1. What does self-care mean to me? How can I practise self-care in everyday life?
Survivors of childhood trauma often struggle with self-care, because abuse and neglect fractures our sense of self. We often carry beliefs that we are ‘wrong’, ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’ in some way; beliefs that are hard to shake off.
These beliefs can heavily impact our capacity to care for ourselves, to soothe and nurture ourselves properly.
These beliefs stem from our core wounds and can lead us to self-destructive behaviours such as addictions. We might also neglect our own needs because we were made to think they were unimportant.
By examining our own idea of what self-care is and what it would mean for us to practise it, we open the door to it. By beginning to practise self-care consciously, we challenge those long-held negative beliefs. We start to believe instead that we are worthy of care, that our needs are important and we are capable of fulfilling them for ourselves.
What does self-care mean to you?
There are many aspects to self-care, and everyone will prioritise different ones. Here are some examples to get you started:
- Healthy diet, exercise, skin/haircare
- Taking time for hobbies and relaxation
- Meditation and breathwork
- Trigger point massage
- Daily routines
- Getting quality sleep
- Engaging in therapy
- Shadow work, journaling, creating art
- Learning new skills
- Practising self-soothing techniques
Make your own list, and journal about ways you can implement each aspect of self-care into your own life. If it seems overwhelming, pick one or two items from the list and start there. Baby steps are good! It can seem impossible to look at something in its entirety but we can split most things into small steps that are easier to achieve- for example, if you would like to focus on improving your diet, what is the first thing you could do to help that? You could set a goal to eat a piece of fruit each day, or drink a glass of water each morning.
Start small, aim high!
Small goals like that are much less daunting and we can use the feeling of accomplishment and pride gained from reaching these small goals to power us on to larger goals.
2. What does shame feel like for me? What makes me feel ashamed?
Shame is one of the most damaging after-effects of abuse. It is an emotion that can permeate all other emotions- for example, we can feel sad and ashamed, angry and ashamed, fearful and ashamed- even happy and ashamed, if we do not feel ‘worthy’ of happiness.
Shame can be useful in situations where we have done something immoral or dishonourable because it can prompt us to make amends and make positive changes so that we do not repeat the action. The shame felt by abused children or traumatised adults, however, is different. It comes not from our own bad behaviour, but someone else’s.
Why survivors carry shame
We are brought up to believe that “adults know best”. This leads abused children to the conclusion that they must be “bad” for adults to have singled them out for abuse. This feeling of being bad, worthless or defective in some way can stay with us long into adulthood and leads to heavy shame that we carry with us daily.
Working through our shame
We can begin to address the shame we carry through journaling. Ask yourself what shame feels like for you. Is it a hot or a cold feeling? Where in your body do you feel it most? How heavy is it? What colour would you give it, what smell? Describe shame in any way that feels right to you, in words or in pictures.
Once you have a good idea of what shame feels like for you, you can begin to consider what situations or people trigger this feeling of shame. For example, you might feel ashamed if you stumble over your words in a work meeting, or answer a question incorrectly in class. Think about the underlying belief that causes this shame- in this case, “I am stupid”. This belief- and the shame that comes with it- is irrational. You can challenge irrational beliefs by questioning them, by practising self-compassion and using positive mantras such as “I am worthy”, “I am intelligent”.
Remember- everyone makes mistakes. It is human and normal. If your friend stumbled over a sentence or answered a question incorrectly, would you call them stupid? I doubt it. Then why come to that assumption about yourself?
Be your own best friend.
Life can be tough. Healing can be tough. It makes things so much easier when you are on your own side. Facing our shame head-on is difficult work, so take it slowly and don’t pile more shame on top of the old shame! Once you have used journaling and introspection to define what shame feels like to you and the situations that cause you to feel unnecessary shame, you can work on challenging those beliefs and noticing that feeling in your body when it begins so that you can challenge it in the moment rather than allowing it to take over.
3. Do I trust myself? Do I trust anyone else?
Trust can be a major sticking point in survivors’ lives. When our trust has been betrayed in a major way, it can be hard to trust anyone afterwards. When we have been abused or neglected, especially as children, we can lose trust even in ourselves- we can come to the conclusion that our body is “the enemy” and learn to dissociate from it more and more.
Learning to trust yourself.
Do you trust yourself? Do you trust your intuition? Do you believe that you are capable of looking after your own best interests, taking care of your own needs? It is okay if the answer is “No”. Healing takes time- sometimes a lot of time. As you practise self-care, self soothing, shadow work and other positive methods of coping, your sense of trust in yourself will naturally increase, day by day. As you practise setting healthy boundaries with others and cutting toxic people out of your life, you will learn to trust your own intuition and stand up for yourself.
Learning to trust others.
Do you trust other people? Is there anyone in your life you feel you can trust completely, or are you waiting for betrayal, abandonment, lies from everyone? What do you think it would be like to trust someone? What are you most afraid will happen if you do?
As you begin to heal and trust yourself, you will naturally find it easier to extend trust to others who are worthy of that trust. You will realise that, no matter what happens, you are there for yourself. You will see that trust is something that can be extended slowly, to the right people, and that it can be revoked.
As a survivor, you probably learned to believe that the world is a scary place. As you practise trusting, you will find that there are many, many people in this world who do not want to hurt you. Who want the best for you. Who love and care for you, and deserve your trust.
Above all, you deserve your own trust.
4. What aspects of my personality or behaviour would I like to change?
We all have a ‘shadow side’- those aspects of our personality we hide from ourselves (and project onto others). Shadow work is the process of revealing, accepting and integrating that shadow into our personality. If we remain in denial of the less attractive parts of our natures, we are powerless to make positive change.
If, however, we are brave enough to look at ourselves objectively, with compassion, the power is ours to transform into the person we want to be.
We can start this process by being honest with ourselves, listing in our journal the behaviours and traits we are less fond of. Here are some methods to get to know your shadow.
5. What does love feel like to me? Do I feel truly loved, by myself and by others?
Have you ever stopped to wonder what love feels like? A lot of us who are survivors have a twisted idea of love, formed by our childhood or traumatic experiences.
Once you start to journal about love, you may be surprised at what comes up. It can be hard to accept real love from another person if you do not truly love yourself. Those of us with chaotic, abusive childhoods might have grown up believing that love is abuse, betrayal, something to fear. Real love is safe, it is kind, it nurtures. Do you feel safe with yourself? Are you kind to yourself, do you nurture yourself?
Again, the first step to making positive change is to admit to ourselves the truth, even when it is painful (especially when it is painful!). One of the hardest and most painful realisations I’ve ever had is that I never felt safe, even in my own body, and this is why I spent so much time dissociating– living in my head. It hurt, a lot, and I spent quite some time grieving for all the years I had lost to that dissociation, but eventually it led me to a conscious choice- a choice to get back into my own body, to claim that space and stay there, as much as possible.
Once we face these truths, once we begin to make conscious choices in this way, the real healing begins.
Your relationship with yourself is the most important one you will ever have. If you love yourself, your relationships with everyone else will improve.
I hope these journal prompts have given you a good starting place to explore your inner landscape. I promise you, it is a beautiful, wild and fascinating place! You are brave for doing this work, please take it slowly and take as many breaks as you need to. Stay safe.
Ten Ways to Heal Trauma Part One, Part Two
Survivor’s Guide to Self Soothing
Trauma bonds (and how to break them)
Emotional Flashbacks- and how to cope.
Understanding the Freeze Response to Trauma
5 Symptoms of Childhood Trauma in Adults
Trauma Symptoms you didn’t know were symptoms
5 Journal Prompts for Trauma Healing
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