There are various types of support. A different type is the support we give ourselves. Yes, it’s true—ultimately, we can be our own best ally in our life’s journey. When others cannot or do not, we can provide significant support to ourselves.
Up until now, we’ve focused on what comes from outside—how others can help us. Indeed, that’s what most of us think of when we need support, and the people we turn to tend to be the important ones in our lives.
But, look again at the image of the Pragmatic Belief System. Self is number one in the circles of support! Self doesn’t ever appear in the Idealized Belief System, which we may have internalized over the years, so this concept of self-support may be new.
There are three major areas of self-support we’ll discuss: self-care, self-empowerment, and self-compassion. Engaging in all three of these areas can help to shift our lives in dramatic ways.
There’s a lot of good information online about self-care for special needs parents—both the importance of prioritizing it, and various ways to do it. You can also read my previous blogs about self-care here.
In a nutshell, true and deep rejuvenation—the kind that reconnects you with your inner being—does not require excess of any things outside yourself. Excessive shopping, social media, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, or adding to your collection of wildly colored miniature parrots does not constitute true self-care. While tempting, and temporarily satisfying (and we all succumb to them at times), these illusory types of rejuvenation are often counter-productive in the long term.
True self-care always quiets, calms, centers, and uplifts us. It is most often done alone. It often involves becoming still and allowing ourselves a space in which to just be. To stop doing for a while.
Here are some commonly suggested forms of self-care:
- Nap—sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to take a nap
- Enjoy quiet time alone in a peaceful space
- Listen to gentle music without lyrics
- Spend time in nature alone
- Block out or limit news and social media in lieu of silence and space
- Engage in relaxing body work, such as massage
- Take a sea salt bath
- Anything else that works for you. You may already know what truly rejuvenates you, and please experiment if you don’t!
I hear you. But we must make the time
I suspect many parents understand the importance of prioritizing self-care for long-term vitality. But there’s a big sticking point: How can we routinely engage in self-care activities when we rarely have time to ourselves? These suggestions require personal time!
Finding this time can be a challenge; while most of us may strive to, we don’t do it regularly. Who’s watching the kids, making doctor appointments, emailing the school, and driving for the carpool while we’re taking away time for self-care?
When at all possible, giving priority to a dedicated time for self-care is simply wise—an exhausted, stressed, drained parent will not be at the top of their game. But let’s consider other, less frequently discussed types of self-support that we can do even as we go about our daily routines.
At the end of every blog in this series, I’ve suggested that you begin with the same two activities: 1) reflect upon and write about what you are grateful for, and 2) reflect upon and write about the additional kind of support that you want.
There’s a reason for this. It’s because you are a powerful creator of your own life. Even if at times it feels that you are helplessly out of control and a victim of the circumstances that surround you, you do have power.
The first suggested activity is basically an exercise in gratitude. The second is an exercise in visualization, which is essentially gratitude in advance. Both of these are a form of prayer that help you tap into and use your own power.
YOU, like others, deserve to experience joy
Remember that your higher power loves you immensely and has not given you complex life circumstances without also providing a way to deal with them. Even while living amidst chaotic daily circumstances, you, like everyone else, have the right and the power to feel calm, peaceful, and joyful.
But! (There’s always a but.) Spirit is not going to swoop in and fix everything for you. That would defeat the entire purpose—the raison d’être—for these life circumstances through which you and those closest to you will learn, grow, and become strong.
The saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves.” And that is where our next practice fits in.
Visualizations and affirmations as part of daily life
Visualization is basically imagining what you want, and it works best if you can feel those images—deeply feel them—as if they were happening right now in real life, and not just in your imagination.
Visualization doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some people prefer to use words instead of images when creating their better future. Those words are called affirmations. Either can be used, and you can mix and match as you see fit. Read more about affirmations here and visualization here.
The beauty of gratitude, visualizations, and affirmations is that you don’t need to disengage from your regular routine. They can become an easy part of daily life, not requiring big chunks of time. They constitute a mindset of optimism and thankfulness for the good you already have, and a keen knowing, appreciation for, and trust in the increasing good that is coming your way.
So how do we engage in this?
As we go about our day, the options to engage in gratitude, visualization, and affirmations are unlimited. For example, each time you get stopped at a red light, you might make a practice of thinking about one simple thing you are grateful for. I’ll bet you find it’s like eating potato chips—you can’t stop at just one. 🙂
Fixing meals, doing laundry, bringing in the mail, standing in line at the grocery store ~ all these tasks and a bazillion others offer you a moment to engage in gratitude, visualization, and affirmations. Your brain is busy all the time anyway; you might as well use its power to good purpose!
This is how the Self can harness its power to work in conjunction with Spirit and improve your life.
Now what happens if you visualize and affirm, and over time you still don’t see changes? This might lead to a feeling of failure, like “Wow, I can’t even get visualization right.” We don’t want that! The key is to envision what you want or think you need, and then also be open to your prayers being answered in ways different than you could ever imagine.
A response will come. That much is certain, even if the answers aren’t quite what you envisioned or in the timeline you desired. (And sometimes, in retrospect, we see that what we didn’t get was a blessing in disguise!) Even if we can’t see it yet, we trust that Spirit will ultimately lead us along the best path.
Being compassionate with ourselves is another key way to give ourselves the support we desire.
Our thoughts can be debilitating
We tend to accept our thoughts as indisputable facts. Parents and caregivers of special needs children are great at self-bashing. No matter what we do, how hard we try, or how much we work, the results are often not what we hoped. There may be no easy answers; at times, we simply cannot “fix” the situation.
And guilt? We feel guilty about not giving enough to our other children, the typically developing siblings; to our spouse; to ourselves; to [fill in the blank]. We feel less-than when we see other parents contribute to the neighborhood, lead volunteer organizations, or run a marathon.
We can be our own worst critic and insult ourselves in a way that no friend would ever dream of doing. Heck, we wouldn’t even say the things we sometimes mentally scream at ourselves to our houseplants—their leaves might drop off!
Becoming our own best friend
On bad days, if we notice that we are berating ourselves for being imperfect—for not being better or doing better—we need to switch gears. Stop the bashing, and say to ourselves what an imaginary best friend would say, a friend who knows all our ins and outs: “You’re doing a great job! This isn’t easy. Most people couldn’t do what you’re doing. Look at all you’ve done, how loving, responsible, and dedicated you’ve been. Give yourself a break. Take some deep breaths. You’ve done all you can for today. For today, that is enough. You are enough. Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow, begin again.”
To paraphrase author Danielle LaPorte, we want to get to a point where we can love ourselves, even when we’re hating ourselves. That’s the kind of self-compassion that can make YOU your number one supporter.
Others won’t always be with us to provide support. Yet, to state the obvious, we are always with ourselves. We are our own constant. We can provide for ourselves a steady stream of support, improving our own lives, when we begin to engage in self-care, self-empowerment by collaborating with the Divine, and self-compassion.
In the next and last blog in this series, we discuss how Spirit continuously surrounds and supports us. We look at additional ways to tap into that wise and quiet supportive power.
1. Continue to review and record the support you already have, as well as support you would like to bring into your life. Feel grateful for what exists now, and grateful for support to come—even if you don’t know what that is. Be optimistic about what is to come, but remember not to get attached to an idea of exactly how it may happen. Leave room for Spirit to provide you with more and better support, in ways you might not imagine.
2. Journal about what self-care activities best rejuvenate YOU and/or which ones you would like to try. Write about how you might engage in these activities more. Decide upon at least one small (or big) rejuvenating thing you can do for yourself, and make it happen!
3. Pick one routine, daily activity that occurs when you are alone. During that time, experiment. Think of something you are grateful for or feel optimistic about, and focus on it for just a moment. Try to deeply feel the gratitude and optimism. That’s it. Just one thought, one moment, then resume your day. Don’t overdo it (because the last thing we need is more pressure) but consistency is key. Get in this habit whenever you engage in this particular activity.
4. Pay attention to the thoughts you say to yourself. If you find you are being harsh with yourself, switch your mental language around. Be as supportive as an imaginary best friend would be.
This lengthy blog contains a lot of information and concepts. (I am breaking the rules of blog writing, but hey, who wrote those rules anyway?)
This is the sixth in a 7-blog series about support for parents and caregivers of special needs children. It can also apply to other situations. Because the best person to find solutions to your concerns is you, prompts and exercises are provided to gently lead you in your best direction. Missed the beginning? Click to go to the first blog in the series or to the previous post here.
Have any questions? What most resonated with you? Let me know!