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In today’s society, it’s nearly impossible not to know about self-care and the value it has in our lives. But for those of us who grew up in a dysfunctional family, self-care may not come so easily. The idea that we are important enough to carve out time for ourselves might be a foreign concept. If you’ve been told (or made to feel) your whole life that you’re not that important or valuable or worthy, you just might actually believe it. But, oh girl, you are so wrong!!! You are immensely valuable and worthy and important!
How Self-Care Is Different When You Come From A Dysfunctional Family
Those of us who grew up in a dysfunctional family face a lot of underlying struggles that affect how we view self-care and how we relate to our emotions, needs, and desires. It’s possible you were made to feel worthless or undervalued. Maybe you struggle with co-dependence, making the idea of self-care completely unfathomable to you. And maybe you just don’t even know what self-care should look like.
You were probably never taught what it means to care for your body, mind, and soul. Your experience might have been seeing your parents mistreat their own bodies with addiction or sex or self-harm. Maybe no one in your family understood or cared how important mental health is to our wellbeing. And maybe any attempts you ever made to do something for yourself were mocked, ridiculed, rejected, or outright forbidden. All of these factors make it difficult for you to put self-care in its proper place in your life now.
Basic Needs vs. Desires
I believe there are two main types of self-care: the kind that is essential for your survival and the kind that makes life a little more enjoyable. Your basic needs must be met in order for you to continue living. Sure, you can get by for a little while neglecting these important things, but before long your body will begin to deteriorate if you do not properly care for yourself.
The kind of self-care that makes life more enjoyable are the things you could probably survive without, but you wouldn’t live a very joyful life. You’d likely be miserable, lonely, and sad. And, quite honestly, I believe depriving yourself of an enjoyable life will sooner or later affect your health too.
So what is considered a basic need and what is more of an activity to make life more enjoyable? I believe there are six activities for each of these types of self-care, though each one can be broken down into an indefinite number of ideas for you to try!
- Higher purpose
- Alone Time
The human body cannot survive without water. Even in perfect conditions, an average healthy adult could only survive for a few days without drinking any water. The body is two-thirds water, therefore, whenever we sweat, breath, pee, or anything that involves loss of water from our body, we must replenish that water to stay healthy. I’ve read in many places that it’s good to drink about half your body weight in ounces of water each day. But, at the very least, you should be getting about 8 glasses of water every single day.
Humans are capable of surviving without food for much longer than without water. However, your body still needs nutrients and energy to survive long term, which you get from eating a healthy diet. Weight is only one factor in your health and, while being very overweight may indicate an unhealthy lifestyle, a person who is average weight could be just as (or even more) unhealthy than someone who is overweight. In order for your body to function at its optimal health, you should be eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and a healthy amount of grains and dairy. Try to avoid processed sugars and refined carbs as much as possible and aim to eat more whole foods (ie not processed or pre-packaged).
As humans, we were not designed to survive extreme natural environments without some form of shelter. Prolonged exposure to heat, cold, sun, insects, wind, rain, snow, etc can all have adverse effects on our health and potentially shorten our life-span. Exposure to extreme conditions can quickly lead to serious health concerns or even death. For this reason, it’s important that we have a place to protect ourselves from the elements. While a majority of Americans enjoy comfortable and often large homes, you don’t have to have a huge house or fancy decorations to meet your need for shelter. As long as you have a place to help you maintain a healthy body temperature and protect you from dangerous weather or predators, you will do pretty well.
The average adult needs about 7-10 hours of sleep each night. You can certainly survive on less for a period of time, but eventually, the effects of sleep deprivation will affect your brain and your body in negative ways. For some, sleep is more difficult to come by than for others, but making sleep a priority in your life will improve your wellbeing dramatically. Being well-rested not only helps your body function at its best but also improves your mood and brain capacity!
We’ve all heard a million times that exercise is important. But it’s true! Even just getting in a 30-minute walk a few times a week has been shown to improve your health. Benefits of a brisk daily walk include things like increased heart and lung fitness, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, stronger bones, improved balance, increased muscle strength, and reduced body fat.
So many people overlook this simple step in their self-care routine. New moms, in particular, are susceptible to ignoring this need in favor of caring for their babies. But even just making sure you get a quick shower and brush your teeth every day can make a huge difference in how you feel and, therefore, how you respond to other people and situations. Showers don’t have to be very long in order to be effective. Skip washing your hair for a few days or even a week if you have to. But take just 5 or 10 minutes to hop in the shower daily and see how refreshed it makes you feel!
All of us have an innate desire to serve a higher purpose. Many of us turn to religion and spirituality in order to find value and meaning in our lives while others turn to meaningful work, family, friends, or maybe something else entirely. Coming from a dysfunctional family, purpose and meaning are probably not a form of self-care you think about often. But the fact remains, we all have within us the desire for our lives to mean something. Seek out what brings meaning and purpose to your life and pursue that.
Everyone has something they enjoy doing. Whether it’s something creative like painting, crafting, or cooking, something active like some type of sport or physical activity, or even more community-based things like spending time with family and friends, almost all of us can think of at least one thing that we really get excited to participate in. If you’re not sure what your thing is, experiment with lots of different things until you find something that brings you joy and brings a sense of positive energy to your life.
When I use the term passion in this context, I’m not speaking of passionate love but rather the way that we feel when something really important to us gets us totally fired up and excited. I’m talking about those things in your life that you just cannot keep quiet about. Those beliefs or values or habits that make you feel totally fiery, zealous, spirited and full of fanatical joy that you can’t contain. Some of us get passionate in a heated and argumentative way, but the kind of passion I’m talking about brings light and life to our lives and those around us. Find your driving passion and pursue it with everything you’ve got!
No one likes being lonely. God created us to be in relationship. I know that many people struggle with social anxiety and just don’t feel energized by groups of people, but the need for relationships with people who truly care about us is core to our humanness. We thrive when we have at least one other person in our lives whom we can trust and rely on. Someone who will be there for us through thick and thin. Many people find this in marriage, in friendships, or in relationships with family members. Those coming from a dysfunctional family, though, may find it incredibly difficult to practice self-care in this way. Maintaining a positive relationship with people is often a struggle for them because of the ways they’ve been hurt in the past. But I urge you to seek out at least one positive relationship in your life to build you up and encourage your growth.
Similar to relationships, humans need a general sense of community. No one person is able to do all things. Each individual has unique gifts, skills, and talents that allow us to function better when we all work together. Without community, society as a whole would fail. We need individuals to use their abilities to serve the community. We need people who can cook, people to clean, people to look after the elderly and the young children. We need people who can make things, and people who can sell things. We need those who are good at speaking and those who are good at serving, people to protect us and people to inform us. And we need people who can lead all of us in order to help us grow and thrive together.
As much as we need other people, we also need some time to be by ourselves. Some people need alone time more than others. There are people who truly are energized by large groups of people and then there are people who are equally drained by large groups of people. But even those who love being in community need time alone to reflect and decompress from time to time. There is no one right way to be, you just have to know yourself and your needs.
And so, without further ado, here are 65 ideas to get you started on your self-care journey!
- 10-minute daily exercise
- Take a walk
- Actually sit down and enjoy a meal (instead of rushing through it, focus on it)
- Sit outside in the fresh air and sun and enjoy a cup of tea (or your favorite beverage)
- Get a massage
- Digital detox
- Read a fiction novel
- Take a relaxing bath (bubbles, candles, oils, whatever makes you feel calm, happy, and relaxed)
- Cut off toxic relationships
- Set personal boundaries
- Figure out what you truly value
- Communicate your emotional needs
- Go to a movie by yourself
- Test drive your dream car
- Have a good chat – with yourself
- Clean/organize something
- Find out what you are passionate about and pursue that
- Hire a babysitter and go out alone
- Prepare for the day the night before
- Get your car cleaned/detailed
- Hire a housekeeper
- Go to therapy
- Ask for help
- Take a nap
- Make a list of things to love about yourself
- Make a list of things you can be thankful for
- Help someone else
- Listen to inspiring podcasts
- Read up on a topic that interests you
- Say no
- Adopt a pet
- Start a journal
- Cancel plans (without guilt)
- Dump your baggage (get help for your problems)
- Learn things
- Ignore the to-do list and just enjoy your family (kids, spouse, whoever)
- Let yourself really feel your emotions
- Rest your eyes (turn off the screens)
- Create and listen to a playlist of your favorite uplifting songs
- Put in some earplugs, turn the lights off, and just be – alone (sensory deprivation)
- Stretch your body
- Physically write down your positive achievements for an entire 24 hours no matter how small
- Turn off the news
- Write a letter to someone who’s hurt you – get out all your emotions and be totally raw – and then destroy it
- Send yourself flowers
- Ditch the alarm clock
- Take a different route to work (or wherever you’re going)
- Learn how to make a budget
- Rearrange your furniture
- Do something a little crazy
- Do something people have said you can’t do
- Establish a routine
- Get rid of some things
- Be spontaneous
- Read a magazine (a physical magazine)
- Make your bed
- Work a puzzle
- Attend a recovery group
- Get an accountability partner
- Learn about and practice mindfulness
- Create a collage of affirmations and hang it somewhere you’ll see it frequently
Regardless of what you’ve been told or made to believe, self-care is not selfish and you are worth taking care of. Take some time today to take care of yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to completely disregard others or that you get to act like you’re the most important person on the face of the planet. But you certainly are valuable and you are worth the time and effort it takes to make sure your own needs are met. The more you practice taking care of yourself, the easier it becomes. And you’ll actually find that meeting your own needs helps you to become a better servant to others as well! You are worthy. You are valued. You are loved. Don’t let your past define your future. Learn how to find space for self-care in your life even if you grew up in a dysfunctional family. Break free from dysfunction and create a life you love!
Want to read more about self-care? Check this out: How To Balance Self-Care With Selfless Sacrifice