Has anyone ever told you:
“Just take a bubble bath”
“Pour yourself a glass of wine”
“Go get yourself a manicure”
“Buy yourself a new outfit”
“Girl, Light a candle and sniff some essential oils”
“Just do you”
“You need to practice some self care”
Have you tried all these things? Yet you still feel lost, lonely, confused, heart-broken, isolated, depressed, exhausted, angry and maybe even grief-filled. Why didn’t the self care strategies work?
At the beginning of my journey I would reach out for “help” to a few people I had around me. It was never effective because they minimized my pain and I had no idea that what I was describing to them was abuse and relational trauma. I had no idea that I was describing my PTSD symptoms from living in an unsafe, destructive marriage. I had no idea I was describing to them the residual effects of an abusive childhood which was now compounded by the fact that my husband had repeatedly broken the marriage covenant. I had no idea that I was crying out, unclear of what I was actually trying to escape. Consequently, I was always met with the same platitudes over and over again that sounded like “practice self care”, “read your Bible more” , or “just let it go”
Little did I know that what I was hearing was doing more harm than good. In fact, advice like that can re-victimize a victim. I would propose here today that telling a trauma victim to “go get some self-care” can cause additional shame or confusion. Survivors like myself are in a very vulnerable position when we initially expose our situation. It is very scary and we are just starting to find our bearings. We are often re-traumatized as we become “woke” to our own reality. Shannon Thomas calls this the “awakening” phase. Memories flood back now in a context of truth and validation. We relive the lies, manipulation, and psychological abuse with a clear head – naming it for what it really is.
As soon as I realized that what I was reporting was actually called ‘domestic abuse’ I walked around for a year saying, “I didn’t know”, “I didn’t know”
Damage can be done in recovery to very vulnerable survivors, if we throw a blank prescription at them labeled “self-care”, without the knowledge of how self-care is connected to safety and value.
I would suggest three essential understandings of self-care which can help a survivor find her voice and become empowered. The result of that empowerment will be a trusted, restored SELF.
- Telling someone who has no sense of self to practice self-care can be damaging to them in the recovery process without proper understanding
- The more safety we experience the more we find our inner voice (the earlier girl we once were before the wounds: the Imago Dei)
- We practice SELF NOURISHMENT as a result of safety and boundaries
Let’s unpack each of these points, in order to better understand self-care.
- Telling someone who has no sense of self to practice self-care can be damaging to them in the recovery process
Due to the nature of abuse, many victims believe they deserve the abuse that was done to them. They have experienced so many emotional wounds from abandonment and neglect- wounds of omission as Dr. Sheri Keffer calls them; things that we needed but we did not receive from our primary caregivers. These wounds of omission create intense shame beliefs and as a result we develop distorted beliefs- these distorted beliefs assault the beauty and Imago Dei the Lord intended for us. Rather than living out a truth of VALUE “I have personal rights as a daughter of the King” “I matter” “I am beloved” “I have WORTH” “I have VALUE” “I am learning and growing” “I deserve rest, peace, tranquility, unconditional love and safety” We end up living out of a distorted belief system: “My feelings don’t matter” “I don’t deserve to have an opinion or a voice” “My ideas don’t matter” “I’m unlovable” “I am worthless” “I made a mistake- therefore I have no value” “I deserve bad things to happen to me” When spiritual abuse is added to this and your mistakes are equated with disappointing God or our lack of perfect performance results in broken connection to care givers – we automatically assume we’ve also broken connection with God. He is mad at us, He doesn’t like us, He will punish, God must hate me because these bad things are happening to me. In fact, I must be so bad that I deserve this abuse.
I operated out of a belief system that something was inherently “bad” about me. I didn’t know my own value and my worth. I wasn’t allowed to have my own voice or be my own person growing up. As a result, I didn’t know what I liked or disliked. I didn’t know ME. In addition, all the gas lighting, deception, manipulation, covert and sexual abuse from the addict for 11 years stole my reality. I could no longer TRUST my own voice because I was constantly second guessing myself. I had no sense of self, I didn’t trust my voice, and I had no idea how to learn to trust myself and my reality again. Each of these aspects created the perfect storm. So for me, to understand and practice self-care right out of the gate in recovery?!!! It was out of the question! My response was always one of irritation and frustration, “What does self-care even mean?!” “I don’t know WHAT I like or WANT because I don’t know WHO I am.” Consequently, the shame beliefs were reinforced as I spent time mentally condemning myself because I didn’t know how to practice self-care correctly and I definitely wasn’t experiencing any relief from the emotional pain and turmoil inside of me.
Bottom Line: It will be very difficult to practice self-care if we believe we deserve abuse.
By God’s design we were meant to receive unconditional love, affirmation, validation, security, belonging, and comfort. The Life Model describes ideal development like this: “When an infant is surrounded by others who SEE her in the SAME WAY GOD sees her, the person she was designed to be, these faces will communicate to her at a very young age her value and importance.”
So it begs the question: What if the faces around her did not see her in the same way God sees her?
You become what author and psychologist Patrick Carnes describes as “the vulnerable host” open for all that love, affirmation, validation and belonging but what you got were wounds and distorted beliefs. Your voice was drowned out and/or exploited by family of origin. We exist feeling powerless in controlling relationships – almost like a ‘nonperson’. When the faces don’t show me what God sees – I never develop a sense of value and sense of self. When I cannot see ‘self’ I cannot practice self care. “Self care requires knowing yourself and making yourself understandable to others [asking for what you need and what you want]” -Life Model
It is very important that we use the word ‘self care’ with discretion and discernment. Let’s be clear what we are actually asking someone to do… If we have not yet created enough safety – and regained our own voice -it will be next to impossible to complete this transaction. To hold someone accountable for something they are not yet ready to do in the recovery process can unintentionally heap more shame and negative self-talk into the mix.
2. The more safety we experience the more we find our inner voice
Voice is important because it helps us know what we know, know ourselves and speak what we know to those around us. Because of our childhood wounds and our husband’s addiction we have learned to LOSE our voice in order to keep connection and belonging- in the process we have LOST who we were meant to be. Our need for connection and belonging was exploited and as a result: SHE was lost.
Nancy Groom states, “Sexually abused children, for example, believe they have no boundaries, that the doorknob is always on the outside of their door and they are on the inside with no right to set limits. Who they really are becomes lost in the avalanche of other people’s intentions and definitions of who they are.”
To add insult to injury if there has been any form of spiritual abuse in childhood, your church or marriage you may have heard the distorted use of scripture like: “wives submit to your husbands”, or the distortion of I Cor. 7:4 “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband…” this distortion was used to lay claim to your person-hood and your body in the marriage bed. When these scriptures are used to wield power and control, these messages reinforce our trained beliefs that we don’t have ANY rights to claim for ourselves and our absence of boundaries keep us enmeshed with the abusers distorted belief systems.
In her book, Untwisting Scripture, Rebecca Davis states that even Jesus had personal rights and knew His value, “When Jesus came to earth to live among us, accomplishing His mission on earth to do the Father’s will, He always retained His rights as the Son of God. Though people didn’t believe Him, all along the position and role were RIGHTFULLY His.”
So how does one begin to trust herself? See her VALUE? How does one begin to trust her intuition and find her inner voice? How do we come against the vast amount of needs that have gone unmet or the perpetuating lie that tells me “I deserve the abuse – I don’t deserve to take care of my own needs and wants” How do we reclaim HER?
Abuse and neglect create another horrific side effect: Our inner voice (intuition) must go dark to protect itself, almost like a medically induced coma. Oh, she’s in there, but she’s dormant. We must over time, be reminded of the familiarity of her voice – but how?
First and foremost: safety. The more safety we experience the more the distorted beliefs come crumbling down. The more safety we experience the more we learn to trust our own voice, our own intuition and we learn to trust the voice of Jesus. If you are living with an addict/abuser or are in the fight of your life to undo the damage done from childhood, know this: “Jesus is the most powerful and most effective source of truth when it comes to correctly interpreting the meaning of an experience, and ESPECIALLY when it comes to replacing DISTORTED, erroneous, interpretations with truth.” – Dr. Karl Lehman (emphasis added)
Healing prayer, trauma therapy work such as EMDR, support groups, counseling, group counseling for sexual abuse victims, experiencing unconditional love in a safe community are all ways that we rebuild our safety. Most essential to rebuilding safety and restoring trust in your inner voice (that earlier part of you before all the abuse – the woman God designed you to be) is establishing and following thru with boundaries. The word “NO” will become your favorite word. “No. I cannot commit to that.” “No. I cannot have people over that weekend.” “No. I cannot bring brownies to the baseball game.” “No. I cannot join another Bible Study” “No. I cannot take on another team project.” “No. I cannot allow myself to be mistreated, screamed at, lied to, or abused.” “No. I cannot share my husband with prostitutes and pornography.” “No I cannot continue to prop you up after multiple relapses” “No I cannot take responsibility for your addiction.” “No, I cannot spend time with the abusers from my family of origin” The more times we commit and follow thru on our “No” the more we build confidence in our ability to assess our own reality, to follow thru and trust when our intuition is telling us to say No. The more we use boundaries the more we begin to trust that our own judgement is sound – we can make our own decisions, we can decide and discern what is right for our needs, time, wants, resources and healing. It is within our boundaries that we provide enough safety for ourselves to find that earlier part of who we are. When she is found, you will be able to provide for what your parents and intimate attachment couldn’t give you.
The more we provide safety – the more we get to know ourselves, without all of the distorted belief systems, lies and manipulation hijacking our voice. With enough safety SHE will emerge. The Imago Dei that God had in mind when He created you. Maya Angelou calls it, “Your inner space that no one else can touch – you are to keep it clean and pristine, cuz don’t you know? I am a child of God!”
My trauma coach gave me this beautiful image of a butterfly: “You have been creating a cocoon”, she said. “Filled with all the resources, knowledge and field experience, with enough safety that you have created for her – SHE will emerge with LASER focus, discernment and able to pick up on anything that’s distorted. She will emerge with empowerment and authority. Able to meet her needs through community, self and God’s love.”
Trauma specialist Peter Levine states, “Trauma leaves in its wake a loss of safety on every level. In order to heal, we must find ways to re-establish our sense of safety… To move through trauma, we need quietness, safety and protection ..” and Dr. Norman Wright says simply, “Trauma is a separation from safety.”
My Dear Sister, can you ask yourself:
“What do I need to feel safe in my own home again?”
“What do I need to feel safe in this moment?”
When SHE becomes empowered, SHE will be able to combat the distorted beliefs, ask for what she needs and provide NOURISHMENT for herself that she so desperately deserved, but never received.
3. We practice SELF NOURISHMENT as a result of safety and boundaries
Think back to that picture of what God intended: “When an infant is surrounded by others who see HER in the SAME WAY GOD sees her, the person she was designed to be, these faces will communicate to her at a very young age her value and importance.”
Sister, this can be restored! As discussed in previous blog posts, our community can reflect our value back to us, Jesus reflects our value and our narrative begins to change. We begin to live from the truth: “I have VALUE”
Yet the process is not without pain. Even when we are farther along in the recovery process we can recycle back thru triggers, emotions, and distorted beliefs. It is during this time that we pause and take breaks from the pain and self NOURISH in order to get thru these complex layers.
I like to use the word NOURISHMENT because it is providing self-soothing that perhaps wasn’t developed in childhood, or maybe it takes the place of the comfort and security you so desperately wanted from your mother but never received. It is similar to the nourishment we receive in a meal that contains dense nutrition like fats, vitamins, minerals and protein. We need this to sustain our complex systems. Maybe the NOURISHMENT you will provide for yourself now is a way to provide the unconditional love you never felt from your parents or your intimate attachment (spouse).
Self Nourishment can be a “recess” for the mind – in essence, it is another boundary. It is a boundary between you and the pain. The pain will be there when you get back but when our pain capacity becomes more intense than our joy capacity we need to stop. Take a break and NOURISH.
The Life Model states, “If a person in recovery is not empowered by joy, it may be impossible to face the pain that is part of [her] recovery. In fact, the amount of joy strength available needs to be higher than the amount of pain.”
NOURISHMENT = break in the pain = increase in joy
Practically speaking, nourishment and meeting our own needs might look like this: (NOW we can take bubble baths and look at pictures of kitties snuggling)
- Taking a walk on a nature trail
- Bike ride
- Petting or stroking your dog/cat/pet
- Calling a friend to do something fun
- Go see a movie
- Grab a cup of coffee with a friend
- Let someone know that you are scared, lonely, hurting
- Join a trauma support group
- Attend counseling
- Listen to a book
- Crochet, needle point, hobby of your choice
- Play a musical instrument
- Create a piece of art
- Take a nap
- Lifting Weights, Yoga or other exercise routine
- Go to the zoo, a concert, a play, a workshop, ect.
- Watching a funny you tube video
Another way that we NOURISH is to deal with pent up RAGE and HURT. Marsha Means writes, “Each time we make the choice to express and process our feelings in less toxic ways, the hostile, destructive response patterns grow weaker, and our emotions become easier to manage. This frees us to be angry, while expressing our anger in healthier ways to produce the changes we need.” Essentially, every time we practice releasing the anger in a new way. We are NOURISHING our true identity as we form new pathways in the brain rather than staying “stuck”.
- scream into your pillow
- have a really hard cry
- write an angry letter expressing all your feelings (don’t send the first draft)
- go to a batting cage, or throw darts
- kick box
- lift weights
- verbal vomit all over your journal as fast as you can
One of the most important ways we can NOURISH is to comfort ourselves. Our true identity – that earlier version of YOU that exists way down deep inside. She needs a mom. Maybe your mother is still living and she was wonderful – that should be celebrated! More than likely, you will know how to comfort self and others. For those of us whose mothers were neglectful, abandoned or parented abusively and out of control and fear – we didn’t get the comfort we so desperately needed from our mothers.
Sister, can you take a minute right now and imagine: If you had a mother here (literally or figuratively) What would she say to you? What would she do? What would you need from her? Would she hug you and hold you? Let you cry? Tell you she loves you no matter what? Would she stroke your hair? Would she tell you you’re a good daughter? Would she tell you – you didn’t deserve the abuse? Would she tell you- you didn’t deserve the betrayal? Would she tell you your beautiful? Would she tell you, you’re more than enough?
As women, we bear that image of God. It is a part of our Creation Identity. We are nurturers, leaders and care-givers:
Isaiah 49:15 states, “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!”
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!”
Just like the Lord to His children, we also long for intimacy and give our intimacy to those whom are in relationship to us. We were wired for belonging and comfort! Give this gift to yourself. You can NOURISH by speaking to that inner girl – the earlier version of yourself – be HER mom, comfort HER, and love HER unconditionally. Affirm HER when her intuition leads her down the right path. We can comfort others, but now it is time to use this precious piece of your Imago Dei for yourself.
We NOURISH ourselves by being our own protector and advocate, filling the role of a father or husband who should have guarded our home from abuse and sexual addiction. Some of our fathers and husbands have allowed evil to take advantage of us, but we can become the assertive voice that stands up for our health and wellness. We can be our own advocate by protecting our safety for that earlier girl. We can plan for triggers that would threaten HER safety.
One way I planned for triggers was by creating an index card that I keep in my purse. On the index card it reminds me that I have a right to say “No” at anytime, in any place and to ANY ONE. I have value and it is okay for me to change my mind, use my voice or create a boundary. My index card says this:
“I can leave the restaurant, church, meeting, the conversation, store or movie whenever I need to”
“I can say NO”
“I can say, “let me think about that”
My value is not based on disappointing others.
The index card serves as a physical reminder that I can use my voice and trust my own judgment and intuition.
Another way to plan for triggers is to create exit plans according to your situation. When attending a party or an event with in-laws or a holiday family get together, you can plan ahead for the expected triggering feelings that accompany such an event. How long will you stay? Do you need to take breaks at the get- together, perhaps stepping outside for a few minutes or taking a little walk? If you are attending with your spouse – will you need a code word in order to leave at a minute’s notice when that triggering moment arrives? When waves of grief arise – will you give yourself permission to leave when needed? What will you need to feel safe? If attending a movie – will you need to look up the content first, to avoid a scene that may cause you unnecessary pain?
As we are dealing with layers and layers of trauma – it is cruel to put ourselves in a situation where we may be triggered causing additional pain, if we can help it. Instead, we can plan ahead deciding what we may need in order to ensure our safety. If there are surprise triggers – those can be worked thru without condemnation or judgement on ourselves for being triggered.
When surprise triggers arrive we can NOURISH that inner voice by asking HER these guiding questions:
How does this trigger make me feel and why?
Identify what I need in order to feel safe?
Identify what assistance I need from my community: (do I need to reach out and expose my trigger? Do I need to ask for help? Do I need to cry with a friend? Do I need to talk through my steps with a safe friend?)
If I am married: Identify what assistance I need from my husband (none, stopping a behavior, starting a new behavior, reassurance, an action step from his recover plan, ect.)
If I am married: Request my need to my husband/ If I am unmarried: Request my need to co-worker, friend, relative, ect.
What Truth do you hear from the Lord, during this trigger?
Sometimes our needs become so overwhelming that we must go back to the BASICS of NOURISHMENT. For example, my goal today is to take a shower or today I will drink 3 glasses of water, today I will snuggle with my child, or today I will make sure I eat at least two meals. It is okay to remind yourself of these basic needs – especially when real life and recovery become overwhelming to simultaneously juggle.
Just like your Creator is both protector and advocate, we can fill this need for our inner self by advocating for our emotional, spiritual and physical safety. God’s design is for us to be complete and WHOLE, as John 10:10 states, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.”
His protection, love and advocacy can be the conduit for wholeness as the trust in our own voice and reality becomes restored.
Psalm 17:7 -8 “Show Your marvelous loving kindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You from those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings.”
Isaiah 54:5 “For your Creator will be your husband; the LORD of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth.”
My dear sister, be cautious when others tell you to “practice self-care” be sure to understand that true NOURISHMENT will come as we establish our safety, begin to live from a place of boundaries and take breaks from the pain of our hard work as we fight for TRUTH. The TRUTH about ourselves and finding our way back to that earlier girl – the inner voice and as we fight for the TRUTH as we remove the distorted beliefs that can block our path to freedom and God.
NOURISHING ourselves will result in more trust in ourselves, in Jesus and community. NOURISHING ourselves will increase our capacity to go back to the pain and tackle each layer of trauma. NOURISHING ourselves will result in the mature version of who YOU WERE MEANT TO BE – it will lead you to embrace your Imago Dei.
“And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten” Joel 2:25
My dear sister, you WILL find your way back to the woman you were meant to be.
You are not alone.
Education for today’s blog provided by: ‘Intimate Deception’ by Dr. Sheri Keffer, ‘Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How to Cope and Heal’ by Means and Steffens, ‘Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You’ the Life Model , From Bondage to Bonding by Nancy Groom, Untwisting Scriptures by Rebecca Davis