08 Mar International Women’s day – my story of learning to care for myself
As women, we are expected to be carers. We are expected to put others needs before our own, we often feel our value is linked to how we care for others, whether we are a good mum, a good daughter, a good friend. And so, when we take care of ourselves, we can be consumed by guilt. But if we don’t look after ourselves, our health can suffer and again we feel guilty for not being well enough to look after others. And so, we go round and round in circles. Is it any wonder anxiety is such an epidemic, especially in women?
But things are changing, we are finally starting to see that we cannot pour from an empty cup, that self-care is essential. Even more importantly we are starting to realise that our value does not come from our role as care givers, that we have value simply because we exist. This was a lesson I thought I understood from being very young. Being a staunch feminist for as long as I can remember. Always thinking everyone has value – no matter what. No one has any more worth or is any more special than anyone else, but that we are all amazing. But I too had fallen into the trap of attaching my worth to serving others and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally started to see the truth and finally started to love and honour myself.
Five years ago, I was in a very dark place. After years of working as a probation officer, I had started working as a Domestic Abuse Recovery worker, helping women with their emotional recovery. But things had gone very wrong within the charity I worked for, and I lost what I thought was my dream job, triggering the anxiety I had been battling with since I was young. However, I was well aware that it wasn’t my only trigger, my daughter was going through the long, drawn-out process of an autism and learning disability diagnosis, whilst at the same time my relationship with my mother was deteriorating. I was at the end of my tether, and something needed to change.
For many years I had believed the anxiety was due to the fact that I had become my mother’s carer when I was 12 years old. She had mental health issues and then developed physical health problems, so I took over other the day-to-day upkeep of the house as well as caring for her, which sadly also included caring for her when her mental health deteriorated, and she would self-harm. This was a lot for a young girl to take on, but it wasn’t until many years later that I fully understood why I had been struggling with anxiety for so long. It took a very good counsellor and later, the domestic abuse training I undertook, to start to really lift the veil for me. I finally started to see that the problems I had with my health were actually linked to trauma caused by a toxic relationship with my mother.
I had started seeing counsellor after having my children, as I had been unable to breast feed, which had triggered anxiety and feelings of guilt. However, she quickly helped me to see that the main issue was actually my relationship with my mum, the pressure she placed on me, the high expectations, the never feeling good enough, as well as her ability to make everything about her. Then one day my counsellor said to me ‘how are you not furious with your mother?’ You see, I had adored my mum as a kid, I thought the sun shone out of her and my mum had loved it, but as I grew older and wanted to have my own life, she became increasingly controlling and manipulative. Using guilt to control me and placing the responsibility for her happiness and well-being on my shoulders.
As I worked with my counsellor, I started to see things more clearly, but it took time. It wasn’t until I started my training as a Domestic Abuse worker, that things started to be come clearer. Part of my role was to help the women to understand the many different forms abuse can take such as emotional abuse, isolation, coercion and manipulation. The more I learnt, the more I realised some of these abuses were far too familiar to me.
After losing my job, I returned to my counsellor and again she could see that losing the job was not the main problem and she asked; ‘what would life look like without your mum in it?’ She was the first person to give me permission to even consider cutting her out. At first it seemed a terrible thing to do, so instead we worked on my boundaries and self-care. However, these boundaries were met with such anger and disregard for my well-being, I finally realised that actually I had no choice. If I was ever going to heal, I needed to cut her out of my life completely.
It was the hardest thing I have ever done, and the healing continues to this day nearly 5 years on, but I am finally able to love myself without filters. I have been through counselling, hypnotherapy, coaching, self-healing and so much spiritual exploration to get here, but it has been so worth it. I now know my value. Anxiety, guilt and people pleasing no longer dominates my thinking. I am becoming more my self and more free with every day. And I get to help others do the same, without feeling responsible for them. As women we need to own who we are, love our self without filters and know there is nothing we need to be or do to have value.
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