Self Care Listening to our Bodies: How do We Know What They’re Saying if We Were Never Taught to Listen

Self-care isn’t easy for everybody. This was most definitely the case for me. One of the places it was most difficult was in learning how to attune to my body’s needs. And one of the more basic places this took shape was around the food I ate.

You Are What You Eat

For example, I wouldn’t eat breakfast. It wasn’t until very recently that I’ve started making and bringing breakfast to work with me. Now I’m making an effort to eat something for the first meal of the day. I would eat breakfast occasionally. Usually when I was out with friends or family. But I never took the time to make breakfast a meal and take the care to nourish myself. The same was true for lunch as well. The only “food” I had through my teens, twenties and early thirties was lots of coffee in the morning to keep me going and more alcohol at night to slow me down. That was a hard way to live.

Learning Lessons the Hard Way

What helped me to understand just how badly I was neglecting my physical needs were a few hard lessons. I’ve been a runner for maybe 8 years. I used to run up to 13 miles. But have recently cut back to a modest 2.68 miles twice a week. I’ve also been a yogi for some time as well. Though not as long as I’ve been running. Yoga started for me about 6 years ago and have loved getting on the mat ever since.

I was also raised with an intense work ethic, to put it mildly. I worked hard for sure, but I never learned how to slow down. Or relax and unwind after a hard days work without alcohol. Relaxing just wasn’t something that was valued in my family. Under the work ethics of my family, no matter what I did it was never enough. But I knew for some absurd reason I had to keep working.

Pushing Yourself too Hard

So when I started eating more healthful foods, and exercising regularly, I thought I was doing the right thing. I wanted to feel and look healthier and I wanted the health benefits from living a healthful lifestyle. But what I was missing was the ability to listen to my body. One of the hard lessons I learned was when my body’s under stress or I haven’t eaten enough, I get a floaty feeling in my body. So when I went for a run one day feeling this floaty feeling and not understanding what it was that I was feeling and after I finished up on the mat, I hopped in the shower. What I didn’t realize that these were the conditions where a person will pass out from pushing themselves too hard.

And I passed out. I didn’t hurt myself too badly, but it was a shock for sure. I had been so used to being propped up by caffeine and alcohol that once I was drinking tea in the mornings, cutting my caffeine intake by less than a fourth of what it used to be and only having the occasional drink, I wasn’t prepared for the consequences of how my body would respond under these stressful circumstances.

Unhealthy Lessons About Self-Care

And to be fair to myself, I didn’t really know how unhealthfully I was responding to my body’s needs. Because quite frankly, I didn’t know what they were. While I was growing up, I was never taught how to feed myself properly. Or anything else regarding my personal health. I was fed and my clothes were washed, but I never had a caretaker pull me aside and say, “I’ve noticed you’re only eating candy during the day, this is why that isn’t the best diet for you, or probably anybody”. Or teach me anything in the realm of self-care really. All those life skills your family are supposed to pass down never happened for me. No family recipes, no budgeting skills, or selfcare lessons.

My caretakers thought this was a problem that would sort itself out. Fast forward to my early twenties and I’m waking up in an apartment strewn with garbage. Wading through the empty beer cans and spilled ashtrays on the floor to get to the bathroom that wasn’t in much better shape. I didn’t eat breakfast in the mornings mostly because I didn’t wake until 1:00pm. But even if I had woke earlier, breakfast was not the first thing on my mind. I was more concerned with my survival.

When Self-Care Isn’t Modeled in the Home

But this was also the behavior that was modeled for me growing up by my caregivers. Sure their house was much cleaner, but the type of living was the same. Wake up at 10am. Drink 5-6 cups of coffee to get started. Go to work. Work from 3-11pm with no breaks and finish your shift with a few drinks. Go home and drink a few more to unwind from the busy day. Go to bed and start the sequence all over again. There was never any point at which we stopped and checked in with how we were feeling.

Were we hungry? Tired? Did we need a night to stay in and relax? Maybe a crossword puzzle and a cup of herbal tea instead of three 40s an a pack of smokes? I may seem a bit flippant, but these were serious moments of neglect that we were inflicting on ourselves. Looking back, I’m surprised I made it out at all. Let alone being healthy enough now to take care of and attune to my physical needs.

Self-Care More Than Just Eating Well

Which brings us to passing out on the bathroom floor. It seemed I was doing all the right things. I was eating a plant based diet. Cooking healthy meals for myself. Exercising regularly and hydrating consistently. Not smoking and drinking only occasionally. But what I was missing was the ability to tune into how I was feeling physically.

Was I hungry? How much rest should I be getting to feel my best during the day? Are my portion sizes adequate? Should I really be skipping breakfast and lunch? Or eating only the extra pastries I found laying around at work? These were the questions I needed to be asking myself. But I was never shown how or had these attributes modeled for me.

Survival of the Nurtured

Tara Brach said something that rang true with me in one of her talks, “We are not the survival of the fittest. We are the survival of the nurtured.” — Louis Cozolino. This is something I feel is more true the more I reflect on it. Without the loving guidance of our caretakers teaching us how to care for and attune to our needs; physical, emotion, financial, dietary, hygienic and shown with care, then we learn to neglect ourselves. This may create a degree of contempt towards ourselves and those who neglected us. For the lack of love and caring we feel for ignoring our most basic needs.

If we’re left with these lessons of neglect and self-contempt, how do we learn to give ourselves the care we need? To overcome these feelings that have done us so much harm? From my understanding, it takes a whole lot of love and self compassion. Which can be tricky. Especially if you’ve never embodied these feelings. It can feel a bit hopeless. Like trying to go home only not knowing where you live. But there are some strategies that can help us find the way to loving ourselves.

Strategies for Self-Care

From my experience and what’s helped me to overcome some of my most difficult and critical self-judgements are meditation. slowing down long enough to listen past the critical voices that have taken residency in my mind. I’ve already shared on this blog my self-care Sunday ritual. Something which has been an anchor to help me return to a time and place where I can practice some self-care and tune out from the rest of my daily stressors. Giving myself the gift of a little peace.

What are Your Resources?

Coming up with a resource list helps as well. Basically a list of things, activities or places that bring me a sense of ease, peace and rest. Self-compassion, a practice that will eventually build emotional resilience to the things that come up day to day. And practice. Keep coming back to the resources, self-care, self-compassion and things, places and activities that bring you a sense of peace and calm.

I’ll be going into more detail on some of these methods, plus ways to tell when you’re in need of some much needed rest. If you’re anything like me, you may feel as though you can just push past your physical and emotional boundaries using shear force. Which is the opposite of self compassion! That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading, and peace :]

Image Credits: “Love yourself” by QuinnDombrowski is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Updated: 7/30/22

Knowing How to Attune to Our Feeling Selves

I grew up in a family that never spoke about their feelings or how to attune to them. That’s not hyperbole. We never spoke about anything really. But feelings were especially taboo. If you view emotions as a language to convey and communicate needs, we were deaf and mute. It has taken me decades, fumbling around with and trying to understand this language. Something that had eluded me and my caregivers for so long. So now that I’ve grasped the basics of my emotional language, I’m coming to understand how knowing how to attune to our emotional selves and connecting with my emotional states, are intertwined with self-care.

Self-Care and Our Emotions

For some (hopefully most), this is not new news. Knowing how you’re feeling at any given time and then being able to respond appropriately in the moment to your emotions hopefully comes as second nature to you. But if you’ve experienced trauma and you’ve disconnected from your emotions and body, then reconnecting is no easy task. Even if you haven’t experienced trauma, but have been under chronic stress. Then attunement can be a chore as well. So how do we begin the work of reconnecting to our emotional bodies? So we can better attune to our needs and foster the emotional space necessary for self-care? For me it started with finding patience.

Be Patient

I remember the day clearly that I found the emotional space to hold difficult emotions without reacting to the discomfort I was feeling. I was waiting for a woman who I loved and we were running late for something. A situation that would normally invoke irritation in me. But I found the space to let the emotion be, while focusing on how I really felt about the person. The love that was at the core of our bond and not the irritation that was transient. And it’s important to note that the irritation was still there. Only it wasn’t stronger than the feelings of love and patience. If we’ve been brought up in families where we feel like a burden, or we’ve been neglected, we can internalize those as signs of there being something wrong with us. And if we’re not told and reinforced that we are loved and belong, then when the people who are supposed to show us love are instead filled with contempt, we may take on that contempt and aim it inwardly. Usually towards the places we feel are “unlovable”. Because if we didn’t have these “unlovable” places, we would be loved.

Forgetting Who I Am

This was how I lost track of who I was on an emotional level. With so much neglect and contempt, I was constantly looking for a way to feel part of and accepted by my family. I took everything personally because I didn’t know how to draw clear boundaries between my emotions and those of my caregivers. Because I felt so much of my belonging hinged on their approval. Their good or bad moods, the ones that I may or may not be responsible for. I was constantly in tune to them. Even their slightest of shifts could fill me with fear. But along the way I learned to stop listening to my own wants and needs. For instance I didn’t really know how I was feeling most of the time. But I also didn’t even know if I was hungry or tired. I did learn how to push myself beyond my limits though. Mostly fueled by coffee, to keep me going during the day and beer to slow me down at night. This was how I learned to ignore the most basic of my needs. To feel loved and belonging.

Learning to Listen, Learning to Attune

There was a lot of confusion and fear without a doubt. But it wasn’t hopeless. If it was the love of a woman that allowed me to understand how patience felt, it was meditation, yoga and running that helped me practice and foster a place for patience to grow in defiance of the fear. And it wasn’t easy. I had put off feeling a lot of my emotions. And when I sat down to learn how to feel again, they all came flooding back in. It was overwhelming for sure. But they needed to be felt. And there was a learning curve. Understanding how to let in a metered amount of emotion while learning what my limits are is something I’m still coming to understand.

Overcoming Our Barriers

Running and yoga helped me to understand how to push my boundaries and limits in a healthy way. To build resilience. The reason these methods were so helpful was because it was tough work being with my difficult emotions. Running and yoga mirrored the difficulty of being in a difficult emotional state. But it also gave me a sense of being physically capable of overcoming obstacles. Barriers that were holding me back from being wholly present in my body. Either during a difficult workout or sitting with a difficult emotion. And what’s more is, I was stronger after the effort. On the other side of my physical and emotional barriers. And it seemed insurmountable at times. But it was and is possible. And coming to terms with unfelt emotions doesn’t solely lay with those of us who have experienced trauma. In the day to day, so often we put off things that we see as being difficult. Talking with a friend or family member that have wronged us to some degree. Or apologizing to a coworker we may not like when we know we’ve been insensitive. Both examples of ways we avoid difficult emotions.

Practice and Be Forgiving

And the more we practice coming home to the space where we put unwanted feelings, what we’ve been avoiding, the more we show ourselves the patience and kindness that are necessary for self-care. Much like my workouts, the work you put in, is the resilience you receive. And what holds it all together is practice. Especially when it gets difficult. Those are the times where we need to double down, hold in just a little longer. And be forgiving if we don’t feel we’ve lived up to our standards. If you’re like me, you’ve probably set the bar too high to begin with! And it’s a practice anyways. We’re never really done with the work of living, so why beat ourselves up for not getting it “right”. Or just the way we want it? Practice kindness to yourself, be patient with yourself and forgive yourself and you’ll learn to attune to yourself. These are the tools I’ve found to be helpful to attune and reconnect with my emotional self. Thanks for reading, peace : ] Image Credits:“LISTEN” by elycefeliz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Self-Care Emotional: How do You Relate to Your Inner-Critic?

“Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We all have an inner critic. The voice that says we’ll never finish that degree, or I’m never gonna land the job that would be just right for me. I’m never going to find the woman/man who’s my true love or I’m just plain not adding up. I know mine well. It took some digging but when I finally realized who was behind the wheel and where he was steering me, I can tell you it was a real eye opener.

Getting to Know Your Critical Voice

My inner critic has taken the form of my abusers past, and I can actually pinpoint it in my body. Of course this took years of work to even begin to unlock my frozen tundra of emotion. And this was after decades of not being able to feel my body, or to even know what my emotions were. Also that I was the one in charge, not my emotions.

My inner critic will often tell me things about myself that just aren’t true. Such as I’m overweight even though I weigh 185 and am 5’10”. I’m unable to find and do meaningful and fulfilling work even though I’ve excelled in all my positions and graduated Cum Laude from college. I need a another to take care of me because I’m incapable of doing so for myself, regardless of my well organized and healthfully curated my lifestyle… The list goes on.

But what’s most important to understand about all our critics is, asides from the content being untrue and damaging to our psyche, how often we get lured into its siren’s song. And allow ourselves to be led astray from what our heart’s true aspirations are. If you’re reading this then you’ve probably come to some of your own healthy conclusions. But in case you haven’t I’m here to tell you you are not the contents of your inner critic. And the only control it has over you is the control you give to it.

Our Critic Takes its Cues From Our Pasts

I know from my own early childhood experiences of trauma, that my critic has grown strong from repeated infractions against my sense of self worth. And it may seem as though these experiences are relegated to those who’ve experienced some sort of trauma. But the numbers of those who have experienced trauma are staggering. It’s reported that “nearly 14% of children repeatedly experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, including nearly 4% who experienced physical abuse.” That’s about one in seven! That’s a lot of people.

But even those that haven’t experienced some sort of trauma in their lives, ways of coping with stress such as peer pressure and people pleasing have real consequences. And not to mention are a source of frustration for many. This all sounds pretty sad. And it is, but there are ways to identify our inner critic and create a caring cushion around it. To soften the blow when it does strike. This is where the hard work lay. In knowing how your inner critic has infiltrated your day to day routines and the patterns that we’ve cultivated in relating to it.

Recognizing Your Tells

Do you know the subtle signs of the transition between when you’re behind the wheel and your critic has taken over? Is there a low level of anxiety that is prevalent? Feeling as though you’re not adding up in some way for no reason? Are you believing things about yourself you know just aren’t true? These are just a few examples and they vary from person to person.

There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to knowing how you and your own personal inner critic relate to one another. Or the ways it has taken control in your life. But there is a commonality in coming to understanding who and what your inner critic is and needs. And it starts with listening.

When are the times you feel down on yourself? Or feel bad about a specific behavior or something you feel like you should be doing? Times that you are measuring yourself to another and feel as though you are coming up short? Those are the times and opportunities to listen inward. To feel where you feel them in your body. The places you are trying to avoid. That’s where you’ll find your critic.

Your critic is trying to tell you something but it’s afraid. Underneath that fear there is a protective quality, one that is trying to keep us safe. For me it’s, “I had better conform to certain expectations or else I’ll be rejected and unloved”. Listening to the message of what it’s trying to tell us and deciphering it from the fear will yield great rewards.

Finding What’s Underneath The Critic

Because once you find the message that is behind the fear, you can relate directly to the unattended hurt. The source of the wound. Though I should say when dealing with traumatic fear, this is something that should definitely be done in the care of a professional. And with the support of trusted family members and friends when possible. Tara Brach explains in one of her talks on relating to traumatic fear called, “Healing Trauma: The Light Shines Through the Broken Places” that it may not be safe to take in all the fear at once. It may end up retraumatize us.

I know from my own work with my therapist that learning the art of just this much, finding your window of tolerance is, is invaluable. Especially for those of us who have been trying to live up to our own imposed and impossible standards. Go hard or go home. The insatiable voice that keeps telling us we need to do more and accomplish greater deeds. And the critic doesn’t only focus on us. Others as well need to live up to our impossible standards or something terrible will happen. Or so we often times feel.

You’ve Met Your Inner Critic, Now What?

So what do we do when we finally come toe to toe with our inner critic? For me, it was about slowing down. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to work myself to death, to live up to the impossible standard I had created, that I realized it was never going to be enough. No matter how hard I worked, how I ignored my needs and those of others. No matter how critical I was of the job I was doing or others were doing, I was never going to meet the impossible standard I had in my mind of how things should be.

This took some doing because I was drinking 5 to 6 lattes a day and going hard to avoid coming home (figuratively). It wasn’t until I started meditating and switched to tea, one caffeinated cup a day, that I was able to create the space necessary to slow down and hear what my body was telling me. Instead of telling my body how to feel. It was a shock though. I won’t go into details but it hit hard. I was feeling all sorts of unattended emotion from my past. I had been ignoring not just the attic of my life but most of the useable square footage!

But that brought me to the second step of reckoning with the unfelt emotions. It was crazy at first. But my feelings began to slow down until they were manageable. Small enough to take in without being overwhelming. I needed a lot of support during that time too. And a lot of kindness. Mostly from and to myself.

I had been beating myself up for such a long time that there was some animosity for sure. But the more kindness I showed myself, the easier it became. Not only easier to bear but the inner critic began to lose it’s bite. When he would show up, which he still does sometimes, I could recognize him and treat him with kindness. Knowing that really it’s just the product of the ways I’ve been maltreated by myself and others.

So when you’re relating to your inner critic the key is to be kind. Kind to yourself, kindness to and from others as well. Because it’s that kindness that will then create the cushion around our hurt selves. The places our critics are protecting in order to make space for them to heal. And it’s not easy. People will say and do hurtful things and we will do and say hurtful things too. To ourselves and others. But it’s a practice. And the more we practice the better we become at being kind. And the more tame our critic will become. It’s doable, just don’t give up. Peace :] and thanks for reading!

Image credits: “Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Updated: 2/3/22

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