How do we care for ourselves when we never learned that we matter? That question differentiates trauma-informed self care from the everyday variety.
When you’ve grown up without the affirmation that you’re worthy of love and attention, self care becomes complex. It’s less about having the time or resources and more about having no idea what you need or want.
People pleasing may be so entrenched in you that you can’t imagine life without it. Setting boundaries may be so scary that you feel like you’ll die if someone pushes against them.
That’s why self care from a trauma-informed perspective encapsulates more than a to-do list of pampering activities. How do you get past the inner critic and pleaser to tap into your own needs?
Asking “what do I need in this moment” may be a loaded question. Trauma-induced brain fog can make it impossible to think clearly enough to answer the question.
When you’ve been primed all your life to focus on others’ needs and wants, turning that radar within feels like navigating foreign territory. Because it is.
You’ve become an expert at discerning other people’s desires and catering to those. You’re attuned to the smallest change in facial expression and will adjust yourself accordingly.
Who are you if you’re not fitting yourself into what other people need? That’s why self care for individuals with complex PTSD can feel harder than maintaining the status quo of self abandonment.
Because self care requires boundary setting and that invites conflict and anger from others. When you’ve been primed to experience such rejection as a type of death, it’s no wonder self care goes to the backburner. It doesn’t feel good at first!
What is trauma-informed self care?
Trauma-informed self care means acknowledging how difficult it is for you to prioritize your own needs. And stop shaming yourself for how you should feel and what you should be doing.
Shaming yourself for your perfectly valid feelings only adds another layer of negative emotion. Start with compassion for yourself for how difficult it is to set boundaries and why that may be so.
What happened in the past that made self care and boundaries feel fraught with danger? Or that made it difficult to even imagine what self care looks like for you?
Besides self compassion, you might take some time alone and make a list of your likes and dislikes. Add something from the like list to your life and eliminate something from the dislike list.
This will help you tune into what you want, which others may have buried with all their demands on you. The simple act of sitting by yourself for a few minutes without an agenda may bring up some useful information about how to care for yourself.
Trauma-informed self care starts with an internal journey of getting to know yourself. It requires understanding who you are outside of the role you’ve been assigned in your family and life.
Is there one small boundary you can set to exercise your self care muscle? The low-hanging fruit, so to speak, of saying no to something low pressure. And can you honor that no even when others’ challenge it?
Gradually you’ll work up to bigger no’s as you learn to give yourself the love you may not have received as a child. You’ll stop abandoning yourself in favor of others and your life will improve as a result.