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Post-Polio Health (ISSN 1066-5331)

Vol. 17, No. 4, Fall 2001

Emotional Bridges to Wellness (pg 2)

Self-Acceptance

Self-acceptance involves appreciating one's strengths – those parts of one's personality that others value, such as a sense of humor, intelligence or organizational skills. Equally important is accepting one's limits, such as an inability to dress oneself, or the need to take breaks during the day. Rather than abandoning enjoyable activities or taking on a fatalistic attitude, self-acceptance implies accepting and expressing the feelings related to a loss. It also means finding alternate ways to satisfy needs or desires.

Many survivors can still participate, but need to adjust their ways of gaining access to activities. For someone who enjoys boating, but cannot step into the boat anymore, it may mean using assistive devices. The good news is that, in many areas, there are increased opportunities for recreation for people with disabilities.

Adapting to new methods of functioning takes self-acceptance. A recent study revealed that about 50% of survivors follow their physicians' recommendations to use assistive devices (Thoren-Jonsson & Grimby, 2001). The reasons the remaining 50% of the participants choose otherwise may relate to self-acceptance, including self-image, self-worth and the reactions of others.

"One of my successes in self-acceptance involved my 'Communicator Self.' When I was on a first date with a man who wanted to walk three blocks to show me his office, I asserted that I would need to take a cab. Rather than apologize, I offered to meet him at the destination. In years past, I would have felt anxious about his responses. This time, I realized that how he responded would tell me if he could accept my physical limitations and whether developing a relationship with him was of mutual interest and a realistic possibility."

Self-Appreciation

Self-appreciation is an attitude or feeling of caring about oneself. When we appreciate ourselves, we increase the likelihood of treating ourselves in caring ways and ensuring that others treat us respectfully.

In contrast, feelings of shame or anxiety are especially distracting and draining of energy. Mary Westbrook, PhD, has researched the impact of "shame anxiety" on polio survivors' ability to ask for help and to maintain intimate relationships (Westbrook, 1996). She found that various forms of anxiety are associated with survivors' early polio experiences (Westbrook, 1996).

People are apt to isolate themselves when they are ashamed or dissatisfied with life and may go to excessive means to prove their worth or to gain recognition or acceptance (Masters & Johnson, 1986). When depressed or anxious, people are inclined to block their feelings and self-awareness by overeating or drinking alcohol, or to distract themselves by watching television or overworking.

"Westbrook's research motivated me to look at how my early polio memories affected my ability to ask for help. Years ago, I avoided asking for help. I would struggle, walking in the wind, rather than ask a colleague to drop me at my destination. I learned I had a distorted view of needs and dependency. After working through my feelings about past experiences in therapy, I understood the reasons for my feelings – the beliefs behind them – and how these affected my inability to be responsible about my health. This process freed me to become capable of asking for assistance in a self-responsible way."

In contrast to shame and anxiety, self-appreciation strengthens our ability to respond to ourselves in nurturing ways.

Self-Nurturing

Self-nurturing is a way we show that we care for ourselves. We nurture ourselves when we take in adequate nutrition, get enough rest and discriminate about taking on a new task or commitment.

To nurture means to soothe, ease, refresh, invigorate and develop resilience (Louden, 2000). Louden describes nurturing as fuel that compels us to live life fully and keeps us going when life gets tough.

Nurturing involves tenderness, comforting, gentleness and pleasure. Examples include affirming auditory messages; tender, pleasurable touch; enjoying beauty through nature, the arts or one's environment; surrounding oneself with comforting fragrances from fresh flowers, candles or aromatherapy; and eating luscious, nourishing foods.

"Self-nurturing is more than pampering. It is about becoming powerful" (Louden, 2000). Jennifer Louden explains, "Comforting yourself is about strengthening yourself, becoming more durable." (Louden, 2000). Far from encouraging self-absorption, this concept means that taking time to nurture oneself will increase resilience to discomfort and fears. For polio survivors, self-nurturing is a useful skill to develop since discomfort and fears can result from making lifestyle changes associated with declines in our ability to physically function.

"For me, exercising in a warm water pool (over 90º) is a therapeutic source of self-nurturing. Stretching and breathing in the water reduces the pain in my limbs and shoulders. It increases my energy, deepens my breathing, and stabilizes my gait. The freedom and mobility I experience in the water is pleasurable and leaves me with a valuable sense of wellness."

In reflecting on my article, you, too, can gain clarity about what you need to do by asking:

These are tough issues and many of us would prefer to avoid them as long as we can. My experience has taught me that my body forces me to notice what it needs. I have learned that the sooner I pay attention and consciously make a change that adds ease to my life, the more energy and peace of mind I experience.

Many resources are available to support us in developing personal skills and insights that can equip us as we continue through this journey of adjusting to the effects of polio and life's unpredictability. You may want to read some of the books listed as references for this article. I hope you will benefit from my explorations and will discover ways to experience a sense of overall wellness and satisfaction with your life.

References

Embracing Our Selves: The Voice Dialogue Manual by Hal Stone, PhD, and Sidra Stone, PhD, Nataraj Publishing (1989).

"Permission Giving: Emotional Adjustment and the Late Effects of Polio" by Karen Kennedy, MSW, PoliOntario, Ontario March of Dimes (January, 1998).

Creating by Robert Fritz, Fawcett Columbine (1991).

Sex and Human Loving by William H. Masters, Virginia E. Johnson, & Robert C. Kolodny, Little, Brown and Company (1986).

Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, MD, Bantam Books (1998).

"Ability and Perceived Difficulty in Daily Activities in People with Poliomyelitis Sequelae" by A.L. Thoren-Jonsson and G. Grimby, Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine (January, 2001).

"Early Memories of Having Polio: Survivors' Memories Versus the Official Myths" by Mary T. Westbrook, PhD. Paper presented at the First Australian International Post-Polio Conference (1996).

The Comfort Queen's Guide to Life by Jennifer Louden, Harmony Books (2000).