The Art of Self-Care

By Beth Roulston 2018-12-27 16:21:58

“You’ll understand when you become a parent.” 

Sound familiar? When you become a parent, your life becomes completely different. Your priorities change, and even your opinions can change. As my father always says, ‘being a parent is the most difficult job you will ever undertake, and the worst part is you get no recognition, there’s zero pay, and everyone around you is a %*£@&$* critic!’ 

It’s safe to say that most parents would prioritise their children above everything else in the world, and this is a very admirable thing. But how much of yourself do you give to your children, and is it to your detriment? Individuals may have a healthy family, be without financial turmoil, have plenty of food in the fridge, and have (relatively) clean and tidy houses, yet suffer from feeling like their inner battery is completely wiped, or for a better term, feeling 'burnt out'. The question is why? Sadly, this question doesn’t have a simple answer, but it does have an underlining, unquestionable contributing factor: parents and significant others are not making enough time for themselves. 

When we take a closer look into the wellbeing of most parents, it is clear that there is an undeniable correlation between those who have been or are burnt out, and those who don’t make themselves a priority. The term ‘burn out’ was introduced to me by accredited advanced EFT practitioner Joëlle Amouroux-Huttner, and she uses this term to describe someone completely empty, and devoid of energy. Not just physical energy but also mental, and creative energy. Joëlle has been practising EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), along with other energy psychology techniques, with her clients for over five years, and from this she says that, people who consistently prioritise their children and loved ones above themselves, are the ones who are most at risk of becoming lost and finding themselves saying “I don’t know who I am anymore”.


First let's get to the root of the reason as to why parents neglect themselves

It goes without saying that the vast majority of parents prioritise their children, down to love, instinct and responsibility. However, due to the constraints of societal expectations, parents feel a substantial pressure to keep up with the Jones, and maintain an image of perfection. 

Joëlle expresses that no matter where her clients are from, or their background, the most common reason for 'burn out' is largely down to fear and insecurity. She expresses that most of her clients are people who have already hit rock bottom, and often leave it to the last minute to ask for help. Joëlle along with Adrian Cahill, one of Shanghai's most well known life coaches, say that many people try to avoid making the same mistakes their own parents made, and this can lead to a whole new wave of problems including 'burn out'. One common belief amongst parents, is that if they put their children and partners first this will prove that they are succeeding. But as Adrian says, like a hamster in a wheel we are running but getting nowhere. 

The most common emotions both Adrian and Joëlle help their clients face are shame, guilt, and sometimes even anger. People often feel ashamed to admit that they want to take time out for themselves, for fear of being perceived as 'a terrible parent'. When they do invest in themselves, they then feel guilty, and this guilt then prevents them from repeating this investment. The anger often comes later once a person realises why they are feeling so unhappy. Sometimes, people consciously blame their loved ones, though subconsciously know they are at fault. The truth is we are all good at taking care of our basic self-care needs, but often neglect our essential self-care needs.

To understand what these terms mean, both Joëlle and Adrian suggest for us to look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Back when we were hunter gatherers, we were simply conscious about surviving, and meeting the basics. This represents the first step in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. However, due to the relative peace that most First World countries enjoy, our needs have gone so far as to desire the highest level: “self-actualisation”. We see that life is not simply about surviving it’s about thriving. Despite the fact you feed yourself, dress yourself, pack your children’s lunches, and walk them to school, you are only successfully achieving the first level of needs. Joëlle informs us that, it is impossible to expect anyone, in the 21st Century, to function well at this level long-term.


What happens when we neglect ourselves? 

Have you ever been in a situation whereby you met with a friend and realised that things for them may not be going so well? Maybe it's that you noticed they no longer seem to have any future goals, interests/hobbies unrelated to their children or partner, or the inspiration to try new things. They may come across as empty, depressed, or even just acting out of character. According to Joëlle, anyone living like this will and eventually do crash, and it is simply a question of when. The crash could be in the form of a nervous breakdown, marital problems or stress, but they are all linked to self-neglect. 

Someone once said to me “my family’s world doesn’t spin without me” and depending on how you look at this phrase, it could be either completely true or utter rubbish! If this is said in response to “I can’t possibly be away from the house for an hour at a creative writing seminar!”, then this is nonsense. However, if it’s in response to “if I don’t do this I’m going to go crazy” then I completely agree. Like the old saying goes: ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup’, the same goes for you, in order for you to look after your family you must first look after yourself!


Feeding into yourself makes you a better parent 

I want you to think about your own parents for a moment. When you were young, what was the aspect that struck you most about them? Upon reflection, what struck me most about my mother was that she always talked endlessly about art. Her creative eye inspired me to see the world differently and I loved that about her. My father was obsessed with planning holidays and seeing more of the world. He loved history and teaching me all about the past. This inspired me to gorge on books about Roman mythology and bond with him over new knowledge I would gain. They both, along with my older siblings, consistently encourage me to discover what my interests and passions are. 

When my parents neglected themselves it was obvious. They would swing from argument to argument, and hover in bad moods to the degree where I would feel sick with worry for them. Of course, as a child you are still learning to be less self-involved, but I honestly believe that, deep down, I understood that my parents needed their own time. When they did make time for themselves the result was almost instant. 

They would be more refreshed, patient and happy, and this would shine throughout the household. When you are happy and motivated, it becomes easier to deal with sleep-deprivation, staying calm when your children start to cry or argue, and when you’ve run out of nappies just after the supermarket has closed. Communication with your children will be a lot easier and more motivating if you are in a positive position to talk. 

As Adrian says, children do better with happier parents, and if we are to be the best role models for them then surely this needs to include how we treat ourselves as well as how we treat others! To be clear though, self-neglect is not unique to parents. Whether it is out of fear of losing someone, maintaining a stress-free environment, or even out of an ill-conceived desire to do the ‘right’ thing, many people in committed relationships forgo their own needs and feelings to keep their partners happy. 


Making time for yourself makes you a better partner

A considerable amount of relationships begin with the first date. Perhaps you bought a new outfit, and spent an hour making sure you looked your best. At dinner you smiled, and you kept conversation positive, exciting and interesting! You both talked about your interests, and the things that made you unique and different.

Essentially you both try to sell the idea that you are an ideal match for the other person, and why they should make time for you. So, why then do we justify to ourselves that once we are committed to another person we no longer need to have these interests? This logic, when spoken out loud, sounds ludicrous and I assure you we are ALL guilty of it. 

My sister once said to me the hard work doesn’t start in the beginning, it starts once you are married or committed. Many people have the belief of ‘oh I’m married now I don’t need to keep myself looking good or doing things to keep me inspired’. Again, this is just madness! In the beginning, you and your partner are riding the honeymoon wave. You should be making even more of an effort once the rose-tinted glasses disappear and you settle into your relationship. It becomes easier at this point to see all the negatives, and none of the positives. I'm fairly certain that we can all remember a time when we have been around someone unhappy and it isn't pleasant - for either party.

The most important thing to remember is that a healthy relationship requires energy, and therefore it is imperative to feed yourself first. Sleep, healthy food, exercise, and intellectual stimulation are all essential to your wellbeing; and as a colleague once said to me ‘independence is sexy’. By keeping yourself driven you will in turn keep your partner driven too. Not only in yourselves, but also your joint goals and family values! Now I’m not saying that doing exercise, eating well, maintaining hobbies, and focusing on future goals should be to maintain the interest of your partner (they made a promise too), no it should be to maintain interest in yourself! The most important thing we all learn is that no-one can make us happy except us.

Rest assured that our children want a parent who has interests of their own. Our partners want us to be vibrant, happy and motivated. With all that being said, of course family and children are important, but remember that it is crucial that you make yourself a priority from time to time. In the long run you'll be a much happier version of yourself, and your family will appreciate it (even if at first they don't show it).


How to prevent burnout and self-neglect

1.Love yourself

It may seem simple, but for most people those deep fears previously mentioned will trigger a chain reaction where they focus on themselves. Take time to look at those fears and realise that they have no foundation. Forgive yourself when you don’t do everything perfectly!

2.Make time for yourself

Do this every week and make it non-negotiable. Both Joëlle and Adrian agree that it can be ten minutes a day or even a few hours at the weekend, but you must stick to it! Speaking to your partner about this and making a schedule are good ways to prevent arguments, and improve communication. If it’s Wednesday and you’re already beginning to feel frustrated, go over and look at your calendar on the wall and remind yourself that you are going to that event on Saturday; see this as your motivation!

3.Don't push away your family and friends

You have to keep those other relationships in your life alive and grounded. They bring you balance, which will provide you with a more positive perspective on your union. 

4.Remember what makes you happy And make sure to make it part of your daily routine; even if that’s making a cup of tea and reading for ten minutes.

5.Make sure to make time for your partner

Go on a date with your partner with the rule that you are NOT to talk about the mundane boring stuff! Keep it interesting.

6.Lastly, do not forget your own needs! They are just as important as the needs of your children, your relationship and/or your partner!