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Self-Care: Isn’t That Selfish?

Are you responsible for taking care of others? Do you usually put other people’s needs ahead of your own? Do you feel selfish when you have needs or desires of your own? Do you feel like taking time for YOU is wrong? Have you learned that the right thing to do, the Catholic thing to do, is to deny your needs in favour of the desires of others? Are you wondering why continuously doing so is leaving you feeling drained, unfulfilled and resentful?

As mothers, we see very quickly how the neglect of a need in our children develops swiftly into meltdown: an emotional outburst, overwhelm, anger, drama, tears. Yet we expect that, because we are adults, the consistent suppression of our own needs will have no such consequence. 

Why is it that we consider the presence of our own needs as wrong or bothersome? And the taking care of those needs as unnecessary or redundant? Do we think we are exempt from being human? Are we expecting ourselves to be super-human?

I don’t know about you, but without wanting or meaning to, I have ended up in emotional outbursts, overwhelm, anger, resentment, drama and tears when I continue to suppress my own needs. Yet still, the idea of having and taking care of myself was tinged with guilt, shame, irritation and anxiety. I had inherited a very unhelpful misunderstanding somewhere along the way - whether in my childhood, through misunderstanding the beautiful truths of my Catholic faith or perhaps a mixture of both - that the continuous denial of my needs was a commendable, devout and virtuous endeavour. For me, doing anything else felt indulgent and selfish. 

Should it feel this way, though? Allow me to ask you some questions that may help refocus our logic and understanding… 
When your newborn baby is hungry, is it selfish or is it care-giving to feed him?
When your toddler is tired, is it selfish or is it care-giving to make him rest
When your three year old is over-stimulated by noise and busy-ness, is it selfish or care-giving to remove the stimulation and seek a quiet few moments for him? 
When your four year old complains of pain, is it selfish or care-giving to seek what you can to relieve his pain?
When your five year old is feeling sad, is it selfish or care-giving to listen to and empathise with the cause of his sorrow? 
When you sense your six year old is feeling a bit flat, is it selfish or care-giving to put on a song you know they love, that would encourage them to dance around the kitchen and almost instantly feel better? 
When your seven year old is out-growing his clothes, is it selfish or care-giving to provide him with clothes that fit, are comfortable and he’s content to wear? 
When your eight year old is struggling to complete a task on his own and requests help, is it selfish or care-giving to lend a hand or impart the wisdom or education he needs to succeed? 
When your nine year old shows an interest in and passion for building Lego, is it selfish or care-giving to allow him time to delight in this hobby
When your ten year old is overwhelmed with emotion in the moment, is it selfish or care-giving to suggest he takes a brief break away to take a few deep breaths before being expected to continue conversing calmly?

You most likely would answer that none of the above responses to our children’s mere human needs are selfish, but rather that our responses to those needs show that we care. It follows logically, then, that it would not be selfish of us to need and allow ourselves:
  • Food when we’re hungry
  • Rest when we’re tired or weary
  • Quiet when we’re overstimulated
  • Relief when we’re in physical pain
  • Compassion and understanding when we’re in emotional pain
  • Fun when we’re feeling flat
  • New clothes when ours no longer fit our bodies or our lifestyle
  • Help, support, guidance, education, wisdom or skills from an experienced other when we cannot do something by ourselves
  • Time to delight in recreation
  • Time out to reset our nervous systems in order to continue with our duties feeling more regulated 
The provision of these needs is not spoiling or indulging our children; it is caring for our children. Answering those needs in ourselves is not selfish or self-indulgent; it is self-care

Perhaps we ought to consider that the feeling of selfishness we can experience, then, is an inherited misunderstanding rather than an appropriate judgement being informed from the truths of our faith?

Still not convinced that taking care of your own needs is something a Catholic mum ought to participate in? Let’s turn to the Word of God for guidance. When addressing the Pharisees, Our Lord very succinctly addressed the order in which we ought to take care of responsibilities. Our love of God comes first in all things. 

Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. 
Matthew 22:36-38
Jesus immediately continued: 

And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.
Matthew 22:39-40

With God in His rightful place, first to be tended to in our lives, we must turn our attention to the second commandment: “love thy neighbour as thyself”. This call to action has an important implication embedded in it: to love your neighbour as yourself implies you already love yourself! 

What do we do with people we love? We give care where they have needThe beauty that lies within our Catholic faith is that God not only knows you have needs, but He gives us permission - requires us even - to meet our needs in order to better love our neighbour!

We cannot give from a place of deficiency. We are the heart of the home. To be able to pour out of our heart with the right intention, we must ensure our heart is full enough to pour from in the first place. God fills our hearts and self-care fills our hearts. It is through connection to God and in taking care of, taking responsibility for, our own needs that we can move ourselves from feeling depleted and overwhelmed to having bountiful energy to happily pour into others. 

Self-care is neither self-indulgence (the excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own appetites, desires, or whims) nor selfishness (being concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself without regard for others). Self-care is care for oneself

It is not only being self-responsible - taking care of our Christian duty towards ourselves - but it is also leading by example for our children. As our children grow, it is our duty as their mother to guide them to take care of themselves: body, mind and soul. We know very well how much our children learn from watching our actions more than listening to our words. Don’t we want to teach our children to be responsible for themselves? It begins with us being responsible for ourselves.

When we take care of that which we ought to take care of in our lives, God blesses us abundantly in return.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” - Luke 12:31

Taking care of myself and my duties in the order God intended (Him, me, others) has made me a more motivated and devoted daughter of God, a stronger woman, a more caring and kind wife, a more nurturing and playful mother, a happier friend, a more accepting sister, a more patient daughter, a more prudent person and a more loving neighbour. Faith and self-care are my fuel. Self-care is not selfish; it is being responsible.

Take care of you! And Let Truth Bloom.

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