Still don’t have a New Year’s Resolution? Here’s a suggestion: In 2018, Treat. Yo. Self. (Kindly!)
On this last day of 2017, I’m looking back at all the big changes in my life. I got married. I bought my first home. It was an exciting, action-packed, and incredibly stressful year. If you’ve ever planned a wedding or signed mortgage documents, you know that both of those events can induce massive tension-headaches that spread all the way down your back, while simultaneously drilling behind your eyeballs and threatening your sanity.
And if you are a survivor of child abuse, and you either choose to not involve your parents in your life (like me) or simply have a tense, uncomfortable relationship with your parents, both of those events can be even harder. So much fun explaining to people why your dad won’t be walking you down the aisle! Great times getting fit for a dress without a mom’s advice! Finding out people RSVP’d no to your wedding because they sided with your child abuser mother is a blast!
But even though I had to face all those milestone stressors, I was able to support myself. My resolution last New Year’s Eve was to do nicer things for myself. This perhaps sounds selfish and indulgent. However, one needs to consider that survivors of abuse often blame themselves for what happened to them, and are hard on themselves in hopes of changing their circumstances. “If I work hard at making this Christmas perfect, my mom will appreciate it.” “If I get straight As, my dad will be happy with me.” “If I lose weight, have perfect skin, have the best ceremony and reception with perfect details, am happy and smiling the whole time, am totally gracious, and don’t complain about anything, including this overwhelming sense of loss, grief, loneliness, and pain, then my new in-laws will accept me and love me forever.” Unfortunately, this conditional hopes are what is known as bargaining, one form of coping, and not actual strategies for happiness. Normal people are kind, friendly, and loving because that’s what normal people do, it’s not conditional. Abusers abuse people because it’s what they do, and unfortunately it’s also unconditional; it’s not the victim’s fault.
For these reasons, we survivors deserve to start pleasing ourselves, rather than focusing on pleasing everyone around us. We may even find that the love they give ourselves allows us to be more empathetic and giving in relationships. If we aren’t totally tapped out, exhausted, and feeling like dog poop, we can listen better and help out more.
Sadly, survivors of child abuse are often so used to trying to be perfect, to compensate for the atrocity (that wasn’t actually their fault anyway–remember that please), that they have forgotten how to be kind to themselves. If the abuse came from narcissistic, sadistic parents, often the survivor hasn’t even been told before that it’s ok to do nice things for him/herself.
Which brings us to me one year ago, and me now. Leading up to December 31st, 2016 I did not drink herbal tea when it was chilly and gray outside. I did not take baths. I did not get regular massages. I had never had a pedicure. I did not watch TV when the sun was out. Ever. I did not read in bed on weekend mornings. Because there was so much I had to do and if I didn’t do it, then I was a failure!!!!!! I also woke up with tension headaches or migraines most Saturday mornings.
Luckily, I have some awesome supports in my life (thank you, husband and friends), who in the last months of 2016 encouraged some healthier, kinder behaviors towards myself. So I made a New Year’s resolution: Treat. Yo. Self.
Cue Donna and Tom (dub in 2017 for 2011).
I started small: baths with lavender essential oil and herbal tea. I also started doing yoga nidra meditations regularly (so easy, you get to lie down and basically take a nap). I upgraded to home facials. I started reading in bed a little more. I got a pedicure for my wedding, and enjoyed it so much I got another a couple months later. I got 6 massages this last year, and a couple of real spa facials. They were awesome. I bought a lot of fuzzy socks at the beginning of this December, because I like them. I also get far fewer headaches, fight with my husband less, feel more energized and less overwhelmed at work
Your form of self-care doesn’t have to look like mine. It can take any form of doing nice things for yourself. What’s so painful for child abuse survivors is feeling a lack of love in our lives. The great thing about being a grownup survivor is that now we have the power to give that love to ourselves. And remember, how we treat ourselves sets the tone for others’ behavior towards us.
Have any fun treat yo self ideas? Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment on this post. I’m especially interested in free/low-cost ideas, but definitely interested in Tommy and Donna-worthy indulgences as well!