perhaps who you really are? Do you have a deep need to clear out some mental and physical clutter? What are the different ways you can attend to your profound, meaningful need?
Sometimes we feel like we don’t deserve to meet our needs, to even think of our needs in the first place. We feel unworthy. We feel like we haven’t earned it yet.
If you feel this way, acknowledge it. But act regardless. Your thoughts will likely come around—and you’ll start to feel nourished. Deeply, wonderfully nourished.
Again, you have the power to provide for yourself. Use your incredible power. Don’t let it remain untapped. Don’t let yourself stay hungry.