It is usual for those invested in their mental and physical health to know a thing or two about self-care. As a trauma counsellor, I talk to my clients openly about the importance of a self-care routine. A self-care routine comprises regular practices that promote wellbeing. Meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, eating healthily, walking and personal grooming are all examples of self-care practices. When you incorporate them successfully into your daily routine, you can say you practice good self-care. Those who practice self-care regularly feel more balanced and less susceptible to emotional overwhelm.
If looking after ourselves does us so much good, why don’t we all do it? Why do we need to be reminded by our therapists to stick to a self-care routine? Because self-care, for most of us, requires effort. Treating oneself with care might not come naturally, especially for those who suffered neglect and abuse growing up. Complex trauma victims tend to have a complicated relationship with their bodies. For such individuals, neglecting and even abusing themselves may feel more instinctual than delaying gratification to prioritise long term health.
Hypervigilance – a very common effect of childhood trauma – makes one feel constantly on high alert or stuck on fight or flight mode. Those who suffer from hypervigilance are prone to armouring (tension in various parts of the body), excessive worrying and anxiety. Hypervigilant bodies are also restless and impatient. Therefore, daily meditation for someone with hypervigilance is a huge effort. In such cases, focusing on the breath and observing thoughts without judgement feels counterintuitive, when all one wants to do is to get up and do something else. When you do not feel safe in your body, your instinct is to escape it.
If you are a developmental/childhood trauma survivor, or you have suffered neglect and/or abuse growing up, it is important to be kind to yourself. Just because self-care is good for you, it does not mean it is easily done. Chances are you will find it hard to incorporate it into your daily routine, and then find it harder to maintain it. Do not give up. Most importantly, do not punish yourself for not being able to get it right, right away. Give yourself time. You are teaching your body a new trick – something it does not know – so give it time to learn and get used to it. With time, you will start enjoying to benefits of treating yourself with care, love and respect. Be patient and trust the process.