Posted in anger, boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, goals, parenting, relationships, selfcare, trauma, values

I’m Sorry I Hurt Your Feelings by the Boundary I Set, You Psychopath

Okay, so that might not be the best way to respond to someone. Name calling is generally considered unhelpful. However, this can be the heartfelt cry of many people attempting to hold boundaries within unhealthy relationships. It is actually a phrase I heard someone wish to utilize recently. Establishing boundaries when a relationship has a close association or has persisted for a number of years, can be difficult. How do you create the boundary? How do you communicate it? The hardest, how do you hold the boundary when there is the inevitable pushback? All these questions are important to consider. Boundaries are necessary, the are important and they are a way to protect yourself and others.

HOW DO YOU CREATE THE BOUNDARY?

I have always known boundaries were important. However, few things increased my insistence on boundaries quite like becoming a mom. I’m in the camp that holds better boundaries for others than for myself. I know, I know, I’m working on it.

You know a boundary needs to be set by internal warning signs. Do you feel hurt and confused? Do you sense a threat? Fight, flight or freeze kick in? That lets you know a boundary was crossed. We hold unconscious boundaries within ourselves that can be difficult to identify. These standards can be solidified when we evaluate the event that occurred and what value was violated. This can range from a tone someone takes with you to physical abuse or aggression. Having this spectrum can make things a little gray. It does not help that the most chronic boundary violators can be very skilled at gaslighting. Gaslighting is the method of convincing someone that how they feel is invalid and wrong.

When you are continually leaving a situation or person feeling out of sorts and “always wrong” it might be a good idea to process the events with someone objective. It needs to be someone that can remain dis-engaged emotionally and does not play devils advocate, nor jump to your defense. Someone that can listen and remain detached. They can help identify the value breached and create a reasonable boundary. This can include not interacting with them until they can take responsibility for their behavior or even leaving the situation when they breach the boundary. This can be leaving the room or even the location where they are.

HOW DO YOU COMMUNICATE IT?

Here is an example of identifying when a boundary needs to be set. Sometimes a loved one can be feeling anxious or frustrated and they turn all their emotion into the way they speak to you. Ouch, right? The value violated is respect. You may let it slide once or twice. However, it can be helpful to calmly say, “Please do not take your frustration out on me,” or “please talk to me in a kinder way.” Responding in a non-combative manner is helpful because it is more difficult for the other person to continue in their behavior. Read difficult, not impossible. If the pattern continues, the script can become more assertive. This can be saying, “If you continue to speak to me this way, I will leave.”

If patterns are repeated in a relationship, having one or two phrases identified that can be used in these situations is crucial. You may sound like a broken record, but the calm repeating of a phrase can defuse a situation. Who will continue arguing with someone that doesn’t change their words or escalate in emotions? It takes away the confrontation, fight or acquiescence the person may be looking for.

HOW DO YOU HOLD A BOUNDARY?

Boundaries are hard. They force change in a relationship. Any time there’s a shift, the relationship acts like a rubber band. You create distance due to the change, the other person either adapts or the relationship snaps. A severed relationship is painful. We, as humans, have an aversion to pain. Maybe that’s just me? The status quo is sometimes comfortable, even if it causes us pain.

However, boundaries are never an unloving or unhelpful addition to a relationship. A healthy relationship is one where boundaries are expressed and accepted. When two people’s values in treatment collide, it might not be the best to continue that friendship. This can range from one person wanting to gain all their emotionally validation from one person (read unhealthy) or refusing to engage in a nonreciprocal relationship.

The best way to hold a boundary is having a predetermined consequence to continual violation of the boundary. It helps to have an outside consultant to come up with this as well. The confidant can be a mental health professional, a mentor or a level headed friend. It needs to be firm, but also proportional. This can be, as stated before, leaving a room or a place when someone violated that boundary. It can be cutting a type of contact, such as texting, phone calls, etc for a predetermined set time. It can even be cutting all contact for a certain amount of time. It helps to have a set time table. It ensures that there is a possibility for reengagement, in non-abuse cases, and allows the option for growth.

Most importantly, then you must, MUST, hold the consequence. If it is a consequence “without teeth” the chronic behavior will not change. It must be enforceable and enforced. Have others that help keep you accountable to the consequence.

Remember, when it is hard, that your values are worth upholding. Insisting that others treat you with respect is important and contributes to how you feel about yourself. It can be a helpful model for your children, your friends and your family. It can serve as a reminder to people in your life that they, also, are worth holding boundaries.

Posted in relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, values

But it’s Always Been This Way

As humans, we enjoy the familiar. It can reduce anxiety to know what to expect. The predictable can become monotonous, but ultimately change is difficult.

Change often forces introspection and evaluation. We don’t usually like that. It means having to analyze and examine what works versus what is comfortable. Another word for unchanging can be tradition. As the holidays approach, tradition is a word that is thrown around often. Now, I am a person that love tradition. I thrive on having something that has meaning because it has history. However, it is good to explore whether certain things are accepted because they have value, or changing is too hard. Here are a few ways to evaluate that idea. It can be applied to the job that you know you hate, but it’s too hard to find something else. It can be a relationship that is unhealthy, but having to force confrontation is too uncomfortable. Whatever the situation, it needs to be said that just because it has “always been this way,” does not mean it has to continue.

HOW DOES IT EFFECT OTHERS?

Observation. Most people have to tell themselves to observe. Consider how others behave. Attempt to gauge their emotions. I know we are not mind readers, but body language can tell you a lot.

Not only examining others in the situation is important, but also examining your own reaction. We (and I may just mean me) can be so aware of other’s feelings and experiences that we forget to check in with ourselves. Something occurs routinely, because we don’t want to rock the boat. How do you feel about it? How do you feel when the situation or interaction is over? Fatigued? On edge? That may be a sign that something needs to change. An example could be who hosts Thanksgiving. Do you host every year and find yourself experiencing resentment? Maybe it’s time to ask for help or to let someone else take over for a season.

WHAT IS YOUR REACTION TO CHANGE?

The idea of changing the hosting of Thanksgiving? Did that cause anxiety? Where did that come from? Sometimes people are so entrenched in their roles in families or friend groups that stepping outside of that role can feel stressful. We are not what we do, but that concept isn’t really communicated in the world in which we live. Our value is not from what we provide for others. Are you always the friend that is the sounding board and struggle to find your own board? Might be time for something different. 

Identifying our emotions is difficult. We usually oscillate between happy, mad or sad. However, there are so many other feelings that can explain what is going on internally so much more clearly! Do you feel devalued or excited or content? We don’t use descriptive, feeling words, because they aren’t in our usual vocabulary. It’s okay to print out a list of emotions and go from there. Once the feelings are identified, it can help with the evaluation. 

WHAT IS NEEDED?

As people, we stink at asking for what we need. That’s why we are so good at manipulation. The idea stings because it’s true.  Look at toddlers. They learn how to fake cry for attention at early ages. They learn how to behave to get what they need. However, once we develop language capability, we don’t translate the idea. How often have you been feeling sad and asked specifically for a hug? Or needed to have a difficult conversation about someone hurting your feelings, so you gave them some passive aggressive clues that you were upset? Guilty. 

When we need things to change for someone else, for a place or for ourselves, we need to communicate. Communication that will probably lead to confrontation is my least favorite. I’d rather stuff my emotions (great job, therapist!) or flat out ignore my feelings to avoid effecting someone else’s feelings negatively. You know what? I need to “adult up,” and you do too. 

Change is hard. Evaluation is necessary. Just because something has “always been this way,” whether it is relationship dynamics, work environment or expectations, does not mean it has to or should continue forever. Look outside yourself, look into yourself and find what is necessary for things to move toward a healthy place. It’s not fun. It is not easy. However, your life is worth it.

Facing confrontation with hesitation,

Allyson 

Posted in emotion regulation, empathy, parenting, relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, trauma

Making a Case For…Thinking Your Emotions

Our “worst” or most maladaptive traits are often good and healthy coping mechanisms that have been turned up to such a high volume that they are now interfering with other healthy ways of being. For example, people pleasing as a child may have kept you from getting in trouble at home, but as an adult it may make it difficult to set appropriate boundaries in your relationships.  One maladaptive trait that gets me into trouble is thinking my emotions more than feeling them. In fact, I have a friend who will check in with me by saying, “Are you intellectualizing your emotions again?” Talk about getting called out!

To really simplify things, we process our emotions best whenever we use both the thinking and feeling parts of our brain. Developing a healthy integration of our thinking and feeling is what leads us to healing, while getting lost for too long in one or the other usually results in us getting stuck.

Getting stuck is the last place we want to be with our own emotions. As the resident “over-thinker,” here are some ways to help take a step back when you find yourself getting lost in the feeling:

Look for Patterns

Whenever we’re faced with particularly confusing emotions or responses, a common response is to start to judge ourselves. “Why am I feeling this way? Why is this happening? What’s wrong with me?” If this starts to happen to you, try stepping outside of yourself and taking on the role of the scientist. When scientists have a problem they need to find a solution to, one of the essential steps in finding that solution is collecting data.

The easiest way to do this is to ask yourself questions. What happened right before you felt that way? What happened right after? What were you thinking? What were you feeling? Who else was there and what was said? What time of day did it happen? Try to be as non-judgmental as possible when you’re in this headspace, refraining from naming anything as ‘good’ or ‘bad. The goal is to situate yourself as a scientist who is dispassionately observing.

This doesn’t mean to ignore your emotions, it simply gives you the space to try to logically understand your emotions outside of feeling them, and try to understand more about them.

Everything Makes Sense in Context

Have you ever had trouble regulating yourself after hearing someone else talk about their emotions or opinions? Maybe when they start talking about their political ideology? (This seems to do the trick for many of us!) Thinking can help in this context because, as I think we’ve at least all seen, matching someone else’s emotional intensity rarely makes a situation better.

One of the ways you can use your thinking to diffuse an emotionally intense interaction is to move from a place of primarily feeling to a place of curiosity. Everything that we do, we do because it makes sense to us for some feeling or reason at the time. The same is true for everyone else. If everything makes sense in context, ask yourself why the opinions and reactivity of the other person make sense for them. Curiosity can move us away from an oppositional standpoint towards one of empathy and compassion.

Name It, Don’t Stuff It

There are times when we are all faced with emotions and experiences that have the potential to overwhelm us. I’m talking about those moments when what we’re feeling seems like it has the power to completely shut us down if we give in. Utter grief and sorrow. Shock and despair. The darkest corners of our depression and the frozen moments of anxiety.

It’s in these moments that our power to think emotions can truly come to the rescue, because without intentionally using our thinking, these emotions can get duct taped shut, closed into a box, and shoved into the forgotten places in our mind. These are the emotions we stuff down because we don’t know how to process them and would feel too unsafe feeling them. They are the emotions we stuff in order to survive.

When faced with these kinds of emotions, the first thing you can do is name it. Maybe you know it’s shock, or grief, or sadness. Or maybe you just know that what you’re feeling is overwhelming. Name it. Maybe even say it out loud: “I’m feeling despair right now. It’s really upsetting and I don’t know what to do with it.” Then you can put it in a box, set it on a shelf, and set a reminder to come back to it when you are in a calmer space. This gives your body time to calm down, and even just naming your emotion externalizes it enough to give you some space from it at that moment. Just remember to come back to it when you are feeling safe and calm. Coming back to the emotion later, when you’re feeling safe, will allow you to integrate your thinking and feeling, instead of just getting lost in the overwhelm.

Our bodies, emotions, and experiences are so intimately and intricately intertwined. And while we are all wonderful, we are also all wounded. I urge you to pay attention to both your thinking and feeling, and talk to a counselor if you need help with this. I found a lot of safety in thinking my emotions until I found I wasn’t able to heal fully without all of the feeling. Listen to your feelings. Listen to your brain. Listen to your body. It’s doing the best it can to heal you, so let’s help it along.

Thinking AND feeling with you,

Selena

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, motherhood, parenting, relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, therapy, trauma

How Do I Talk to My Kids About…My Mental Illness

“I love Nonna. Nonna is always calm and kind…not like you mom.”

Nonna is the name my kids use for my mother-in-law and those were the words my child was whispering to me as I was tucking him into bed one night. I knew that on a different day those words would have cut right through me, but that night was different. That night, I agreed with him.

I was at a low point that night. I didn’t recognize myself as a parent: I was yelling, irritable, and struggling to delight in my relationship with them. In short, I wasn’t okay. But I had been diagnosed with PTSD just a few days earlier and was finally able to see my actions through a lens that made my behavior make sense.

If you are coping with a mental illness and have a diagnosis, you have every right to keep that information to yourself. If, however, you find your mental illness affecting your relationship with your children, here are a few ways of talking about it that may help.

View Your Diagnosis As An Explanation, Not An Excuse

That night, as my son told me how much he didn’t like me, I knew the reason for my behavior. I understood enough about PTSD to understand that what had happened during the day made sense, including my behavior. But I also knew that I had really hurt my child’s feelings and that there was no excuse for taking my emotions out on my kids. Having a diagnosis can help contextualize your actions, but it is not a free pass for not addressing the consequences of your actions. Mistakes that you make as a result of mental illness are still mistakes.

When your mental illness affects your relationship with your kids, it’s okay to let them know what’s happening. First, wait for everyone to be in a calm space, then repair with your kids. Talk about the role your mental health played in your behavior, and apologize, empathize, and connect. It can also be helpful to tell you kids what you are doing/will do to change your behavior, such as talk to a doctor/counselor, keep taking your medicine, or make sure you get enough sleep.

Externalize Your Mental Illness

With mental illness, it can be really difficult to separate the person from the symptoms. Before a diagnosis, many people agonize about their symptoms and their difficulty managing them. It can be hard to keep away negative self-talk like, “I’m just not good enough,” “What’s wrong with me,” or “I’m such a bad/sad/angry/crazy/terrible person.” Creating a separation, or externalizing the problem, can help keep people separate from their symptoms.

You can use externalization with your kids by explaining what is going on with your mental health. For example, you may have promised your kids a trip to the park, but your social anxiety has become so severe that day that you can no longer go. It’s natural to feel guilty in that moment, but getting stuck in this kind of thinking is likely to lead to greater anxiety. Instead, you can try explaining to your kids that you are having a hard time with your anxiety and need to stay home.

You don’t have to use the word “anxiety”; you can call it whatever feels right for you and your kids’ maturity level. And your kids may not understand – they will have their own emotions to manage at the disappointment. By using externalization and saying that “the anxiety” is making it hard to go, you can help maintain the connection between you and your children. Instead of “Mom won’t let us go,” you change the narrative to, “Mom’s anxiety won’t let us go.” It’s a subtle shift, but it opens up the opportunity for compassion from your kids and for you to attend to your kids emotions.

Model A Balance Between Self-Control and Self-Compassion

One of the possible benefits of sharing about your mental health – whether you have a diagnosed mental illness or not – is setting an example of balancing self-control and self-compassion. Coping successfully with any mental health struggle requires both self-compassion and self-control, and it is an example that many of our kids will need. Recent studies estimate that up to 25% of adolescents are affected by anxiety disorders, so that means that even if anxiety doesn’t affect your kids, it will likely affect one of their close friends.

As much as you are able to, model and narrate how you cope with your mental health struggles. Explain that you are doing deep breathing to help keep a panic attack at bay. Talk about how you go to therapy because it helps make your depression feel better. After an outburst of PTSD anger, let you kids know that you are going to sit and sip a cup of coffee alone in order to calm down your body. Allow yourself to be disappointed that you can’t get out of bed that day, and show your kids how your treat that struggle with compassion rather than self-criticism. You won’t always get it perfect, but it is powerful to show your kids that while you cannot control your symptoms, you can often work hard to better manage them.

There are definitely times in my work as a therapist where labels and diagnoses appear to do more harm than good. Other times, like that evening with my son, a diagnosis is the best tool you have. I told him that my brain was having trouble staying calm because it had gotten hurt. I empathized that it was hard to have a “mad mom” and told him how sorry I was about using my angry voice so much that day. I sat and listened to what had made him sad or mad, and then asked if he wanted a hug. I then told him that I would keep taking my medicine for my hurt brain and keep talking to my doctor to try to get better. Being open about my mental health turned what could have been a wound in our relationship into a moment of connection.  

We will never be able to hide our imperfections from our kids. Think about ways you can normalize struggling with mental health with your kids and let us know what you come up with!

Talking it out with you,

Selena

An Important Note:

Stigma against mental illness is real. I’ve met people who keep their struggles and diagnoses a secret from as many people as possible out of fear and others who have been ostracized from their families for living openly with their diagnoses. The stressors that result from the stigma can range from minor (being embarrassed that someone saw your medication) to extreme (fear of being cut off or becoming the object of derision in your family or other social group). Only you fully know the costs and benefits of being open about a diagnosis or mental illness, and I encourage you to do what you believe is best for you. And remember, if you need to talk therapy is always confidential.

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in emotion regulation, goals, home, isolation, loneliness, motherhood, parenting, relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, Uncategorized, values

Mom Guilt

Mom guilt is a very real phenomenon. Often, no matter the influence, no matter the intent, no matter the action, parents second guess their parenting decisions. Mom guilt can motivate us towards change, or it can be a destructive, shaming rabbit hole that leads to paralyzing self-condemnation. 

These two extremes are present in our lives, but often have more subtle nuance. For example, I awoke at 3:00 AM one morning and rode the rabbit hole of destructive mom guilt for about an hour before I was able to succumb to sleep again. The concern behind this spiral? Whether my four year old was getting enough active time.

My evidence? We moved into a smaller house so he cannot run around as much inside, we haven’t been to the park very much and he’s currently not in a pre-k program to encourage activity with his peers. 

The verdict? I was a horrible Mom that was not doing enough. 

Terrible? Yes. 

Unhelpful? Definitely. 

Unreasonable? Completely. 

The direction that mom guilt often projects us into, is one that is not productive for our emotional health, mental health, or parent/child relationship. Here are a few ways to battle against this minefield when it rears its ugly head. Ways to combat the worst ever game of wack-a-mole.

MEASURE AGAINST REALITY

As I wrestled with the trial of my parenting that 3:00 am had brought me, I was slow to come to my own defense. I hammered myself with the failings I supposedly contributed to, but I did not present the case that we are a newly transplanted family. I began to chronicle the various accusations and hold them up to reality. 

A smaller house? Yes, but living somewhere that would provide more bearable weather to endure outside play time. 

Infrequent park trips? The weather had been in the triple digits. That’s not healthy for anyone. 

Not in a pre-k program? We have lived in our new town for about a month. 

Being able to invite reality into our emotionally elevated headspace, can be difficult, but it is vital. We are often our own worst enemy, but doing accurate self-reflection is important. We can see ways we are not meeting our own realistic expectations and make plans to correct our behavior. It can also give us a reprieve when the spiraling mind is being irrational and intensely vindictive. I would also not recommend having those moments in the early moments of the morning. News alert: Your brain is definitely not being rational. 

MEASURE WITH A FRIEND

We all need someone with which we can be vulnerable and accountable. Someone that will offer us some reality with love. This can be correction if we are not living up to the needs of our children or guiding us toward better reality testing if we have gone off the rails. 

I must insist on something, this CANNOT be a social media account. Reality testing cannot be done through the highlight reel of Instagram. All parents look like rockstars if they choose to on this platform. All rooms cleaned, multiple activities for the children and they are rocking this homeschool thing. Can this be done? Maybe. Everyone has their own strengths.

These honest conversations can be held with someone that knows your strengths, can call you to be the best parent you can be and will not prompt you to do more crafts with your kids if that’s not your thing. We talk about a mom tribe, but more important than a mom tribe is that one friend that will be a taste of rational thinking when the tornado begins. 

MEASURE YOUR MIND

One of our greatest weapons when dealing with errant thoughts? A similar tactic we use with toddlers. Redirection. Spiraling about how few clean clothes your family has while you are doing laundry? Put on some music. Put on a TV show. Call a friend. Derail the thought train, because there are no helpful depots along the track. Thought stopping is a great way to combat anxious rumination and depressive spiraling. 

Sometimes it helps treating your mind like a tantruming child. Check for hunger, exhaustion, need for a moment alone and then find something different to focus on. It needs to be something that can consume your mind, so not necessarily only an action but also something that you enjoy. Find a way to make yourself laugh, yell at the dishes and then sing your favorite Hamilton song (“Work, work! Angelica! Work, work! Eliza! And Peggy! The Schuyler sisters!” is my go to). 

The self-flagellation that often is the result of mom guilt is very unproductive. It cripples the joy that comes from parenthood and wraps every event in the “not good enough” cast-off clothes. We deserve better treatment from our minds and our children deserve better parenting motivation. You do not struggle with this beast alone. Speak up, share concerns and allow others to speak into that rabbit hole. When spoken out loud, lies often scatter like bugs exposed to sunlight. Unproductive mom guilt lingers long after the problem area has been resolved and growth has begun. 

Letting in the light,

 Allyson 

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in counseling, goals, motherhood, parenting, screen time, selfcare, summer

Survival Mode to Summertime

Stepping into summertime feels really different this year. Kids have already been at home for months, things are slowly reopening, and many summer plans have been put on hold. So how do we differentiate summer from quarantine life and move out of survival mode to summer mode?

Hopefully things are getting a little more normal for you. As you make this transition, I would encourage you to remember to do what is comfortable and best for your family. If that means socially distancing longer than your friends or letting loose now that the stay at home order is over, you get to make the choice for your family. A great thing we can do for our friends and family members is respect their decisions. On this Memorial Day, you can also take some time to prepare for your summer!

When You Were a Kid

What do you remember about summer when you were a kid? What did you love? What can you recreate with your family? Maybe a backyard kid pool and homemade popsicles made the list or water balloon fights and super soakers. We may have to get a little more creative this summer with safety precautions and not everything open. I would encourage you to make a bucket list with your kids about things you want to do over the summer. Planning and working your way down the bucket list can help get everyone in summer mode.

Reinstate Normal

Anyone still feeling like they are in survival mode? What do you need to implement to get back to normal that is within your control? In our house, I need a better morning routine, and we need to get back to our bedtime routine in the evenings.  Maybe its reigning in screen time or limiting self indulgence as a coping mechanism as discussed in previous blog posts. Communicating expectations and routines is beneficial for both you and your kids. It keeps you accountable and does not take them by surprise.

One on One

In her book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, Dr. Markham discusses the importance of one on one time. She suggests doing this daily for fifteen minutes with each child and calling it by your child’s name, for example, “Matthew time.” I realize this may not be feasible every day, but what a great thing for our kids to look forward to when we can! These little ones love spending time with parents. It also creates something predictable in the summer routine.

I hope this new season helps you get into a new mindset as you set out to enjoy some time with your family this summer. Life isn’t normal yet for most of us. We know summer will have great moments and hard moments as all parenting seasons do, but I hope you can enjoy the moment by moment of this season.

Diving in with you,

Andrea

Reference:

Markham, L. (2012) Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. New York: Perigree Press.

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, social distancing

Self-Care vs. Self-Indulgence

Spending so much time away from our friends, communities, and support systems has been hard. Sure, all of the Facetiming and Google hangouts have been nice, but no matter how introverted you might be, we’re all starting to really miss our people. Our people are usually the support systems we turn to when things are hard, but when our normal support systems are absent or lacking, many of us have had to start practicing more forms of self-care to make up for the lack.

When you’re having a hard time and cannot use some of your normal coping skills, how do you know what kind of self-care to turn to? Or, how much? Or, when is it enough? When our lives were busier, the question was more often one of “How do I fit in good self-care?” Now that we are having to practice more of our own care and maybe even have time for it for the first time in a long time, some of us are now asking, “Is there such a thing as too much self-care?” We all need a way to respond to our negative emotions, but how do we know we are doing it right?

One of the most confusing things about discerning between self-care and self-indulgence is that many behaviors could be either.

  • Going for a run.
  • Sleeping in.
  • Eating a big meal of comfort food.
  • Taking a long bath or shower.
  • Taking time for yourself.

Each of these could be the care your soul needs, or might just be a way to numb out from your negative emotions.

So how do we tell the difference? How do we know if the things we are doing are helping our minds, souls, and bodies, or hurting them instead?

Let’s get on the same page:

Before we move on, let’s start with the Merriam-Webster definitions and go from there – just so that we’re all on the same page.

Self-care: care for oneself

Self-indulgence: excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own appetites, desires, or whims

Both actions are directed towards yourself and are meant to benefit you, but there are miles between their respective purposes. If self-care is caring for oneself, then things like going to the dentist, making sure you do your laundry, or taking time to stretch all fall into that category. Sure, those things aren’t very glamorous, exciting, or even necessarily pleasurable, but they do serve the purpose of caring for oneself.

Self-indulgence, on the other hand, is directed by the desire to receive pleasure, specifically excessive pleasure.

But what about things that are pleasurable and caring? Like lighting a lovely smelling candle and journaling?

Or what about things that are caring, but excessive? Like training for a marathon, but forcing your body to overtrain and getting an injury?

How does it make you feel about yourself?

One of the biggest clues about whether you are practicing self-care or self-indulgence is how you feel before, during, and afterwards.

Self-indulgence keeps you focused on your sensory experiences, but practicing self-care takes a more holistic evaluation of and communication with yourself. Self-care ultimately comes from a place of self-compassion. Dr. Kristen Neff explains that self-compassion “requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.” This is precisely opposed to self-indulgence. Where self-indulgence invites you to indulge in pleasurable sensations, emotional exaggeration, or numbing yourself from feeling anything at all, self-care requires tuning into your body and your emotions and looking for what your entire self needs most. Even, and maybe even especially, when it doesn’t feel good. Dr. Neff states that, “We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.” Sometimes sitting with our pain is exactly the kind of self-care that we need because it’s the kind of self-care that brings healing.

Self-care should leave you feeling more connected to yourself – physically, emotionally, vocationally, spiritually, mentally, etc. Self-indulgence, on the other hand, may leave you feeling worse. If your “self-care” causes you to neglect or harm important people or activities in your life, creates unnecessary financial burdens, or causes significant damage to your body, it is likely self-indulgence.

How do I stop self-indulgence?

The easiest way to get rid of something is to start growing what you want to replace it with. If self-care is rooted in self-compassion, then the best way to curb self-indulgence is to lean into self-compassion.

In its simplest definition, self-compassion is treating yourself with the same compassion that you would show a dear friend whenever they are struggling. If you want to take a closer look at some of the thoughts and actions that indicate your level of self-compassion, take a look at Dr. Neff’s self-compassion scale here:
https://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ShortSCS.pdf

Do you have low levels of self-compassion and are stuck on what to do next? Check out Dr. Neff’s exercises for increasing self-compassion here:
https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/#guided-meditations

If you’ve realized that you’ve been lower on self-compassion and self-care than you had hoped, or if you’re confessing to yourself that your self-indulgence has been getting a little out of control, then I urge you to remember that you are not alone. This has been a hard season for almost everyone, and we are all learning and growing together.

Learning compassion with you,

Selena

Resources:
Neff, K. Definiton of self-compassion. Self-compassion. https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/.

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