Re-framing “self-care”

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The following thoughts have been excerpted from a blog post entitled, “Self-regulation over Pastor Hesterself-care,” by Dan Hester, on his personal blog, ParsonDan.  Pastor Hester is a Group 3 Spirited Life participant and currently serves at St. Andrew’s UMC in Charlotte.  

“Much has been published about clergy self-care. Most of what I have come across makes the simple point that if I am in better shape, then I can be more effective as a pastor. A smaller portion of the material reminds me that God doesn’t need me to die for anyone; that’s already been handled. The burgeoning and much needed movement of positive psychology adds that God really doesn’t want anyone to be miserable, and self-care can help us enjoy this good life. I cannot find much fault with any of these points of view. Oddly enough, however, neither have I found much motivation to actually make needed changes in my life from these insights. Where I have found some recent motivation is with a systems thinking based view of the problem.

Systems thinking would rather talk about self-regulation than self-care. Self regulation is the basic functioning that makes self-differentiation possible. It’s what gives me responsibility for what’s mine, and leaves to you what is yours. Self-regulation is the capacity to choose wisely, based on solid-self principles and not on the anxious needs of the moment…

The language of self-care hasn’t always been effective for me. I think that ineffectiveness is because the phrase never conjured up any consequences apart from my own body and mind. But, when I think systems about the consequences of my choices, somehow the language of self-regulation connects with me. Through systemic thinking, I know that these decisions are not just about my own body, they reverberate across all my relationships. My excuses for not exercising usually have to do with lack of time. I can replace the important work of exercise with other important work. But if I see exercise as a building block of personal integrity, if I see it as a gateway decision to other important decisions, if I see it as a self-regulating act that has implications into my family and congregation, then that decision becomes irreplaceable and thus I have a little more success with it. I emphasize a little.

…I want to positively affect the lives of my family, my congregation, and myself. The best way I can do that is through doing my part in the emotional systems that connect us all, and practice self-regulation. Self-regulation is taking responsibility for my own condition, focusing more on my own resiliency rather than the environment, trying my best to act on my best thinking rather than my anxiety, ridding myself of the notion that the rules of biology don’t apply to me, and creating a repertoire of responses rather than banging away with one tool only. In the long run (no pun intended) this kind of practice will help me stand up for my convictions. It means I’ve upped my exercise regimen from zero to two or three times a week. Big whoop, right? But at least I’m moving.”

-Dan Hester

To read Pastor Hester’s blog post in its entirety, click here.  

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About Katie Huffman

Katie is a Wellness Advocate with the Clergy Health Initiative. She has an undergraduate degree in History and French and a Masters degree in Gerontology; prior to her current position, Katie worked as a social worker in a retirement community in Chapel Hill. Outside of work, she enjoys gardening, spending time outdoors, baking, and hanging out with her husband, Noah, their daughter, Ada, and two kitties, Grady and Gracie.

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