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Self-care has almost become an art on social media where one can find hedonistic ways of pleasuring one’s body with massages, products, and procedures, as well as indulgent ways of pampering one’s soul with romance, hobbies, and other pleasant pursuits. Yet practicing these forms of self-care can feel consumption-focused, which can lead to becoming self-absorbed and self-focused. In my practice, I often hear individuals refer to others as narcissistic when they judge that the other has strayed too far in their focus on self-care and self-indulgence. Not to say narcissism is not real; it is. But narcissism is not defined by individuals who practice self-care, even to an extreme.
On the other end of the self-care spectrum is the ascetic notion of selflessness and even self-denial which emphasizes physical deprivation and self-sacrifice to attain a higher spiritual or moral state. Practically every major religion has a sect or faction which practices some form of self-deprivation which has provided a sense of meaning and purpose to those who practice asceticism. Some people believe, however, that the Bible mandates this type of denial of one’s needs for the wants of another, and this notion is often cited in emotionally abusive marriages by the abuser as a demand that the spouse submit; this is not the Gospel. The Gospel teaches mutual submission, mutually preferring one another, mutually serving one another. Denying one’s self-centered desires for God’s greater desires for one’s life is a godly, spiritual practice of submission to become the best possible person for the best possible purposes for one’s life. The practice of asceticism is a challenging one, but in a sense, it can also be self-focused and self-absorbed.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stewardship as: “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something, especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” When we talk about self-stewardship, it translates as taking care of one’s self. Tending our self is our own responsibility. It is not healthy to impose this responsibility on another; asking another to be responsible for ourselves is called codependency. No one can learn for another, no one can develop a character trait for another, no one can feel someone else’s emotions for them, no one can lose weight or exercise for another, and no one can fulfill someone else’s dreams or goals for them. Self-stewardship is a task only individuals can do for themselves.
The notion of self-stewardship is found somewhere between consumption-focused hedonism and deprivation-focused asceticism. The focus is more on being the “better version of one’s self” regardless of one’s circumstances. Being that better version is not only uplifting for ourselves, but it promotes better relationships with others. However, to be the better version of one’s self requires that we know who we are. Regardless of how long we have lived with ourselves, it is a momentous task to sit with our evolving self long enough without distractions to actually get to know ourselves fully.
It is easy to define ourselves by circumstances with which we had nothing to do: our birth (sex, race, etc.), our family (into which we were born without having had an opinion in the matter), our occupation (which is often at least partially determined by our genetic traits, inherited capabilities, and being at the right time or place, or knowing the right person), our strengths and weaknesses, our culture, our experiences, our preferences, and so forth. It is more difficult to define ourselves by our values, our motives, and our character traits exemplified in our lives through our actions and our words. But to be good stewards of ourselves, we must know all these things about ourselves and more, so we can work on becoming the better version of ourselves for all our relationships.
Self-stewardship also involves interacting with one’s self with compassion and kindness. Self-compassion is a concept in which we treat ourselves (with both actions and words) as though we were our own best friend. Self-compassion is not narcissistic self-love. Self-compassion is the practice of treating one’s self with kindness and comfort while maintaining accountability for continuous improvement in any area of life. Research shows that practicing self-compassion and self-kindness is much more productive than self-harshness or self-criticism1. The latter two tend to deflate and de-motivate us while the former two tend to inspire us to improve our self-worth, our performance, and our relationships.
Self-compassion not only entails responding to one’s self with kindness, support, and comfort, but also by accurately assessing and remedying any guilt, by assessing and releasing any shame, by setting limits or boundaries on one’s self-talk, and by finding meaning in one’s circumstances and experiences. By learning to live with self-compassion, individuals not only increase their sense of life satisfaction and personal wellbeing2, but their relationships tend to improve3, their physical health improves4, and they tend to perform better at most of their tasks5,6.
Self-compassion is a central element of effective self-stewardship, allowing individuals to choose to be their better selves, both for themselves and their relationships. If you would like assistance in becoming a better steward of yourself and increasing your self-compassion, Dr. Alice Hoag and many of the therapists at Summit can help.
1Cassisa, C., & Neff, K. D. (2019). The promise of self-compassion for solos. GPSolo, 36(3), 18-21.
2Neff, K. D., & Costigan, A. P. (2014). Self-compassion, wellbeing, and happiness. Psychologie in Österreich, 114-117.
3Bolt, O. C., Jones, F. W., Rudaz, M., Ledermann, T., & Irons, C. (2019). Self-Compassion and Compassion Towards One’s Partner Mediate the Negative Association Between Insecure Attachment and Relationship Quality. Journal of Relationships Research, 10.
4Asensio-Martínez, Á., et al. (2019). Relation of the psychological constructs of resilience, mindfulness, and self-compassion on the perception of physical and mental health. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 12, 1155.
5Georgakaki, S. K., & Karakasidou, E. (2017). The Effects of Motivational Self-Talk on Competitive Anxiety and Self-Compassion: A Brief Training Program Among Competitive Swimmers. Psychology, 8(05), 677.
6Miyagawa, Y., Niija, Y., & Taniguchi, J. (2020). When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade: Self-Compassion Increases Adaptive Beliefs About Failure. Journal of Happiness Studies, 21(6), 2051-2068.