The Fallacy of Self-Care
“Searching for balance in a world that is ever-changing, is more than just challenging —it’s the wrong way to think.”
-Karla S. Hardin, LPC
By Karla S. Hardin, LPC
Self-Care —a fallacy?
I’m sure I caught your attention by the mere suggestion…
The 21st century has popularized the word “self-care” to the point we don’t even question what it is or that it is legitimate. But before you panic and think I am going to put the kibosh on caring for ourselves, I am instead going to explain the problem:
We have the wrong paradigm for self-care.
Usually the issue of self-care arises in contrast to caring and doing for others/work/unforeseen responsibilities to the point that we neglect ourselves. In doing so, we will jump on the bandwagon that we need more “balance” to compensate for the energy we lost —and this is where there the problem lies.
The problem is trying to define what balance is in a subjective world.
A Self/Others Scale
We tend to have an imaginary scale in our mind with self on one end and others/demands on the opposite end.
With this imaginary scale in our mind, we are trying to achieve that wonderful place where our energy is equally divided between caring for others and caring for ourselves, and all is well in the world! The problem is that this never happens because it cannot be accurately measured.
As a counselor, I see this very same problem when a couple comes in and they tell me that they believe in a 50/50 marriage. They want to split the responsibilities down the middle to be “fair.”
In theory, that is a noble idea as they are attempting to not overburden one partner. But I rarely see this work because there is no exact way of equalizing or quantifying the responsibilities. For example:
One partner says they will unload the dishwasher while the other will take out the trash. This works until the week when there is excessive trash that requires much more effort than the original agreement. The person with trash duty can start to resent the “unfair” additional work they are doing. Then, in bringing it up to their partner, it can quickly escalate into a “tit for tat” listing of all one does and how much more their task is “demanding” than the others’.
This illustrates the same kind of struggle and emotional exhaustion that can come when we are trying to balance subjective pieces.
We can begin to worry and ruminate on the inequity of where our time is going to the point we become extremely self-focused and demanding of “our time.”
…It is easy to see how this line of thinking begins to invite a narcissistic mindset and a preoccupation with self.
So how do we genuinely take care of ourselves without becoming hyper-territorial about our time?
I believe we find the answer in the life of Jesus.
Jesus’ daily schedule was demanding. There were constant needs being expressed by everyone He came in contact with. He was always being faced with the challenge of discerning how to use his time. And even though he was God, he was fully human and had the very same needs you and I do for rest, alone time, and fun time to allow him to recharge.
If He had been operating on the scale between Self and Others and trying to find “balance” in it, I believe he would have despaired on a daily basis.
But in John 4, we get a picture of an entirely different model that Jesus was operating by.
Jesus was traveling toward Galilee knowing His enemies were on His trail - can we say emotionally exhausting? They arrived in a town in Samaria and Jesus, “being wearied” as John describes, was resting by the town well while the disciples went to get food. Well-deserved “me-time,” right? Time to partake in some self-care and enjoy a moment of not “giving” to someone!
But what does Jesus do?
He does what makes absolutely no sense. He initiates with a Samaritan woman.
First of all, Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans as they were seen as unclean and defiled because they adopted gentile beliefs. But then to cross cultural-norms and reach out to a woman was unacceptable on several fronts.
Here was a situation that absolutely makes no logical sense. Jesus had so many legitimate excuses to focus on his needs and personal well being in that moment. Yet, in His physically and emotionally exhausted state, He actually reaches out to the most unlikely person in order to care for her.
Jesus obviously wasn’t trying to achieve a balanced life.
Well, this made no sense to the disciples either.
Though shocked that he was talking to a Samaritan woman, they said nothing but quickly began trying to get him to eat [take care of himself] —the model of self-care they knew.
But Jesus’ reply in John 4:32,34 reveals a completely different model he was operating from.
32 “But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”
Food, in this context, symbolizes two things: Nourishment and fulfillment.
We need nourishment daily to survive. Fulfillment is a deep sense of satisfaction – something I believe we all long for.
Jesus was finding His moment-by-moment nourishment from His intimate connection with God the Father. And His deep personal satisfaction was found in accomplishing His part of God’s mission here on earth.
Jesus’ needs were met —not by personally trying to meet them, but rather by his moment-by-moment attunement to his Father who was guiding him.
Knowing his Father wanted to care for him and would never exploit him, freed Jesus from trying to control the “balance” between self and others. Also, being focused on his greater calling of accomplishing God’s eternal purpose was centering and fulfilling as it confirmed daily the reason he was on the planet instead of being seated in the heavenlies.
The fallacy of self-care is that you can find and maintain it through “balance.”
The truth is that true self-care is found by relying on and being centered in your relationship with your Heavenly Father and the mission He has called you to as you walk through life.
So my encouragement to you in this:
Aim at a centered life not a balanced one.
If you don’t know the depths of His character and love for you —find out.
Look to Him, moment by moment, to find wisdom on how to live versus trying to control it yourself.
If you do this, I think I am safe to say, ALL your needs will be met and you will find the deepest satisfaction possible on earth!