by Lesley Meriwether
"When everyone takes care of himself, care is taken for all."
- Old proverb: living to others - be it time, energy, love or other gifts - is best given with a loving heart. Having a loving heart, however, includes loving yourself.
One way to show love for yourself is to give yourself gifts of time, love or material things. This may seem contrary to what the holiday season represents, remembering and appreciating others. But it really is the foundation for a truly giving spirit.
Gifts to yourself can come in many forms. A therapist once told me that he found an unusual way to make himself feel good. He hugged himself enthusiastically (in private, of course) several times a day.
This was a novel idea to me and I sheepishly tried it. I was surprised to discover that it made me feel not only silly, but good, too.
Why would such a simple gesture create a positive feeling? Because many of our negative feelings are old and originated in childhood. Even though we are now adults, that injured child feeling is still there and a hug from anyone - including yourself - is reassuring.
Many people have a lot of guilt about doing caring things for themselves. One of my patients, I'll call him Jim, purchased things for himself, too, during the holiday season while he was doing his Christmas shopping. He felt guilty about this because he thought he should only be thinking about others.
When we examined this it came out that since he did not shop for himself at other times, it was a natural thing to do while he was in the stores looking for gifts. He decided to shop for himself twice a year and that it was all right to have one of those times in December.
Sue, a young married woman with children and a full-time job, came in to see me because she was unable to relax. She encouraged her children to rest and read, yet felt guilty if she sat down to read for pleasure. Once she understood how unkind she was to herself, she was able to allow herself to relax.
Another way to care for yourself is to give yourself the gift of time alone. Solitude is important for balance and reflection. Taking time off to be alone is not selfish, as many of us believe, but rather it is a form of generosity. Solitude generates energy and that energy can then be given to others.
When we are quietly in touch with ourselves we are better able to endure the stress and strain of daily life.
Most of us cannot take much time for ourselves during this busy season. That's why it's especially important to plan for some time alone. There's a lot going on and it's easy to put ourselves last.
Your time alone to think and relax can be anywhere - in your garden, your kitchen or your shop. The only requirement is that you be alone and able to relax in that place. If you have work to do there and it distracts you, go someplace else. Take the time to rest and reflect, to get your bearings.
Some people wake up earlier in the morning to have some quiet time before the family gets up; others go to bed later. If you can't get this time at home, leave early for an errand and sit in the car listening to music, meditating or writing in your journal.
Some people use the time they are bathing or showering for reflection. Others use the time just before sleep or when they first wake up. You might only eke out a few minutes or a half hour, but this adds up and is valuable. The time you spend alone will always benefit your relationship with yourself and others.
If you'd like to work more on loving yourself, the books "Learning to Love Yourself" by Gay Hendricks and "How To Be Your Own Best Friend" by Mildred Newman and Bernard Berkowitz would make great holiday presents - for yourself.
If I could bestow just one gift on you, it would be the ability to love yourself with a pure heart. May you and your family have a joyous holiday season.
Lesley Meriwether is a registered nurse and psychotherapist with the Arcata Family Medical Group.
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