The self-care phenomenon stuffing bookshelves across the world isn’t anything new. Yet, for many Catholics the entire premise raises a whole lotta questions:
Shouldn’t we deny ourselves comfort? Isn’t prioritizing self-care akin to narcissism? Isn’t wholly sacrificing yourself on behalf of another a good thing? Isn’t being miserable on the behalf of another person the definition of love? Doesn’t self-deprecation lead us to holiness?
Questions abound. So, I sat down with writer Julia Hogan, MS, LCPC, whose new book, It’s OK to Start with You, talks about self-care within the Catholic understanding of the world. No, it does not involve wearing a sackcloth, nor does it mean abandoning all things so you can go “find yourself” in a five-star, full-service hotel in Vegas. And just to clear the air: it doesn’t mean you should spend three hours in the gym after you eat all the spinach in the grocery store.
“It all starts with recognizing that you’re worth taking care of,” Hogan says. “The root of self-negligence starts with an innate insecurity. People believe that they’re not lovable. Deep down, they really don’t believe that God loves them.”
Self-negligence is a problem that causes all kinds of other problems. It plagues modern society just as much as narcissism (although it’s far more curable). Just think about it. Do you know any workaholics? Stressed-out colleagues? How about your roommate who never sleeps? Or that friend who always wants to drink and sleep around with strangers?
This type of self-negligence can take a lot of forms as people run themselves into the ground. But the cause is too often the same for these folks: They believe they are not worth taking care of.
They believe they are not worthy of love.
Once people discover that they have this lack of self-love, a mindshift begins to happen slowly. Yet, according to Hogan, this shift in perspective isn’t enough to change our ways: “It’s a two-step process. You need to commit to the realization that you’re worth taking care of — and then commit to the discipline of taking care of yourself.” In other words, in order to take care of ourselves, we must change our habits.
This obviously isn’t easy. In fact, Hogan wrote an entire book about it.
In simple terms, the prescription for self-care looks different for everyone. For introverts, this could mean actually putting yourself out there and making a new friend; for extroverts, it could mean taking time to be quiet and introspective.
Yet, there are some common principles that most people can relate to. Here are some universal scenarios where self-care should never be considered selfish:
- When you remove a toxic friend from your life
- When you take real time to prioritize real silence to just exist
- When you say “no” to things or people that don’t bring the best out of you
- When you get comfortable disappointing others
- When you start trusting your instincts
Of course, no friendship is perfect. Even the best of them can sometimes really bring you down. When the downs are perpetual, however, and your “friend” seems to have a pathological intent on bringing his or her dark world to shatter your life — utterly and completely draining you — this is not a friend. This is what we call an “energy vampire,” and sometimes the relationship can become abusive. While some might think that it’s selfish to dump an old friend because they’re not helping, it’s actually self-preservation.
Depending on your job, and where you are in your life, scheduling time to be alone with yourself in silence might feel like misanthropic thing — or even an impossible, uncomfortable feat. After all, this could mean saying “no” to an invitation to lunch on a particularly busy day. The thing is, we all need a bit of silence to recollect ourselves. In fact, recent studies show that it rejuvenates our brain cells. This should never be considered “wasted time” — rather it is necessary time we need to be our best selves.
I’m not talking about saying “no” to opportunities that challenge you and push you to grow. I’m talking about saying “no” to scenarios that inevitably bring you down — maybe to a state of mind that you’ve outgrown, or a group of people who are always asking too much from you. Remember, your time and energy are valuable. “You choose … where you give your time and attention,” as Hogan tells me.
Too often Catholics confuse serving others with pleasing others. Of course it’s a double-whammy when we can do both, but alas, sometimes we need to disappoint people, yes even people we love, in order to take care of what’s good for ourselves and our vocations, and thus, fulfill our calling to serve. “You are the keeper of your time…very rarely people look at you and say: ‘Oh, hey — you look super overwhelmed — I won’t bother you,’” Hogan explains.
Deep down, when you recognize that you’re called to love both your neighbor and yourself, the fuzzy priorities in your life will start to refocus. You’ll become more in-tune with yourself, your needs, and yes, your limitations. You’ll also realize your strengths — and an intuition that comes with those strengths. It’s a little voice that no one but you can understand. While others — even if they are well-meaning — can call your intuition into question, once you take that leap in trusting yourself, it ultimately leads to authentic freedom.
Why? Because you’ve learned how to take care of yourself.