Six Principles of Emotional Self-care

emotional self care

By Dr Rachel Hannam

I recently returned from a wonderful 7-day intensive non-violent communication (NVC) retreat in the rainforest, which focussed on self-compassion or emotional self-care. Inner self-care helps us overcome the blocks that get in the way of us living compassionately. I learned that we really won’t have any emotional spare change for others if we are running on empty, so we need to begin by cultivating compassion for ourselves.

Here are some of my learnings about what it means to attend to your inner life. They all complement a technique I call “Even when” or “Even though” which I outlined in an earlier post. (NB: For some, it may also help to differentiate between self-empathy and self-pity, as I did in this post).

  1. Stay open to your inner experiences: Even when you act in ways you don’t like, keep your heart open to yourself, to your own innate sense of vulnerability. If you find yourself stuck in endless self-judgement, seek support* to cultivate clarity about, and compassion for, the underlying needs that motivated your (ineffective) actions.
  1. Stay open to the full range of emotions: Even when things get uncomfortable for you, stay present with yourself and keep your heart open to the fullness of all your emotional experience, the way you would for a friend or someone you loved. If you find yourself contracting away from your own feelings of fear, sadness and shame by going numb or shutting down, seek support* to release defensiveness and open up to what is.
  1. Risk facing your own significance: Even when you are full of doubt, offer yourself fully to the world. If you find yourself believing you are not important or that your actions are of no significance, seek support* to come back to the knowledge that your presence and your gifts to the world do indeed matter, probably more than you really know.
  1. Self-Responsibility: Even when overwhelmed with obstacles or difficult emotions, take full responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Identify them as yours. If you are giving away your power to other people, larger forces, analyses about your past, or labels you put on yourself, seek support* to regain a sense of choicefulness within, so you begin to live as you want and ask for what you want, without demands. You are not a victim. You never don’t have choice.
  1. Self-Nurturing: Even when you are stressed, overwhelmed, or feeing disconnected, maintain your commitments to your well-being, and take actions that nourish your life. If you find yourself neglecting strategies that you know contribute to your life (exercise, eating well, receiving support and empathy as needed, enjoyable activities, or anything that you know works for you), seek support* to ground yourself in the preciousness of your own life and your desire to nurture yourself.
  1. Balance: Even when you are drawn to over-stretching yourself (including towards any of these commitments), remain attentive to the limits of your capacity in any given moment. If you find you are pushing yourself, seek support* to honour the natural wisdom of your organism, and to trust that remaining within your current limits will support you to increase your capacity over time.

If you doubt the importance of self-care (inner and outer), imagine ignoring the advice on an airplane to first place the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. You are likely to end up on the floor gasping for air, unable to properly help anyone!

* Do seek support. Seek out a trustworthy friend, a therapist or coach, a group therapy program, highly-recommended self-help books or courses, a meditation or yoga practice, and/or anything else that offers the kind of space you find supportive and calming. Human beings are originally hard-wired to love and support one another. So, even though emotional self-care is your responsibility, you don’t have to do it alone.

Struggling with your mental health? North Brisbane Psychologists can help. Book an appointment today!