©2017 Sasha Strong, M.A.,
Healing is hard work. Establishing safety, building healing relationships, going through unpleasant feelings and memories, and changing painful patterns all take a lot of energy. People need to create balance in their lives, so that there are plenty of chances to relax, resource, and have positive experiences. Rather than making recovery a 24/7 marathon project, a gradual approach with plenty of pit stops may be best. By establishing a solid self-care practice including resourcing and pleasant events, you can build present-moment experiences of safety and build the foundation for healing and growth.
The Importance of Self-Care
Resourcing and self-care are crucial skills when doing the hard work of healing and growth. It’s important to take healthy breaks and show yourself kindness when you’re doing a lot of emotional healing. Because you had experiences of being badly hurt earlier in life, it’s extra important to be gentle to yourself now. It’s almost as though you need to be twice as kind in the present day, to make up for what happened in the past.
Many people are used to “toughing it out,” because that’s what they needed to do to survive. Often, we learned to deny our own needs, withdraw from supportive relationships, and push ourselves to work harder. These are examples of helpful behaviors we learned in order to survive, but they can be counterproductive for recovery and living a healthy life in the present day. Now that the situation has changed, we need to learn to relax, get needed rest, reduce stress, and be really kind to ourselves. You might need to practice these skills, because it might not come easily at first. Rest assured, however, that in time, you’ll get better and better at being kind and gentle with yourself.
“Self-care,” “resourcing,” and “pleasant events” are all ways of talking about putting things in place to make us feel safe, grounded, happy, satisfied, relaxed, joyful, and even spiritual. These experiences can range from the everyday to the transcendent, and everything in between. By creating more resources and positive experiences, you empower yourself to show yourself the care, loving-kindness, and compassion you need to heal, and you give your body, mind, and emotions a chance to relax and regulate. Human beings have an innate capacity to heal, and by providing lots of rest, care, relaxation, and healthy pleasure, we work with that capacity to achieve lasting recovery and a satisfying life.
Skills, Coping Mechanisms, and Action Strategies
Here are some ideas for ways to resource yourself and establish healthy self-care routines. The ideal list will look different for everyone, but these ideas should be helpful in getting you started:
• Go fishing, shopping, hiking, camping, or spend other pleasant time in nature.
• Eat a healthy meal, treat yourself to dinner out, or cook and dine with friends.
• Watch a movie, read a good book, or attend a play, concert, art opening, or dance recital.
• Go to the library and look at books with pleasant images– for example, cats, fish, or trees.
• Work on your motorcycle, car, sewing machine, computer, or house.
• Make some art, write a story, record a song, or have a personal dance party in your living room.
• Make a meal plan of healthy comfort foods, find recipes, make a shopping list, go shopping, cook for yourself, and enjoy the food you made.
• Treat yourself to ice cream, candy, coffee, tea, or whatever your healthy indulgence is.
• Take a long nap.
• On days when your schedule is open, sleep in!
• Spend a lazy day doing nothing in particular.
• Take a long bath with special bubbles, bath salts, candles, and play soothing music.
• Meet up with a friend and plan a fun activity together.
• Go to a shopping mall and try on clothes you like without buying them.
• Start a collection, or spend time looking through a collection you already have.
• Look at photographs that make you feel happy.
• Spend time with a pet, or visit the pet shop to spend time with animals there.
• Get some healthy exercise– yoga, weight lifting, jogging– whatever works for you.
• Lay down in the grass, look at the sky, and relax.
• Whatever makes you feel safe, grounded, happy, resourced, and replenished— add it to the list!
Some strategies for building your self-care practice:
• Make your own list of self-care activities and plan them in your weekly schedule. If you miss them or forget, that’s okay— be gentle with yourself and just reschedule.
• Make a list of fun things to do when you have some spare time.
• Use your self-care practice to create a healthy balance in your recovery. Find the middle road between overindulgence and self-denial, and between overwork and collapse.
• Write down a list of self-care practices and post them somewhere obvious— on the fridge, on a bulletin board, or wherever works for you. (This will make it easier for you to remember your self-care skills when you’re in a rough patch– it can be easy to forget how to access good things when we’re feeling down. Make it easy to remember how to take care of yourself!)
These self-care skills, resourcing activities, and pleasant events will help you when you’re feeling good, as well as when things get rough. By building self-care into your routines, you build a foundation for doing recovery work. By being kind to yourself in the here-and-now, you are actually giving yourself needed experiences that you may have missed out on in the past. In this way, self-care is a profoundly empowering path to building a life full of kindness, joy, and love.
Questions for Contemplation or Journal Writing
• What do you already do that is pleasant, relaxing, and supportive? How can you build on that foundation?
• How do you tell the difference between self-care activities that are genuinely resourcing, and those that are depleting or destructive?
• Often, people deny their own pleasure out of a belief that they’re not worth it, or that by seeking pleasant things, something bad will happen. These beliefs are often unconscious, but may show up as a persistent pattern of self-denial or refusing to take care of themselves. How might this pattern show up for you? What might be creative and gentle ways to work to change it?
• In addition to engaging in pleasant self-care activities, it may be necessary to practice “letting the goodness in.” Even if we do nice things for ourselves, if we don’t allow ourselves to experience that, it might not have much effect. What might be good ways to practice taking in the resource, pleasure, relaxation, or self-directed kindness?
Cori, J. L. (2007). Healing from trauma: A survivor’s guide to understanding your symptoms and reclaiming your life. Cambridge, MA: Marlowe & Company.
Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT skills training manual (2nd ed). New York, NY: Guilford Press. (See esp. Emotion Regulation Handout 16: Pleasant Events List.)
Dietz, L. (2012). Emotion Regulation Handout 8. Retrieved June 22, 2017, from http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/er_handout_8.html