If you have neglected yourself for a long time due to being in a relationship with a narcissist — whose needs always came first — it can be challenging to take care of yourself. But it is essential to do so in order to maintain your sense of self, either while in such a relationship or to heal after the relationship has ended. It’s important to learn how to nurture and honor yourself, and practicing self-care contributes to that.
1. The Triad of Wellness
Nutrition, exercise, and sleep are the three fundamental components of self-care that I refer to as “the triad of wellness.” I believe they are the foundation of good physical and mental health and that having them in balance is key to well-being. What’s great about them is they are all within your control.
Nutrition: Eat the most healthful food you can afford. Giving your body proper nutrition is necessary to your health and optimal functioning. When we take the time to buy the most healthful foods, prepare them, and feed ourselves, it is an act of self-care. And eating the correct amount of food — not over- or under-eating — makes you feel good and in control.
Exercise: Working out both improves your physical and emotional health and enhances your well-being. So commit to be fit. Taking control of your body is another way to value yourself, increase your self-esteem and self-confidence, and feel empowered and in control. And you don’t need a difficult exercise regimen to achieve this goal. Walking regularly is enough to get fit.
Sleep: Regular and quality sleep is critical to healthy functioning. As adults, we need approximately seven hours of sleep a night. Learn to practice sleep hygiene, which is the routine you create before bedtime to help you sleep better, similar to what we do with children. Wind down in the evening to get ready for a good night’s sleep. Avoid eating a heavy meal or drinking alcohol or caffeine too close to bedtime. Avoid activities that will stimulate you, such as watching the news, paying your bills, or getting into an emotional discussion or argument. Dim the lights, take a warm bath or shower, put on your PJs, and get into a comfortable bed. (Be sure your bed is indeed comfy, with clean linens and comfortable pillows and mattress.)
2. Rediscover hobbies or activities you loved but may have given up.
If you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist, you may have discovered that your life now revolves around his hobbies and interests, so much so that yours have fallen by the wayside. Get back to the gym, join your old book club, catch up on the latest movies — or whatever you previously liked to do but have since given up. If you can’t remember what you used to like, think back to when you were a young child: What did you most look forward to over summer vacation? Or on a Saturday morning? You can even try something new. One woman I recently met went to a climbing wall at the invitation of a friend. To her surprise, she loved it. She found it gave her a sense of accomplishment and was an empowering experience.
3. Honor yourself with little random acts of kindness.
Treat yourself to a favorite guilty pleasure, such as a bouquet of flowers, a new journal, a book or magazine, or a mani-pedi. Even the small things can have a beneficial effect.
4. Journal your thoughts and feelings.
Find a safe place where you can escape to be alone with your thoughts and write. It may be a room in your house where you can practice yoga and mediation, read, or journal. It could be a place outside of home that you can call your own — perhaps a favorite comfy coffee house or a little corner of nature. Whether it’s journaling on paper or on your computer, you’ll find that releasing your emotions can help soothe. Plus, re-reading your thoughts later on can identify patterns in how you think and respond to situations. You may identify unhealthy patterns that you weren’t aware of and can now make a plan for change. And journaling can track your progress in change.
One of the best ways to get over something or someone is to volunteer. Volunteering for something you love gives you a sense of purpose, and you’ll likely meet some like-minded people.
6. Reconnect with supportive and trusted friends and family.
Just as you may have given up previous hobbies, you may have also lost contact with people who were once important to you. Reconnecting can help remind you of the life you once led, and can also provide a support system for when you feel low.
These self-care activities will help you to honor and empower yourself while helping you rediscover your identity, which you may have lost while in a relationship with a narcissist.
For more information, see my book, No More Narcissists! How to Stop Choosing Self-Absorbed Men and Find the Love You Deserve.