I’m not sure when it started, maybe in the 1960s and 70s with the “Me” Movement, but a big trend for the last few decades has been to “Love Yourself First.” That last is in quotes because I see those words on a billboard every Sunday driving home from church. I have a problem with that statement, even though saying so might cause an uproar.
As a professor, I teach a variety of courses. One of those courses is Positive Psychology. The field of Positive Psychology started, to some degree, as a reaction to the self-esteem movement. Strangely enough, trying to build up everyone’s self-esteem contributed to higher rates of depression. If everyone is wonderful and we’re all supposed to be happy all the time, and I’m not—then something must really be wrong with me. Another contributor to the dramatic increase in depression since the 1950s may be that society doesn’t stigmatize mental illness as much as it used to (and that’s a good thing), but this change only seems to be a small part of the increased levels of depression and anxiety. Somehow, focusing on yourself more seems to make you less happy.
Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I’m not talking about mistreating yourself or neglecting your needs. I am also not encouraging anyone to stay in an abusive or neglectful situation.
On the other hand, I am talking about putting yourself first all the time. I am talking about canceling people and things who “don’t bring you joy.” Those second two can leave you very lonely and self-centered--surprise.
Selfish. There. I’ve said it. Sometimes, focusing on self-care is the same thing as being selfish. Let’s say your elderly mother is grumpy and whiny. She certainly doesn’t bring you joy when you visit. She’s sick and in and out of the hospital and compares you to your more successful brother whenever she gets a chance. So, you listen to the Dear Abbys of today’s world and stop visiting.
Or, let’s say you’d rather sleep in on a Sunday than go to church. Or hang out by the pool on a summer Saturday instead of babysitting for a friend. Or even just going out for lunch with a sister.
I think I’ve made my point. Yes, take care of yourself. But not always first or even second. Our purpose on this planet is to love God and love others. A society that puts itself first all the time is not effective, and we need community—to survive as individuals and a species.
So, be careful with self-care as the priority in your life. Research actually shows that helping others and getting your mind off yourself lowers depression and increases joy. Giving time and money to charity increases life satisfaction and life expectancy.
So, care for yourself, yes, but sometimes care for others more.
A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, CHRISTINA SINISI writes stories about families, both the broken and blessed. Her works include a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and the American Title IV Contest where she appeared in the top ten in the Romantic Times magazine. Her published books include Christmas Confusion, Sweet Summer, Why They Call It Falling, and Christmas on Ocracoke. By day, she is a psychology professor and lives in the LowCountry of South Carolina with her husband, two children and her crazy cat Chessie Mae.