Self care is knowing our needs and taking care of them. Ourselves. Not expecting someone else to do it for us.
Some of us have a hard time with this generally and it can get extremely challenging during divorce.
Self care sounds selfish and divorce already feels selfish. No matter which side we are on, the one leaving or the one being left, either feeling selfish, or resenting selfish. If we are doing the leaving, the guilt produced by it is already telling us that we are self-centered people so taking care of ourselves seems like heaping more shame on. If we are being left, the naturally comforting role for us is being the martyr, and we all know, martyrs don't have needs, and even if they do, they can be sacrificed.
The truth is, no matter which side we are on, we have lots of needs. We have our normal, usual, everyday needs, and we have our extra, divorce needs. And we are the only ones who can take care of them, so we need to erase the equal sign in our minds between self care and selfish. There is absolutely nothing selfish about self care. If we want to come out of this divorce with our mind, body, and soul intact, we will need to make self care our everyday habit and not some extra treat we do for ourselves once in a while.
There are three major areas of self care during divorce where we need to be aware of our needs: physical, emotional, spiritual.
Physical self care is the easiest to see: we need to get enough sleep, eat well, and get some exercise.
The harder part is to actually do it. This should be our number one priority above everything else. Without proper rest, decent nutrition, and the physical and mental benefits of regular exercise we are not going to be able to function in the heightened level of stress and demands of divorce. These three things: sleeping enough, eating well, and exercising a little each day, have to come before anything else we do for ourselves or others. If we didn't have good habits in these areas before, chance are they won't improve without vigorous discipline. Creating a daily routine and sticking to it like our life depends on it is the only way. The repetitive familiarity of it will help not just physically but mentally and emotionally too.
Emotional self care involves acknowledging, identifying, and processing our feelings and emotions, and practising activities that brings us joy, relaxation, or contentment.
Without properly and continually dealing with our feelings and emotions during divorce we can hijack and sabotage ourselves and possibly the whole divorce process and have disastrous consequences. The thing about feelings, they don't just disappear and change if we ignore them. They get buried or frozen and start affecting our whole person and every area of our lives. Without processing they can morph into destructive monsters and eat up every good part of our life and character.
Bringing them to the surface by talking or writing about them is essential. A combination of both writing and talking is the most effective. Even if we are not the journaling type, jotting them down on a piece of paper and throwing it away works too. That will also make it easier to talk about them with someone we trust and feel emotionally safe with.
Spiritual self care is taking time to practise our usual spiritual habits and keeping our conscious contact with our Higher Power.
Guilt and shame about our divorce can make us completely abandon our spirituality and make us end up in a desperate and devastated state. We need to understand that the shame we feel is not coming from a loving, caring Higher Power but from our own critical inner voice or the condemning voices of greater society and the church. We have to make the distinction between these voices and be sure we center ourselves in the unconditional love, acceptance, and grace of our Higher Power.
Taking time for prayer, meditation, or spiritual reading is essential during divorce and will help us tremendously with keeping our peace and calm during the storms.
Divorce is already a part time job on top of our regular job(s) and life itself, so all of this can sound overwhelming and absolutely unattainable, but we have to remember that these areas are intertwined and healthy practices in one area will make the others easier too. Like taking the dog for a walk after dinner is not just physical self care, but can be emotional too if we find a sliver of joy or peace in it and also can be turned to spiritual self care if we also pray along the way. The activities don't have to be long, difficult, or extreme, but we need to be conscious in our efforts and practices of them.
If we expected our spouse to take care most of our needs before the divorce, then taking responsibility for our own needs can be a daunting new experience and we might need some serious help at the beginning. But don't lose faith. Everybody can learn how to do it and when self care becomes a habit we find out not just that meeting our own needs is deeply satisfying, but also that it makes us a much better version of ourselves, who can give more to the outside world than ever before.
So let's start every single day with this loving, caring, kind, and gentle question: What will I do for myself today? Then do it. Without any excuse or explanation. We are so worth of our own attention and care.
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