083 Personal Growth: Is Self-Care Selfish?

083 Personal Growth: Is Self-Care Selfish?


Self-care seems to be buzz words these days.  Many industries have devoted themselves to the idea of self-care. But is self-care selfish? With our culture becoming more and more me-focused have we gotten too focused on self and less on others?  What really is self-care?

We have to be very careful in how we answer this question. As therapists it would be irresponsible not to.  In some Christian circles the concept of self-care is frowned upon. Again, we have to be careful.  Yes, we are told to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily, but how we deny ourselves is an important discussion.

Laura Explains This Cultural Concept To Vincent

At the onset of today’s episode, Laura explains to Vincent that a large portion of the self-care industry seems to be geared towards women.  Vincent assumed that self-care was more along the lines of good hygiene.  It is a bit funny to hear the difference between what a man considers self-care and how a woman views it. After helping Vincent see that self-care goes beyond taking a daily bath, Laura engages him in discussion on activities that women and men find entertaining. 

We delineate the difference between selfish behavior and self-care by using Vincent’s example of what many men find fun:  sitting in a deer stand for hours on end.  Laura asks “are you doing it to the neglect of your family or are you doing it because you need to refuel?”  Vincent prefers to use the words “leisure” or “fun time” over “self-care.”  Laura feels that self-care is not just fun.  (She gives the example of waxing.) 

Dangers of Too Much Self-Care

Laura has seen the impact of women self-medicating with what started as an occasional glass of wine to wind down in the evening to drinking that has increased over time. It started out as a mindless activity that has gotten out of control. AND it is a slippery slope that is becoming more socially acceptable.

On the face of it, I (Laura) understand why some Christians denounce the concept of self-care.  If it is taking you away from time spent better with God or serving others, then, yes, self-care could be thought of selfish.

However, having worked with troubled individuals for years, I (Laura) think(s)  that a message of self-care being selfish is unhelpful. This message could be particularly harmful to those struggling with codependency.

Codependents have a tendency to live in the extremes.  They often feel responsible for others’ feelings.  They can’t be happy unless others are happy. 

Harmfulness Of Putting Self-Care Down

Here’s why telling people self-care is selfish could be harmful:  For the struggling codependent, they are so unhealthily focused on others that given the message that self-care is selfish just reinforces an already negative belief they have:  I don’t need to take care of myself. 

I’m caring for others better by not spending time on myself. This lack of self-care ends up hurting others in the process. 

Legalism is also common in codependency.  Seeing self-care as selfish can be a result of a harsh view of reality. Having worked with codependency we see so many people operating out of dry wells that will end up needing others’ care because they are not taking care of themselves.

The irony is that the mindset is often “I can’t do this for me right now because I’ve got to take care of so-and-so” and yet the codependent wears herself out and the very person that she was trying to care for will end up having to care for her. 

Codependents often struggle because they have put themselves in a position above God.  In their attempts at trying to make others happy, they get in God’s way. They often find their worth and value from being responsible for others’ happiness.

Meanwhile, it does not occur to them that they are getting in God’s way.  Many times, it takes a Christian therapist, pastor, family member or close friend to point this out to them, however sometimes codependents figure this out on their own.

The Best Self-Care

Some of the best self-care is time spent with God.  Drawing upon His strength will give you what you need.  Reading His word and learning about Him will help you through your day. 

If not, you run the risk of trying to do things out of your own strength and self-reliance.  This also means you may be serving others out of guilt, not out of a Christlike position. Be care not to fall into the trap of defining yourself by what you do.

If we’re serving others but doing it from the wrong motivation, it builds our ego. You could feel very guilty and blame yourself often AND your ego could be quite large and prideful. 

Gender Roles and Self-Care

Vincent has noticed an imbalance of work between the genders.  He describes how in the 1950s there was a very traditional view of man’s work and woman’s work and how that has changed since. Women have seemed to take on more work overall, still trying to do the homemaking and work full-time jobs.  Meanwhile, many men still feel that their wives should do most of the homemaking along with their jobs. In effect, many women are burnt out.

One common issue is that many families have divided tasks to indoors for the women and outdoors for the men.  This is problematic because usually indoor tasks are a daily activity whereas outdoor ones usually are not. Add children to the mix as well as the assumption that the woman will be doing the brunt of the childcare, and then you have an even greater imbalance. 

With more stay-at-home mothers taking on “work-at-home” jobs and businesses, it even furthers the amount of work women have taken on. Men, however, have had less variation in their roles.  There are some stay-at-home dads and work-from-home dads, but for the most part women’s roles have developed more variations.

Communication issues in marriages often arise out of assumptions.  It is very common to see a couple struggling over household work and duties, especially when they have not clearly communicated who is going to do what. Operating off of assumptions causes a lot of friction in relationships. 

Vincent mentions how the traditional household of the 1950s may have not necessarily been right, but that it was clear.  These days many couples are not clear on what is expected of one another. 

Mindless Activity

With the amount of work we are taking on, what are we doing to ourselves? Often, we find ourselves with a window of time between when the kids go to bed and when we do. 

This window of time is used many times for very unintentional activities.  This is where self-care can become problematic (see Laura’s discussion of alcoholism above.) On-line shopping, gaming, overeating, and social media all become mindless activities that create debt, emotional and/or physical problems. 

Why Are We So Busy?

Is it time to re-examine your goals in life?  Do expect to make a certain dollar amount or acquire certain status symbols? 

Laura feels that Western culture promotes excess. If you have a job, you over-work. If you’re a mother you are a soccer mom, a Pinterest mom, you do, you do, you do. If your kids are in sports they are on travel teams and play four games a weekend, not counting the practices and games during the week. Some parents count this as “leisure time” for themselves, when it really contributes more to the hamster wheel effect running ourselves ragged. 

Physical exhaustion can lead to poor decisions.  One such decision is eating.  Exhaustion can mask itself as hunger.   

Did You Do Your Homework?

As couples counselors, we give homework to our clients. Vincent describes how difficult it is for many couples to complete his homework assignment of four thirty-minute conversations per week. 

Overwhelmingly the excuse for not completing the homework is that they do not have the “downtime” to do it. 

God & Self-Care

If we view our bodies as temples, we have to care for them to be able to go out and serve.  Caring for our literal bodies helps us to be the hands and feet of Christ. 

Spending time with God allows us to be fueled by the Holy Spirit and not motivated by false guilt. 

God created us to be relational.  He desires relationship with us.  He wants to be our source of strength. He wants us to put our dependence in Him. We can do this through prayer and time spent reading the Bible.  He also gave us a wonderful creation to admire Him through. 

God also desires in us to have relationships with others.  We can incorporate this into our self-care routine.  Enjoying the company of positive people can go a long way. 

Self-care could mean watching a beautiful sunset and saying, “Wow!  Thank you God for allowing me to see that.  Your creation is beautiful.” 

Self-care could be going on a hike and marveling at how peaceful and still God’s handiwork can be. 

Self-care can be soaking in a tub, taking care of a world-worn body whose feet have walked far to carry the good news. 

Self-care can help us to appreciate.  It can prepare us to go out into the world refreshed for the next day of witnessing. 

Anything done to the extreme is unhealthy. Striking a balance is key. 

What can you do this week to take care of yourself?

Published by

Vincent & Laura Ketchie

Vincent Ketchie, LPC and Laura Ketchie, LPC are the hosts of Relationship Helpers, a podcast where they discuss family issues and interview relationship experts. Vincent and Laura are licensed marriage counselors.

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