Nowadays, “self-care” is the headline of it all. But what does it actually mean to prioritize yourself, choose yourself, focus on yourself in an unselfish way, and effectively communicate your needs to others while tending to yourself? Tending to your physical health or appearance caters to your current state of life, but sitting with yourself and learning to understand yourself emotionally and mentally can heal decades of wounds. It can also create opportunities to cater to your internal self-care better in different seasons of life.
As a person that’s highly invested in my internal self-care, I’ll be honest with you. It never becomes super easy to sit with uncomfortable situations that I’m affected by, but thinking of how I worked through a past difficult situation inspires me to go at it again. Not one time has it not been worth it. Whether you are single or in a relationship, life is going to occur one way or another, and our goal is to obtain the tools that work for us to move through it and grow from it.
Here is some insight from some relationship experts on focusing on your internal self.
What it means to prioritize self-care & practice internal self-care:
The more you choose to sit with yourself and explore your thoughts and emotions, the quicker you can problem-solve when another issue arises. And no, problems won’t ever stop coming, but the way you work through them will look and feel different now that you have some history of problem-solving internal issues.
Maybe starting to do internal self-care looks like “identifying the parts of your life and internal world you’d like to focus on," states licensed psychotherapist and consultant N. Oumou Sylla. She continues, “Notice where in your life you're feeling resentful, depleted, burned out, or exhausted [and] be honest about the ways you contribute to your experience of internal conflict.” Strengthening your self-awareness and accountability for the part you play in your internal struggles is fighting half the battle to combatting internal stressors. Next is changing your behavior.
“Prioritizing self-care is being open to trying a variety of things to find what works best for you," states licensed clinical social worker Lena Suarez-Angelino. The more I’ve practiced different types of internal self-care, guided meditation, reading books or listening to podcasts about the matter, journaling, therapy, doing devotional plans, and prayer, the more in tune I became with knowing what works best for different internal situations I needed to work through.
Suarez-Angelino continues, “Remember to breathe and be kind to yourself. Taking care of yourself is something that should be stress-free and guilt-free. Remember the reason why you’re practicing internal self-care in the first place.”
How to work on yourself when you're single:
“The route to working through internal conflict can be similar regardless of your relationship status,” Sylla notes. Unfortunately, life will still hit us from every angle, solo or partnered. She continues, “Relying on others for support, especially during times of stress/conflict, is normal and healthy. The main thing to ensure is that you are not seeing others as need-fulfillment machines or as people that will save you. Over-reliance on others in this way may be a sign of co-dependence or a part of themself does not trust themselves to tolerate distress.” The goal is to learn a healthy medium with support from others and working on ourselves alone.
Suarez-Angelino suggests that journaling "become one of your go-to exercises for processing your thoughts and feelings without judgment. When it feels like you don’t have anyone that you can trust, and therapy may not be as accessible to you, journaling is a great tool. Journaling allows you to write everything down without a filter or risk of harming your loved ones.” If you’re like me and prefer some structure with guided prompts, try investing in these cards or articles on our site like, "15 Shadow Work Prompts To Honor The Fullness Of Your Inner Being," "18 Self-Discovery Journaling Prompts For The New Year," and "20 Journal Prompts For Entrepreneurs To Reflect, Learn, And Thrive" to help you on your journaling journey.
“Once everything is written down, you can go back and highlight the key parts that you want to share with your loved ones. It will help reduce the emotional charge behind the thoughts and helps provide more clarity to your thoughts and feelings. Talking to a therapist is another way you can do this, but it may take some time to find a therapist you can open up to about your stressors.”
How to work on yourself if you’re in a relationship:
Many of us see our partners as our best friends, and we tend to go to them first to confide in, which is lovely to have, but when we are experiencing intense internal distress, it may be best to explain to them you need some time to sort out your thoughts so you won’t project anything on them. “Being open and honest with your partner by saying something like, 'I’m having a strong emotional reaction to this, and while I don’t expect you to solve this, I may come off a little closed-off, irritable, or shut down,'" states, Suarez-Angelino. "'What you can do to help me is to know that you are here for me and available to listen when I am ready to share how I’m feeling. I think I need some more time on my own to think about it.'”
Being proactive by effectively communicating where you are currently emotionally and mentally can save you from so many unnecessary fights or making your partner feel inadequate for solving an issue that’s outside of their control.
And she continues, “You may also want to reassure [your partner] that whatever you're feeling does not have any indication of dissatisfaction in the relationship (unless that is a part of it). All in all, you don’t want to keep your partner in the dark about what you are going through while also easing their own anxieties and possible insecurities that they are the reason for what you’re feeling. You also want to clarify that it is not your expectation for them to fill that void or solve the problems for you.” You can work through it together by communicating your needs and your partner respecting your boundaries and checking in when needed.
Working through internal self-care is difficult, but every second spent finding tools and professionals to support you during that process is the best gift you could ever gift yourself. Everything you ask from others, the patience, the compassion, the grace, the gentleness, the unconditional love, please make it your duty to provide it first for yourself. You have everything you always needed within you. The only way to get over internal conflict is to work through it.
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Featured image by Brandy Kennedy on Unsplash