Imagine yourself going out for lunch with an old friend and sharing with her your latest burden, disappointment, or concern. Now imagine her looking you straight in the eye and saying with a bit of a sneer, “What are you whining about?”, or “Are you ever a wimp!” or even, “Suck it up, Buttercup!” If this sounds like your last BFF date, you might want to start looking for a new best friend.
But what happens if that un-compassionate friend is you? Do you find that you beat yourself up regularly for faults and failings? Do you ignore signs telling you that you are way past the end of your rope? Do you treat yourself in ways that you would never think of treating someone else?
Put the Baseball Bat in the Corner
When did you invite that false friend to live with you, anyway? Self-criticism often backfires when we find that life has become a miserable attempt to live up to unreasonable expectations and to push ourselves to impossible physical and emotional limits.
According to Dr. Golan Shahar, self-criticism is not only counter-productive, but can lead to a number of mental health difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, addictions, disordered eating, and even thoughts of suicide. It can make us more vulnerable to physical illnesses and stress-related diseases.
So, although your inner critic might be trying to motivate you to be your best self, you need to give her a lesson on what it means to be a friend. True friendship involves kindness, compassion, and concern for our friend’s well-being. In our friendship with ourselves, it means self-love and self-care – for body, mind, and soul.
Loving Yourself as You Love Others
But self-love is more than just about putting the baseball bat away. It’s about recognizing that we’re made in the image of God, and that we have a moral duty to take care of the life we’ve been given. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that it’s sinful to fail to love ourselves properly.
And this goes for loving and nurturing our bodies as well. God gave us our bodies as the sacramental way in which we reveal His divine image. Through our bodies, we come to know God’s love and share ourselves as a gift to others.
But Isn’t Self-Care Selfish?
Well…it depends. It’s all about ordering things towards their proper goal. In today’s “All About Me” society, self-care is often touted as the be-all and end-all of a religious commitment to personal wellness. But in God’s plan, self-care becomes not an end, but rather a means to an end. The goal is giving ourselves to God and others, and one of the means of doing this is taking proper care of the gift that we are.
Besides, when we don’t live in friendship with ourselves, we can find it difficult to be a loving and compassionate friend to others. When we don’t listen to our own needs, we can be insensitive to the needs of those around us. Our inner critic can turn into an outer critic, and someone else could end up wearing the rotten fruits of our own self-neglect.
So, try these tips to help you to grow in self-compassion, kindness and friendship:
- Cultivate a deep relationship with Jesus, your ultimate best friend forever.
- Discover what God’s Word says about friendship and practice it in your daily life.
- Surround yourself with friends who uplift you and encourage you to be your best self.
- Talk to a therapist or spiritual director about re-branding your inner critic as a coach.
- Introduce your inner critic to Jesus and allow His Divine Mercy to transform your inmost self.
- Fill your jar of oil by beginning the day with quiet time and prayer so you can pour yourself out on others.
- Be a friend to your body by nurturing it with proper exercise, diet, and rest so you can serve others well.
Self-Help for the Selfless Soul
If you struggle to balance personal care with the many demands of caring for others, add these self-help tips and tools to your self-care kit:
- Grab a cup of tea or a cool drink and take some time to read the article entitled “Help yourself: The importance of self care for caregivers” in U.S. Catholic by Dr. Robert Wicks. Dr. Wicks reminds us that self-care is “not really just about you,” but that we need to cultivate resilience and prevent burn-out so that we can be there for others. Compassion for others begins with self-compassion.
- Nourish your mind, body, and soul with Pietra Fitness, a “whole person workout” that integrates mental relaxation, stretching and strengthening, and Catholic meditative prayer.
- Ponder God’s love for you with Sacred Story audio meditations that walk you through the tried-and-true Ignatian spiritual principles.
And if you’re still suspicious of the word “self-care,” consider the advice of St. Thomas Aquinas, who offers several practical (and surprising!) remedies for sadness. As Carlos de Marchi of Opus Dei describes them, St. Thomas recommends treating ourselves to something we enjoy (chocolate or a glass of wine comes to mind…), having a good cry, sharing our burden with a compassionate friend, listening to music or enjoying a beautiful work of art, soaking in a warm bath, and getting a good night’s sleep.
Perhaps the Angelic Doctor wouldn’t mind if we applied his delightful prescription to other times when we’re feeling overwhelmed, overworked, disheartened, or just in need of a little compassionate self-care.