If you spend much time reading or researching information on mental health online, eventually you will come across articles talking about practicing self-care, or even self-love, though I’m not a big fan of the latter because, let’s face it, we’re all 12 year-olds some of the time.
Nevertheless, the idea of self care is usually, not always, paired with something about mindfulness, meditation, or pampering yourself with spa treatments.
While all of those things are nice ways to treat yourself, I also think they may miss the broader point. If we focus for a second on that second term I used, self-love, what does that really mean? How do we love ourselves? Do we hold our own hand? Do we wrap our arms around ourselves, or do something nice for ourselves? Again, sure, if you want to do that, go for it, but it’s still missing the point of love.
Years ago, I heard a sermon at church that has always stuck with me about love. It was based off of the classic verse from Paul’s letters that we are all familiar with:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
The person who was teaching from this passage pointed out something that most of us overlook. All of the things that “love is”, require a decision, and some sort of action. Not only that, but they require a constant, daily, hourly, even minute by minute decision to be made over and over again. Being kind is not something you decide to do on August 25 and poof, you’re kind. It requires constant reaffirmation. The same with persevering, trusting, not envying and so on. These things are the things you do to benefit the person you love all the time.
So what does self-love truly mean in this context? It means making a daily, hourly, minute by minute decision to do the things you need to do. Loving yourself by meditating is OK, but once you stop meditating, then what do you do? As the teacher explained all those years ago, loving yourself, at it’s core, is getting out of bed, showering, eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, and so on. It’s deciding on an ongoing basis to do the things that need to be done to take care of yourself. If you made it through today without luxuriating in a bath, or getting out the yoga mat, that doesn’t mean you didn’t take time for self care. I’m betting you nourished your body. I’m betting you went to work so you could pay your bills. I’m betting you took care of at least some of your needs. Those are victories. Those little things are what loving yourself means. If you can do those, you are doing something good for yourself.
That’s self care in a nutshell, doing the things you need to do for your own health and well-being. Don’t make it any harder than it has to be by expecting yourself to do all the things suggested in all of the self-help resources, just pay attention to what you require, and allow yourself to do those things.
Mostly, give yourself the freedom to do them, and the grace to not do them perfectly all the time. That’s just being human.