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Reclaiming Your Sense of Self: Prioritize Your Needs When the Role of Caregiver Takes Center Stage

advocacy critical self-care emotional intelligence - self regard Oct 27, 2023

Experiencing a sense of self-neglect is common when the role of caregiver takes centre stage in your life. The affect on your emotional wellbeing, your self-regard in particular, is akin to a ship adrift in a vast, often tumultuous sea, with the beacon of personal needs and desires growing dimmer and more distant.

This form of neglect is not just a physical abandonment; but a mental and emotional one, too. Your desires, your interests, your dreams—all that makes you uniquely you—are put on indefinite pause. Your plans for fulfillment are derailed. Your life's direction goes on a detour.

As you become involved in your role of caregiver, you will often find yourself caught in moments of introspection when you realize that the person in the mirror seems more like a stranger than the person you once knew. It's frightening to acknowledge self-neglect.

Although you might find an unfamiliar reflection gazing back at you, remember that acknowledging these feelings and conflicting desires is not synonymous with selfishness. Recognizing the feeling of self-neglect through self-awareness and self-compassion is an essential step towards reclaiming your sense of self.

How to Reclaim Your Sense of Self: Restore Self-trust and Rebuild Self-regard

Acknowledge and Validate Your Feelings: Restoring self-trust begins with acknowledging the emotional toll of your role. Accept that you feel neglected and understand that this feeling is valid. Embrace your emotions which can bring on a kaleidoscope of feelings—ranging from compassion and fulfillment to frustration, sadness, anger, grief, exhaustion, and loneliness. Remember that these feelings are not a sign of weakness, but indicators of the need for critical self-care.

Set Boundaries: Healthy boundaries are essential in the process of reclaiming your sense of self. You must identify and prioritize your needs in order to regain self-trust. Understanding your needs and defining your limits within your caregiving role are crucial. For example, your need to feel needed is a strong, noble, and elicits compelling emotion and action. However, understanding when your need to say 'no', when to take a healthy break (and exploring what that looks like), or when to ask for help evokes humility and vulnerability. By setting boundaries, you are not only taking care of your physical and emotional needs, but your are also taking a stand for your self-worth which builds healthy self-regard.

Set Time for Yourself: Make it a habit. I repeat "make it a habit". The day can get away from you when you are focusing on the care of another. Carve out and commit to a specific part of the day that is exclusively yours. This could be the early morning hours to enjoy quiet solitude: meditation, a quiet cup of coffee and nourishing breakfast, and/or a brisk mindful walk. Time for yourself could be a mid-day yoga session, and hour at the gym, or an hour in the evening to read or pursue your interest or hobby. This dedicated time acts as a personal sanctuary that can help you reconnect with yourself. Time for yourself could be or might need to be longer periods of respite - days or a week - to reconnect with your own energy.

Limit Availability and Protect Your Time: Being a caregiver doesn't mean you're available 24/7 for every situation that comes up day after day. Protect your time by specifying times when you can be reached and times when you are unavailable. This might require turning off your phone during the time you set for yourself, or designating certain days as "no-contact" and "non-negotiable" unless there's an emergency. If you use auto-responders on email or text, be fair warned that many people will jump to the conclusion that you are on vacation which can be annoying and can trigger feelings of guilt and even self-judgement.

Fearlessly Advocate for Yourself by Prioritizing Your Personal Needs: There is no need to justify taking care of yourself to anyone. Be empowered to take a stand for your self-worth by gently and firmly expressing what you need in order to take care of yourself. Fearlessly advocate for yourself by asserting your need for privacy and uninterrupted time to rest, restore, and reset. Prioritizing your personal needs sends a positive message to your subconscious, reinforcing the belief that your needs matter and are important. This is where and how you reclaim your sense of self, restore self-trust, and rebuild a healthy self-regard.

Final Word - Your Needs Matter. Your Needs are Important

When you gaze into the mirror in the morning, ask yourself "What do I need today?" Declare "My needs matter. My needs are important!"

If you are uncomfortable gazing into a mirror, find a favourite photo of yourself as a child and ask, "What does this little girl need today? How do I protect and care for her today?" Declare "She is my priority!"

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