On its face, self-care is not at all a selfish pursuit. There is nothing wrong with taking care of yourself, or de-stressing, or pursuing your joy or passions, or learning to love yourself. Self-care is a routine to keep yourself grounded and healthy. So why has some segments of society leveled the banner of “selfishness” toward those of us practicing self-care? Misinterpreted intent!
Let’s take as an example the case of a woman I will call Mallory. Mallory was suffering from the eating disorder anorexia. Her self-image had become so polluted that she believed herself to be disgustingly overweight regardless of the fact that she was little more than skin and bones. As a 24 year old woman standing 5 feet 8 inches, an ideal weight range for Mallory would have been between 126 and 154 pounds. However, Mallory weighed just 98 pounds but still could not see herself as anything other than overweight. She was in danger of complete organ failure and death. After intense psychological therapy, Mallory was able t1o discover that her self-image had been negatively affected by a high school boyfriend who had mentally abused her by consistently referring to her as “chubby”, although she had been a perfectly healthy weighted, athletic young woman. When the boyfriend broke up with her because he wanted a “thin girlfriend”, Mallory internalized her feelings of inadequacy and they eventually surfaced as a life threatening disorder.
So…would Mallory’s psychological therapy be considered a selfish action? Would Mallory’s introspection be considered a selfish action? Would the time Mallory spent journaling about her feelings be considered time spent in a selfish manner? Of course not! They were lifesaving mental health steps! Well, then why should the ongoing regimen of Mallory’s self-care be considered selfish? Growing and learning is a lifelong process, so how dare society place a time limit on an “acceptable” period in which Mallory should be “cured”! What could be more pure than her intent to be healthy and happy!
In differing ways, we are all Mallory to one extent or another. Our repressed feelings may present themselves in a wide range of self-destructive behaviors and peace-stealing actions, but the repressed will ALWAYS find a way to the surface. If we are not prepared to accept and love ourselves, we run a high risk of being overcome when they bubble up inside of us. A routine of self-care is battle preparation, intelligence gathering, and post-battle rebuilding all in one.
The Carrie Underwood Factor
For many years, country music superstar Carrie Underwood has been a vocal advocate of her unflinching Christian faith; and the conservative Christian base has held her high as an example of of “good God fearing woman”. And I believe that she still is, although her support structure has recently begun to turn on her. The controversy is rooted in Underwood’s new fitness apparel line, Calia.
Television ads for Calia have featured Underwood with the tag lines “Choose you” and “Put yourself first”. As a result, she is coming under scrutiny from the Christian Right for selfishness and promoting a message in conflict with Biblical teachings. In the Bible, the message is conveyed that only service to others is righteous, while any service to self is inherently selfish.
“Choose you” is most certainly not an inherently selfish statement, nor is “Put yourself first”. To be the best and most mindful version of ourselves, we need to choose ourself sometimes, and from time to time we all need to put ourselves first just to avoid burnout and losing our sense of identity. Modern daily life can be chaotic and hectic. We face a huge range of stresses and the expectation to stretch our time thin in order to fulfill the many roles demanded of us. Ms. Underwood needs to be a wife; mother; musician; role model; business manager; media personality; Christian woman; and a normal human with anxieties and emotions…all while under the constant public gaze of those waiting to pounce on any mistake. I do not have any doubt that she has a difficult time finding time to just de-stress and be herself; to put herself first. It is unfair for anyone to think that Carrie Underwood, you, me or your neighbor should not need reminded to practice self-care. We all give our everything on a daily basis. The moments that we are able to take for ourselves are special, hard to come by, and completely necessary. This is why it is so important that self-care actually become part of our routine. If we are able to build it in, we are less likely to forget to do it or to feel guilty about it.
3 Considerations When Making Self-Care A Routine
- It is the small things 》The busier we are, the easier it becomes to let our self-care slide. We may feel like there is simply no time for it. Or if we decide to practice self-care when this or that agenda item is completed, it never fails that 10 other “musts” will pop up before we get to our self-care. But if we make our swlf-care routine a high priority portion of our day, we will be able to reap the cumulative benefits of repeated self-care.
- Not a one-size-fits-all activity 》 Self-care activities are widely individual and customizable. Anything that de-stresses you and feeds positivity into your life can be considered self-care. From playing a board game with your children, to painting, to assembling model train kits, to aerobic exercise, to baking cookies can be examples of self-care (although if you ever see me out running, I suggest you run fast the same direction, because something MUST be chasing me)! Find what works best for you and do that.
- I Authorize Me 》 Give yourself permission to use time for your personal growth and self-care. Yes, there will always be something else you can be doing, but is that actually going to different than any other time? We are all constantly busy and thinking ahead to the next task. Remind yourself that you are being creative and doing something good for yourself.. Enjoy it!
How Do I Implement This?
I suggest that you pick one activity that has a high impact on your mental health. Put an appointment with yourself on your calendar so you do not forget or become distracted when it is time. Just call it an event after dinner. Then work on coming up with a detailed and schedulable routine…and stick to it!!! YOU HAVE GOT THIS!