The Irony of Self-Care

By Katie, 5:56 am

As humans – and particularly as women – we are often taught that taking care of ourselves is, well, selfish! We are told that we should be martyrs, denying and sacrificing ourselves over and over again in order to take care of others.

We are told this self-sacrifice should pervade every realm of our lives, from how we spend our time to our we spend our money to how we act in the bedroom. Case in point:

 (Source)

That’s pretty telling, no?

(There are so many ideas this image brings up, one of which is the magazine’s assumption that all of its readers are heterosexual females. But that’s a topic for another day!)

At some point the “give-give-give but never take” mentality slipped into my subconscious very deeply. Countless times I’ve gotten stuck in relationships or friendships in which I was giving but rarely receiving. I was saying “yes” when I felt “no” because I wanted to please the other person, and I was running myself into the ground because taking care of myself would, I thought, make me a self-centered egoist. :-?

Until I realized that’s a big fat lie.

When I finally decided to start taking care of myself – even if it meant occasionally putting my needs before the wants of others –  I came to understand the irony of self-care. Taking care of myself didn’t mean that I had nothing left for others, as I had previously assumed. Rather, taking care of myself meant that I had more to share with others. Attention to myself every now and then actually makes me a better wife, daughter, friend, etc.

I do believe in the Christian value of putting others before self. But I think when we do that to the point of hurting ourselves, we have missed the point; what we have to give becomes compromised. Instead, when we value ourselves in ways both large and small, we are then able to give our best selves to others.

What do you think? Are we made to believe that taking care of ourselves is somehow wrong or self-centered?

Do you agree that self-care actually makes us BETTER for others?

28 Responses to “The Irony of Self-Care”

  1. I am very passionate about the topic of self care, in fact, my entire business is built on the premise of teaching people what I call abundant self care. And the reason is because we are taught that we must always be there for other people first. But, when we are taking care of ourselves, mind, body and spirit, we can be more there for other people. And when we aren’t, no one really wins.

  2. I love that magazine cover collage– it’s so true!

  3. Becca says:

    This is so true. Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. It’s tricky, because we learn – from such a young age – the Bible story of the woman who gave away her last penny. Nowadays, I imagine what happened next, and it feels somewhat futile.

    I love Post Secret – their posts are so thought-provoking.

  4. Sarah says:

    I’ve been coming to grips with the same truth you write about here. Our Bible says “love others as you love yourself.” HUH. That statement suggests that we love ourselves- and I think we do. But for me, I think I usually think I should feel guilty for loving myself, thus all the self-denial. It’s interesting to me that that particular verse assumes we should/ do love ourselves.
    (It’s a little early; I hope I made some sense!)

  5. Jessie says:

    This is a GREAT topic, Katie – and boy, is that collage of magazine covers telling or what? It never really occurred to me what kind of message they were sending before. The idea of self-sacrifice is particularly strong in women, I believe, especially if you’ve had to take on the role of caretaker early in life. Unfortunately, many people take advantage of someone who is self-sacrificing, some of them without even meaning to! They just get used to the idea of someone always being available for them and they forge that they’re really taking advantage of them (hope that last sentence makes sense! :P ) I think we’ve all forgotten about self-care at some point – I know I have. Luckily, I have a husband who won’t let me get away with that anymore :)

  6. I really struggle with this every day. I have an incredibly hard time saying no and not giving to other people. Part of this is just who I am. I volunteer my time because I enjoy it. I take on extra projects at work to learn more. If a friend needed help I’d be there in a heart beat. But all of that comes with some amount of a toll. I think moving to DC really helped me realize that it is okay to do things for myself, to take life into my hands. Im certainly happier than I ever expected to be.

  7. I love how “in tune” we are with each other. LOL This is like, what, the 1000th time we’ve had similar topics on the brain? I love it!

    And I thoroughly believe we can’t fully care for others if we aren’t also caring for ourselves. I think leaving out time for ourselves just leaves us overworked and resentful, instead of loving and passionate, in our efforts to help others.

  8. Jill says:

    Very good post Katie! I have a friend who has a website devoted to this very thing. She’s been working for years to help women realize that taking care of themselves is necessary. It’s not a bad thing for women to put themselves first (her website is firstourselves.com, btw) and in fact it’s probably ESSENTIAL that we put ourselves first sometimes. I struggled with this for a long time (and sometimes I still do), but I’m realizing that doing something FOR ME, makes it easier to do things for others because I’m not trapped in the “woe is me, I never get to do anything for myself” mindset.

    I could go on and on about this, can you tell?!? :)

  9. Yeah, I’ve been singing this song for a loooong time. I have also come to realize that, in some cases, women who don’t put themselves first use taking care of others almost as an excuse. It’s almost as if they’re afraid of their own power…or can’t even acknowledge that have any power. And so in some ways they are actually abdicating their responsibility and being selfish, because what they modeling doesn’t end up serving others. It’s only when we’re fully who we are that we are able to truly serve others.

  10. i think that when self-care becomes the ONLY priority then it can be a bad thing…but taking care of yourself is a really good thing when it’s done in moderation (as in you still put others before yourself most of the time)

  11. Alina says:

    That’s a great image and a great topic. I think self-care is our # 1 job, and comes before other-care for sure. There are times when we need to focus on someone else’s needs for a time, but we can only take so much out of ourselves before we have nothing left to give.

  12. Great topic. I make this mistake too often and end up regretting it. I feel compelled to say yes to almost everything but its just not realistic and I end up being exhausted by it. Thanks for reminding us that self-care is crucial as it helps us help others in the long run.

  13. I do agree that we are “taught” that self care is somewhat selfish. I think as I grew older, I realized that it is something I had to do to take care of myself and look out for my own feelings/ well being. It’s all about the balance :)

  14. Ashley says:

    This is a very interesting topic and something I struggle with. I was raised by an amazing mother who never, once put herself first. She still hasnt learned to do it and its something that was passed on to me, to the point that I feel extremely guilty even saying I want something or need something and I really struggle to tell my bf what i want or need in the relationship. i know this is something I will need to address for long term happiness.

    and magazines like this, i just cant read them anymore, so many are toxic in my opinion.

    • Katie says:

      Our personal stories sound very similar, and I appreciate you sharing your experience. And I agree about the magazines – they’re just plain rubbish!

  15. Shawnee says:

    Isn’t there a verse in the Bible that says something like, “we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves.” But if we don’t love ourselves, how can we love our neightbors? Great post and I highly agree.

    • Katie says:

      YES! I wish I had thought to include that verse in the post – it’s such a great connection.

  16. I completely agree!! I believe that when you take time for YOU, it’s easier for you to be helpful to others!!

  17. Lisa says:

    I was the same way…I would give give give but never receive. As I started to lose a lot of my weight, I also started losing friends. Honestly they weren’t good friends to begin with–I see that now. But suddenly I wasn’t in the business of always being available for THEM. I was taking care of myself, my workout routines were important to me and I spent the time taking care of myself. I don’t really miss these so called “friends”. Now I have GOOD friends who are REAL friends.

    • Katie says:

      Isn’t that crazy how when we take care of ourselves, it becomes a barometer of sorts? It really shows which people in our lives are truly there for us.

  18. Meg says:

    I couldn’t agree more. From the time we are little girls, we are taught to please and accommodate and put ourselves last. I, too, ended up in relationships where I was doing all the giving and literally had nothing left of myself. I agree that I am a better friend, daughter and wife when I am giving myself the attention/care I need.

  19. Kathryn says:

    I like to mix it up by exercising before work twice a week and exercising after work twice a week. It’s a nice balance because I like to do a workout video on the mornings before work and the other days I like to run.

  20. I have, in the past, believed or been made to believe that putting everyone else first is the way I’m supposed to do it..and have sacrificed taking care of myself to be a “good wife and mom”. that didn’t get me anywhere, and was detrimental to my ability to BE a good wife and mom. I’m learning, slowly but surely, to practice more self care and as a result, I find I do have more to give in the long run.

    The reference to loving our neighbors as we love ourself is an EXCELLENT example. We ARE supposed to love ourselves.

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