There is so much more to self-care than we recognize. I think we are taught in our society to look at self-care as bubble baths and pedicures. But as you embark on this journey of healing, you begin to see all the ways that each area of life opens itself to you as an opportunity to deepen your care with yourself. This week, we are going to talk about relationships and spirituality. I thought this was a perfect pairing because spirituality is a relationship to God, Universe, Creator, or whatever word or language you use. In essence, it’s a deeper relationship with yourself.
Relationships are an integral part of our self-care. Anyone who has a good group of friends, or even just that one or two that you spend time with, you can walk away from them like you had the best therapy session of your life! Your cup is full. Your energy feels high. You feel happy. You feel this beautiful exchange of giving and receiving.
My marker of a good relationship is asking myself, “Do I feel that I get as much as I give, overall?” Of course, some days I need more, and some days my friend needs more. But there is equilibrium. It all balances out. I have been in relationships with friends where that equilibrium has not existed. I walk away feeling drained and not energized or just dumped on. That is a marker. But what do you do when you find yourself in this situation? Do you stay? Do you feel guilty for wanting to leave the relationship? Do you establish boundaries? Can you honor how you feel and look at what this relationship is meaning to teach you? It might be the very lesson of walking away.
You might be asking yourself, “How do my relationships impact my food behaviors?” Well, I would ask you to observe yourself when you are in your relationships. When you are in a healthy relationship, how are your food behaviors? How do you experience your body? Now think about a not-so-healthy relationship or one that you often feel drained from. How do you experience your food behaviors and body after you are with them?
When we are in relationships with people who are not nourishing us, we often go towards food to do the “filling.” It’s like the food is replacing what is missing. Food can become a companion. It’s consistent, it doesn’t argue back, you have the control over it, and it’s pleasurable until it’s not. You might not even realize how much you insert food as companionship and relationship. Often, in relationships where you feel like you aren’t seen or can’t take up space or even feel dumped on, you can experience more body image issues. This is often experienced as spending time with someone and walking away feeling heavier; like somehow, you gained twenty pounds or feel intense preoccupation with your body after being with them.
Positive Relationship Behaviors
So how do you know if you are doing well in the relationship aspect of your life? Check out below. And remember, that “relationship” isn’t just referring to a romantic relationship. It’s looking at any relationship-friend, partner, sibling, parent, etc.
- I spend time with people whom I enjoy and who sustain and support me.
- I have someone in my life who would listen to me if I were upset or just needed to talk (friends, family, or clergy)
- I stay in contact with important people in my life.
- I make time to spend with my family.
I can tell you some of the hardest work I have had clients do is when they can’t check a lot of the boxes above, especially with family. These become relationship disruptors. How do you relate to these?
- I don’t like to burden my friends or family with my problems.
- My family doesn’t support me when I have problems.
- I worry about what people think of me.
- I withdraw from people when I am stressed out.
When you feel that you have good relationships in your life, there is a part of your life that is full. But those people can be standing there all day, saying, “I support you!” and you can still not use them if you feel like you are burdening them. This is a key part of growth and healing. You are saying I am worthy of being cared for. It is okay to ask for help. Like I spoke about last week, in my article, “Have You Forgotten Your Emotional Self-care,” juggling a million things almost is glorified in our society. You can feel like you are burdening someone or don’t want to inconvenience anyone, so you just do it. But all of that gets to be too much. The load comes too much, and you find the need to escape. This can be the overeating or binging that happens at night or on the weekends—the desire for the complete disconnect.
If you find that you relate to these disruptors, really think about how you could shift at least one. Could you ask for help, for one thing, this week? Could you make one social commitment with someone who feels replenishing in your life? Can you voice your opinion or take up space and feel confident in your truth, no matter what you perceive others to think?
You might be surprised what happens to your relationships as you start to see what you need and what you are actually getting. Some relationships will rise to meet you and be thankful for you, asking for more or a shift. Others may fall away and open up new space for new relationships to come in. As scary as some of this may seem, I have known this to be true. I have been amazed at what has happened when I have asked for more or walked away from relationships. A new connection has been formed with an old relationship, and new people have stepped in. So even though fear may want to keep you back, I invite you to explore what and who might be awaiting you on the other side!
I will be honest. Spirituality was a big part of what I had personally been hungry for. Especially as I became older, I found that I didn’t necessarily align with the religion I was brought up in and carried some guilt and shame because of what I was taught. Shifting my perception of spirituality to be something bigger than what I had been taught opened my eyes to a whole other aspect of myself that I didn’t even realize was there and had been longing to be found.
Spirituality is such a personal thing. I don’t think we can tell anyone they are doing it right or wrong. It is finding what works for you and the ways that aspect of you feels seen and fed. One of my close friends and colleagues put it beautifully. She said it’s like finding the pilot light inside you and learning how to turn it on. This light exists in all of us. It is finding it and learning how to make it glow and what makes it feel like it’s been blown out.
Many people who struggle with religion may feel like that light is dark. There are rules. Shoulds and shouldn’t. Right and wrongs. The approach I am offering to look at a spiritual connection is different than maybe what was taught. It is seeing a bigger picture and seeking to become aware of something larger than you. Whether that something is God, or Universe, or Creator, whatever lands with you, is just as it is supposed to be.
Positive Spiritual Behaviors
Let’s explore some positive behaviors to having a relationship with spirituality.
- I spend time in nature.
- I make time for reflection.
- I seek or participate in a spiritual connection or community.
- I am aware of nonmaterial aspects of life.
- I seek experiences of awe.
- I have a meditation practice.
- I pray.
- I read or study inspirational books or articles.
How do these land with you? Do you react to any of these? Are you doing more than what you thought you were doing spiritually but just never made that connection? Are there any of these that you’d like to start or increase?
When I was exploring a bigger sense of spirituality, I know for me that meditation was one thing I wanted to try. I found it challenging. My mind wandered so much. I wasn’t consistent with it because I had in my mind it had to be 15-20 minutes every day. But then I came across a morning meditation that was 6 minutes. I for sure had six minutes to give every morning to get into the practice and habit of doing it. Five years later, it is a part of my daily morning routine and varies from days that are shorter and days that are longer. I share this experience because I have many clients who want to start this or feel pulled to meditate. Just remember it is about the practice. Every time may not feel like the most zen experience. But know there is value in the intention of the space that you are setting.
Let’s look at what can be blocking you from a spiritual connection.
- I am mainly drawn to material things.
- I don’t take any time to reflect on the meaning of my life.
- I always believe that I don’t have enough.
- I don’t consider the things in my life for which I am grateful.
- I don’t consider that I actually have a purpose in this life.
These are big statements. One that takes a lot of truth and honesty to look at how you see your life. This is the difference. When you start to look at what you are drawn to or how you might only see the negative and not what is you have, you can understand why you get trapped into the places you do with your thoughts, which lead to your behaviors.
Gratefulness is the place I encourage you to start with if you find yourself agreeing with these statements. Could you find three things that you are grateful for each day? You’ll find, as you practice this, a shift happens. The stormy cloud starts to lighten. You see more good and become more curious about a deeper sense and relationship within you.
I have seen this shift. Not just for myself but for courageous women I have had the privilege to work with. This topic is harder because it requires you to go deeper within and examine your relationship with a higher power. It might mean healing around the religion and “rules” attached to God or a higher power. It requires softening, opening, and curiosity to look at things differently.
What I have found, and this is merely my opinion, is that we all need this sense of a higher power. To feel that our life has purpose and meaning. To trust that we are divinely led. You might not realize that is what you are hungry for, this deeper connection.
I have a client whose whole life changed when she realized the need for this connection was greatly missing. I had asked her to share how her work with intuitive eating impacted her realizing this missing piece and how it opened up space for a deeper spiritual connection. Here is what she had to say, “I didn’t even know what was missing from my life until I made the decision to stop dieting and turn my attention to the REST of my life. I recognized that I was hungry for a larger, more spiritual connection. When I tended to this need, everything changed. “Wow. Knowing how my client’s life has shifted brings me great joy and admiration for her courage to look deeper.
The willingness to look behind dieting behaviors, restrictions, overeating or binging, takes great vulnerability to see what awaits you on the other side. Yes, there may be pain and hurt that are there, and that is what you are running from. But what I can assure you is that there is support. There is compassion. There is a part of you that awaits its job to help shift your life into the meaning and purpose that it has. In this shift, not only do you find yourself, but new faces and relationships are there to support and guide you along the way.