I don’t know without a doubt that our culture became so insistently unhealthy when it comes to the idea of self-care with the advent of differing variations of Christianity becoming the “state religions” of the assorted European nations. But, there is — consistently — a certain amount of misunderstanding about it in our culture today.
I wouldn’t blame it on the Bible or on the base doctrines of Christianity (those that are universal among all flavors of Christianity). No, I would place the blame firmly on the shoulders of humans and their interpretation of those basic doctrines.
If you look at the Bible, charity and compassion for those less fortunate as well as love for your neighbors (regardless of who they worship or what they do, because the Bible states to be compassionate even to those who hate you. Proverbs 25:21- => If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.) is the choice you must make if you wish to do your best to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
But, the Bible also talks about sacrifice and about martyrdom.
I believe sincerely that many of the original “church fathers” (theologians almost each one of them) may have had a better idea of the interactions between charity, compassion, sacrifice and martyrdom, than many of the church leaders who followed them. I believe that as Christianity grew in power and authority (and also grew in corruption, because let’s face it, humans are humans and power tends to corrupt), the understanding of these particular points of doctrine became warped in their interpretation.
And it isn’t loaded entirely on the shoulders of the Catholic church either. Many of the variants of Christianity that came out of the Reformation (not just Lutheranism) were actually far harsher in their views of sacrifice and the concept of “Christian charity.”
Many of them expected more austerity not only from their churches (as opposed to the kind of opulence that typified Catholic churches), but from their adherents as well. But it was stronger when speaking of and to the “lower classes” (including the middle class) because it helped to ensure that royalty and aristocracy would stay in power, even though they were a smaller portion of the population.
This, of course, led to the associated revolutions across the world.
But because so many hundreds of years had passed, encouraging that self-same austerity, and the revolutions were fueled in many cases because those same lower classes felt that their “betters” should live in the same kind of austerity that they did, particularly the merchant classes/middle class, that self-same austerity became a virtue. Which, of course, led to the whole idea of the “worthy poor.”
What does all of this have to do with being compassionate to yourself? Well, think about it. If the greatest height to which a Christian can aspire to is to be ultimately martyred, then living in privation and sacrificing everything for others is a “holy circumstance.”
And it isn’t just women who are expected to sacrifice everything of themselves for their family. Men too are expected to sacrifice. It is only relatively recent in the eras of history that women have been allowed to sacrifice their very lives for others. Men are expected to not only sacrifice their lives for those “left at home,” but also to sacrifice their very feelings. Even if they are not in the military, they are expected to “save” (Prince Charming / Paladin complex) or “fix” things for those they love.
I’m not saying that men have it harder. It all comes down to the same thing. It comes down to draining ourselves to the very dregs, not holding anything back for those that we care deeply for.
The problem is, if you empty yourself of everything then you have absolutely nothing left to give. The ONLY way you can actually be self-sacrificing is to practice self-care and self-compassion.
THAT is the lesson it took me so damned long to learn. THAT is the reason I’ve had multiple mental breakdowns. Ignoring my own needs for those around me simply means that when they ACTUALLY need me (rather than manipulating me with a false emergency), I have absolutely NOTHING left.
Hell, I have nothing to save myself with, let alone save anyone else.
We have to learn to care for ourselves without guilt.