This is the first in a series of blog posts on resilience. As a therapist, I see resilience as the hallmark of mental health. The journey towards resilience is at the heart of my practice. Resilience is the quality that is developed and honed in the face of stress.
The truth is none of us get out of this life without encountering stress. When you consider all the daily trials we face, be they from marriage, children, careers, household concerns, or our partner’s addiction, there’s plenty of stress going around. It can never be removed from our lives. Instead, what we work on in therapy is how to deal with all that stress productively, and in a positive way. Our focus is to teach our clients to look out for their own feelings and interests while navigating intensely emotional situations.
From an outside perspective, self-care seems like an “obvious” step to take towards easing stress and increasing resilience; but to the woman standing in the middle of a crumbling life due to her partner’s addiction, self-care can be a completely alien concept.
Why Does Self Care Feel So Wrong Sometimes?
A woman in love with a sex or porn addict might have an especially hard time seeing herself as worthy of being cared for. She begins to believe that she wasn’t enough for her partner. She might believe that she somehow drove him to this behavior. When she comes to us, she’s often totally miserable over something that she did not cause, something that she cannot cure – her partner’s addiction. She feels responsible; and that may be contributing to her feelings of unworthiness, but there are also some deeper factors at play here.
Many of us were unfortunately not taught that we have power over ourselves, no matter what happens in our lives. Therefore, we have no idea how to find that power and use it. It is often a difficult for someone to get to a place where they agree to care for themselves, because asserting the idea that they matter enough, and their feelings matter enough, is something that’s unfamiliar.
This is why simply telling a woman that she needs to care for herself is ineffective at best, and totally dismissive at worst. She needs to be taken by the hand, and walked through the process. When a woman is betrayed by her partner, the inner pain is tremendous. If this woman were to see her partner, or her children in this much pain, she would rush to offer support and care. Yet she is still unlikely to see the need to care for herself, despite all that obvious pain. It’s a broken way of thinking.
This Is About Identity
Two things I often ask my clients as a means of initiating self-care are, “Who are you, and what do you need?” The reason it can be so difficult to prescribe self-care in generalizations, is because what each woman needs is unique, and worthy of individualized attention. So, we make this as simple as possible. We don’t ask what every woman needs; we ask only what she needs.
For many women, one of their most urgent needs is to know that they are not responsible for their partner’s sex addiction or porn addiction. If they begin this journey believing that they are somehow at fault, they are not likely to progress much further. We work together to release her from feeling like she caused any of this.
Many women define themselves by how much energy they can sink into their partners, their children, or their other obligations. One of our main goals is redirecting some of that focus onto themselves.
How To Start Cultivating Your Own Self-Care
The most important thing you can do is reach out for help. This can be to a trusted friend, to a therapist, or to a support group. In order to begin understanding who you are, and what it is that you want, you must place yourself in a safe environment to explore those questions.
Although I do urge you to use caution and set boundaries. Talking about your troubles to one or two trusted friends is healthy, and can be very healing; but opening up to people who do not have your best interests at heart can backfire. Find a support system that is about YOU. You get to define who you trust, and who you don’t.
Begin by doing very little things for yourself. Something as simple as taking three deep breaths when you need them can help you begin to refocus some energy on your needs. Try saying “no” to demands on your time. Even if it only buys you five minutes before moving onto the next obligation, you can still carve out time for just you, and that’s a huge step.
In fact, if I had to name the #1 reason many women don’t seek help when they need it, it would be because they think they don’t have the time. In many cases, they may not. When you consider carpools, careers, meals, child care and maintaining a household, it can be very challenging for a woman to set aside time to work through her own journey toward self-care. She may stall before she starts.
That’s one of the reasons I’m happy to offer my clients as many options as possible when it comes to reaching out. If it needs to be done by phone, email, or Skype, I feel it’s important to meet those needs for women.
When trying to establish healthy self-care, the element most women are missing is “permission.” They do not feel like they are allowed to spend the kind of time and energy required on themselves. Your partner can’t give you permission, your job can’t give you permission, your children can’t give your permission, and believe me, if I could give you permission, I would.
The truth is, that permission has to come from you. If you’re ready to give it, reach out.