So I'm not sure if you realized this yet, from the 57 posts I've written about it, but I wrote a book. I know you are shocked to learn this, but there it is! I wrote a book! Woo-hoo!
I thought it would be fun to do some "ask the author" posts, so I asked my Facebook friends to throw some out there, and my friend Jaymi sent me this one:
"I feel like your book makes an excellent case for self-care instead of doing everything for everyone else. Do you have tips or resources for HOW to do that, particularly in a Christian environment that equates self-care with selfishness?"
Well, if I were to write a therapy plan for you, I'd include three elements: behavioral, cognitive, and emotional.
For the BEHAVIORAL element, let us consult Dr. Bob:
"Stop it!" is not quite as snarky as it first appears. One of the things we always try to do with addiction of any kind is to stop the unhealthy behavior, then go back and work on what's driving the whole train, cognitively and emotionally.
The problem for a lot of us, though, is that we're not talking about stopping bad things.
We're talking about stopping GOOD things.
When we've gotten ourselves into a place of caring for everything and everybody, it's all nice, good, praiseworthy behavior. But the end thereof leads to death, and we can feel that in our bones.
We know we're headed off the cliff with all our good behavior.
The crazy thing is,we have to STOP some good things if we want to MAKE WAY in our lives for the things that are deeply authentic, truly real, and genuinely righteous.
This is deeply challenging.
I think we will need an inspirational theme song to motivate us.
My big tip for behavioral change is this: START SMALL.
I talk about this in the book. I started out on things like the Starbucks barista who put a shot of espresso in my chai tea. It was a huge big deal for me to say to that girl, "This is not what I want. Please make it without the espresso."
I had to stop care-taking of that barista, what she might feel or what she might think of me, and just assertively request the thing that I wanted, and had, by golly, PAID FOR.
Here's my behavioral mantra:
PRACTICE ON THE PEOPLE WHO DON'T MATTER.
I know that's shocking, because everybody matters. I get it. I like to say it this way, though, because if it shocks you enough, you might remember it.
Let's get real. There are people who really, really matter, and it's really, really hard to stop care-taking with those people. If we can stop care-taking with the Starbucks girl and learn that the universe will not implode when we are assertive, that strengthens our ability to grow into assertiveness in other areas as well.
Practice, practice, practice. And then one day we might be able to take on something--and somebody--that really matters. A spouse. A pastor. A parent. A friend.
We might be able to speak assertively in those vital places, and find ourselves in deeper, more authentic relationship than ever before.
When you think about it that way, speaking up about a chai latte is doing the right thing, doing it all the time.
While we're practicing to do the truly right things, we can start working on the COGNITIVE element--how we think.
"Stopping it" is hard because we think that it's selfish.
We know that it's stupid to think this, but we think it anyway.
When I know I'm thinking stupid thoughts, it's tempting to chase them all down and try to eliminate them, like an endless game of Whack-a-mole.
But over time I've found that for me it works better to stop the anxious frenzy of self-improvement, and instead to rest, to sink myself into the Truth and soak it up.
I just ignore the stupid. I focus on the Truth.
God loves me, and everybody else, with an everlasting love. Our Redeemer lives. He's got the whole world in his hands.
You know the great question Anne Lamott asks: What's the difference between me and God? Answer: God never thinks he's me.
For me, that's the cognitive mantra: GOD'S GOT IT. IT'S NOT UP TO ME.
And I guess we use the words "self-care", but it's not so much self-care, to me. It's trusting in God's care for me and for everybody else, and then living that out.
For cognitive work, I recommend the Boundaries book. Probably the workbook as well.
I also love Jeff Van Vonderen's book, Tired of Trying to Measure Up. Full of grace and truth.
Not all Christian communities are very full of grace and truth, sadly. Quite a lot are full of rules and performance. You might have to find yourself a new place to grow into freedom and life.
Finally, there's the emotional element.
I put it last because our emotions are usually the last thing to catch up.
At least, that's what I find for myself. I may have a pretty good handle on my behavior, I may have thought it all through pretty well, but I'll still feel wrong and guilty for having boundaries.
Here's my emotional mantra:
DO THE RIGHT THING, AND LEARN TO LIVE WITH A LITTLE GUILT.
There's a huge emotional pay-off for being codependent, my friends. We get a ton of praise and attention for being care-takers.
We've got to be willing to disconnect ourselves from the roar of the ravening crowd, and listen instead to the still, small, voice of Love.
Part of the ravening crowd may be others who want us to keep care-taking for them, physically and emotionally.
But part of the ravening crowd is inside of me, in the broken guilt-o-meter that flaps away and tries to tell me that I have to run faster, harder, stronger, more beautifully. And this is a lie.
The truth is this: I am Loved, I am safe, I am chosen, as Anne Lamott says.
God's arms are around me, and I play to a crowd of One.
While we're growing into our new emotions, it's good to get with some people who will encourage and support our new way of life. That might mean a personal therapist, Celebrate Recovery, or a healthy mentor. It's good to practice what it feels like to be in relationships that are supportive of our boundaries.
I also recommend all these books:
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies
Brennan Manning, Abba's Child
Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love
In summary, I think this is all good advice about the HOW of changing from destructive care-taking to healthy self-care, but it's still not enough to really make it happen.
In order to change from care-taking to healthy living, we have to get past one big thing:
We are so scared of change, and that makes us so resistant to letting go of the bad old things, even when we know they're killing us.
This is one of my favorite, favorite quotes:
"We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us." Audre Lourde
Step past your fear. Fall into Love.