Heavy title, I know.
In a world where anxiety runs rampant, and depression is on the rise, it’s no wonder that the Self-Care Movement has gained massive followers and a recent resurgence in popularity.
We see it mentioned everywhere, from Facebook to Pinterest, Youtube to Beauty Commercials; Self-care is all the rage, and rightfully so. Loving one’s self has become a priority, for good reason, pushing away the idea we are selfish for needing to take time for ourselves.
It’s incredibly important to love yourself. It’s also wonderful to take time and recharge our batteries every once and a while.
However, there’s a dark side to this well-intentioned movement. It starts off pure and innocent, with lovely quotes like “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and turns into “if they’re not making time for you, leave them behind.”
When I saw this pop up on my personal timeline from a “feel-good” site, I was kind of shocked. It’s not the first time I’ve seen things like this, in the name of self-care, but for some reason- this one hit home. I recognized myself in these words, yet, I care a great deal. Ironically, in this same movement, we’re told things like this:
It seems kind of contradictory to me, these two things. We are allowed to take time for ourselves, to fix ourselves, to protect our energy, but we aren’t allowing others the same freedom of isolation and protection?
How is that fair?
And then there’s the “you must love yourself at all costs” posts…
But what if it doesn’t, does that mean I don’t love myself enough? What exactly will fall into place? These vague statements are damaging to those of us who struggle with loving ourselves on a daily basis.
As if self-care and self-love aren’t hard enough as it is, now there’s an unrealistic pressure to be at peace with ones self before finding love with another.
And don’t get me wrong, I understand the sentiments behind all of these things. We shouldn’t allow toxic people to remain a priority in our lives, self love can resolve a lot of issues that insecurity presents, and being at peace with yourself is an important step to fostering a healthy relationship.
However, in this myopic movement, we’ve given permission to ourselves and others, to be selfish without restraint- but we don’t tolerate it from anyone else.
It’s become an allowance to be toxic ourselves, while negating our responsibility to be held accountable for it.
“You don’t check up on me, so I won’t check up on you either- but it’s your fault.”
Someone who loves themselves shouldn’t expect others to do what they’re not willing to do.
I’m chronically terrible at checking in on people, whether it be from feeling I’m burdening them, anxiety of not having the right words of comfort, a fear of seeming nosy, or even just plain forgetting.
Yet, I’m always there to be leaned on. Always there in times of need, and usually the first person to offer help- of any kind. But, majority of the time, I’m not in a space that I can handle the trivial things. I spend too much of my time trying to get through my own life, my own past, being introspective about what makes me tick the way I do, to reach out to everyone I love all the time.
And, I do not expect anyone- from my mother to my friends- to check up on me if I can’t do it for them.
There’s a difference between not being able to be that person, and being toxic.
I highly recommend, to anyone, to eradicate toxicity when it comes to our lives. However, we’ve begun to define toxicity with an alarmingly vague and dangerous stereotype- all in the name of self-love.
This idea of self-love has become a reason to cut out everyone who doesn’t agree with us, who is struggling with their own lives in invisible ways, who carries baggage, or who isn’t in the right frame of mind to deal with our issues along with their own.
But, that’s not what self-love is at all.
Self-love is realizing that we have value outside of society. We do this by taking long hard looks at who we are, what we want, why we want them, and how to lovingly receive them. If we want friends to check up on us everyday, we need to understand that it may mean we reach out first [everyday] to establish that type of relationship. If we want to remove people who disagree with anything we say, it may mean we need to find the root cause of our inability to accept disagreements (or find people who think like we do).
Self-love is also about finding and accepting the darker sides of us. The broken pieces that make us unique, and embracing them and all their glory.
I am socially anxious. I have always been, and probably always will be. My self-love means recognizing that I will NEVER be the person who reaches out first all the time, nor do I have to be to have value. It also means accepting that for some, this may not be an appropriate form of friendship they’re willing to maintain.
My form of self-care, in this instance, is allowing those friendships to be released without feelings of bitterness or resentment, and instead loving them anyway.
It’s also an acknowledgement that my inability to be who this person wanted me to be is not my responsibility.
Loving ourselves becomes toxic when we do so at the detriment of others. It becomes toxic when we allow ourselves freedoms that we do not wish others to have. It’s toxic when we expect others to love us in a way that we are not willing to love them.
If we seek opinions of others, give ours freely, but remove them with malice when they disagree with our own- that’s being toxic. If we refuse to check in on our friends, but grow angry when they do not check in on us- that’s being toxic. If we have expectations in romantic relationships, but do not hold ourselves to the same standards- that’s being toxic. If we allow our self-care to become someone else’s burden, we’ve grown toxic.
There’s a reason it’s called self care and self love.
Someone asked me just recently if the saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup” is true, then are we never supposed to help others if we’re not full ourselves. I had to reply back that the misunderstanding comes in believing we only have one cup!
I can be struggling with my social anxiety and still be the best damned cheerleader for my friends when they need me to be. I can have problems with my past and still be a kind and empathetic mother to my son. I can have financial burdens and still find it in my heart to buy a struggling stranger a sandwich.
I hold many cups, for all areas of my life, and never are they all empty at the same time. I always have love to give, both to others, and to myself.
But, if we hold on to the idea that we must put on the oxygen mask first, before helping others- but expect them to have enough air to help us, we’re no longer practicing self-love; we’re practicing selfish love.
And yes, some will say that’s not at all what self-love means. Some will argue that self-love isn’t toxic at all.
It doesn’t have to be, but it can be.
It most definitely is if we put ourselves before others in a way that dissolves them of their freedom to also put themselves before us.
It’s toxic when we replace love with selfishness, anticipation with obligation, and honesty with hostility.
Wash your face in those lovely creams, take that day off, and say no to that party you really don’t want to go to. Remove those people who drain you, who only want to argue and abuse your trust. Disassociate with the narcissists who only wish to speak to you when they disagree in vehement displays of their superiority. Isolate at times, and enjoy the silence that comes in your own company.
Find who you are, embrace your shadow, and begin to understand what makes you tick under that mask you wear every day.
Say no, and mean it. Say yes, and mean it.
But don’t refuse someone else the same power to do all of the above, even if it means not being there for you in the way you expect them to be.
Do not replace self-love with selfish love, do not turn your needs into toxicity, and do not allow yourself to trample all over the care someone else is so desperately in need of simply because you want to.
The magick of self-love is understanding that what we want can only be given and attained by ourselves. Self-care is how we maintain the mindset that we are worthy of what we want, so we don’t have to expect others to remind us. It is remembering we have a soul, and nourishing it in ways that bring us joy.
And by doing so, we may find that we understand when someone else in need of our love to help them learn to love themselves.
Until next time, my friends…