How Toxic People Simultaneously Demean and Overemphasize Health and Self-Care
This summer we got a little cat from the local cat rescue. She is as adorable as she is tiny, and makes a great addition to our little family. When we first got her though, she was not well and we had some vet visits and medications to go through to get her back to herself. At the same time, my partner threw his back out. So between tending to his every need and the cat’s antibiotics… well, let’s say I was in nursing mode for a few days.
Of course I didn’t mind. I love my partner, and it only took 5 minutes for the fur baby to purr her way into my heart too. Running around the house to keep everyone fed and medicated, I realized that my ideas of health and (self-) care now, are so very different from the way they were defined in my toxic family of origins.
No Time for Sickness or Healing
Of course we all get sick sometimes. We catch a cold, have a headache… It is just part of the regular, every day annoyances of life. We take some time out, build a blanket fort on the couch and thank our spouse for buying us Netflix.
Not in my family though! There is no time for healing. You just keep going, you just push through. The number of times I remember my mother saying just to walk of a migraine are many. In fact one of the very last conversations I had with her was the morning after I spend a night curled up on the bathmat. I was the sickest I have ever been in my life! My partner had spent the night spraying me with water, just to keep my temperature down. When my mother called the next morning, she did not even ask if I was okay (even though my vocal cords had just gotten a 12 hour acid treatment). When I mentioned that I was not in work because I was very ill she said: just go outside, you’ll walk it off.
The Failure of Bad Health
Having a physical issue and choosing to self-care was just not an option. In the years after my traffic accident (I had been run over by a truck age 12) my legs and knees suffered all sorts of issues. These became worse over time, in part I think because the longer the accident was behind me the less patience my parents had with my recovery and the more they blamed me for its stagnation. However if I would refuse to do weeding in the garden, because crouching down would be impossible, I would be in serious trouble.
So I was simultaneously held responsible for my failing recovery and prohibited from actually making choices to improve it. And please don’t even think I was being obstinate about not helping in the garden. I would usually offer to do the laundry instead, or cook food for the people that were able to help.
The choice to self-care, especially when it means foregoing something the abuser wants you to do, is labelled as lazy, selfish and a waste of time.
You Are Going To Die a Horrible Slow Young Death!
At the same time that I was criticized for not healing as well as for trying to heal, I would be told that my health issues would cause me to die a horrible slow young death.
How many mixed signals can you fit into one message, right?
The weight I gained after my accident (I went from being a very active pre-teen to not being able to walk much for years) was reason for my father to express the fear that I would have my legs amputated. I understand the risks of type 2 diabetes, but this is not the way to help and motivate anyone to self-care. It just made me freeze up in fear.
Too Paralyzed to Care
All the mixed messages, that notion that whatever you do it is wrong… It left me totally paralyzed. I just ignored my health, stuck my head firmly in the sand. My mind kept replaying the cacophony of toxic mixed messages, and I just could not snap out of that.
“Like food is to the body, self-talk is to the mind.
Don’t let any junk thoughts repeat in your head.”
Only now, several years later, am I slowly beginning to unfreeze that fear. I am beginning to be able to make some better choices.
At the same time I have realized that health and self-care (and weight especially) are firmly intertwined with my specific PTSD triggers. That realization actually helped me unfreeze a little. I was able to show myself some more kindness and grace.
Here are some suggestions from Tiny Buddha on how you can develop a self-care routine for mind, body and soul.