Love or treat (yoself)?

There are several Oprah-esque sayings that are floating around — 


“You have to take care of number one before you can take care of anyone else!”

“Treat yoself!”

“If you don’t love yourself you can’t love anyone else.”

Treat Yo Self GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
We all know this gif was 100% obligatory

–For the sake of conciseness, I’m going to use Treat Yoself to encapsulate all of these self-affirming ideologies–

Part of me thinks this inspirational folk wisdomry in Treat Yoself is a bucket of rat poo. My main problem with the self-love bonanza is related to the context in which these statements are uttered, more than the actual statements themselves. Usually they are said to encourage people to be selfish or indulgent. I can only speak for myself, but I do not know anyone who is so caught up in being selfless and sacrificial that they somehow neglect themselves.* I would argue that most people need to hear “Sure take care of yourself, but why doncha try caring for others,” or “Treat (people less fortunate than) yoself!” or “Try to love… or at least consider the feelings and wants of… someone besides yourself.”

My second sub-issue with the Treat Yoself mentality is that treating yourself in terms of indulgence isn’t really a treat for you in the long run. Most people want to have nice bodies that function well, but if they continuously “treat themselves” with McDonald’s fries and Starbucks frapaccinos and refuse to move their body in any way that gives it strength, speed, or flexibility, their bodies will soon become… something that doesn’t spark joy. Most people want to have the treat of traveling the world, but if they continuously live above their means and treat themselves with expensive food, entertainment, cars, etc. in the domestic realm, poofity goes the treat of travel.

My third and final irritation with Treat Yoself is a little more specific to Christians, although I don’t think you necessarily have to ascribe to the apostle’s creed to get something out of this. Jesus did not prance about ancient Israel proclaiming a new covenant of self-love. If anything, the level of self-sacrifice he and many of his disciples demonstrated is plum terrifying. Remember Luke 9- “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man [Jesus] has nowhere to lay His head.” Or Luke 17 “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” Or how about the sobering Mathew 10 warning “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them…” And these are only what Jesus said, but when you consider what he did…! I have serious doubts that Jesus was contemplating a bubble bath and wine in the Garden of Gethsemane, and there is nothing less Treat Yoself in all of history than a man dying for people who hated and misunderstood him.  

So, my beef with Treat Yoself is that 1) it doesn’t seem necessary, given the deep self-indulgence and entitlement that most of us already have and 2) temporary treats often undermine long-term treats (which may or may not be more wholesome in nature because involve dreaming, scheming, and the real longings of your heart–not simply the capricious whims of your body and immediate longings) and 3) it doesn’t seem particularly “on message” with people who are presumably interested in modeling the radically sacrificial nature of Jesus.  

Yet! Part of me sees some truth glimmering through all that rat poo.

The major reason I haven’t completely dismissed Treat Yoself is largely related to mental health and margin**. Let’s take even a light example – being stressed out. When I am stressed, I don’t “see” other people or take particular interest in their needs. I am thinking of whatever is stressing me out, and how to make myself feel better during the stressful time. That means I refuse to think about hard or important questions, and dissipation becomes my goal. I avoid people who are also stressed out because their stresses suck my mind further into a cesspool of anxiety. How can I be a rock for someone when I’m crumbling? Instead of having interesting and joyful conversations with my friends and family, I hijack quality time by dumping my stress on whichever poor soul was unfortunate enough to spend time with me.

Thus, if spending time in nature, enjoying beautiful and lovely things, getting my toes painted happy colors, and reading lighthearted fiction can help reduce my stress to the point I can stop my navel-gazing long enough to look at other people… is that an indirect way to love others? I think it could be.

Where does that leave us, then? I think the key might be to Love Yoself, not Treat Yoself. Treating indicates indulgence. Love indicates more wholistic well-being. Think about a parent loving their child. Spoiling the child isn’t really love – spoiling a child is more indicative that the parent is too lazy to properly discipline, or too insecure to handle their child getting angry at them for rules that are meant to protect them. I think being an adult is learning how to parent yourself properly – love yourself, not spoil yourself. Be willing to deny your childish impulses so that you can be the person you actually want to be — and who the people around you need you to be.   

The world needs adults, not petulant children. So Love Yoself 😊

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*I do know some martyrs who make a big to-do of how they are ruining their lives for the sake of others… I do not consider that actual selflessness. It’s a twisted form of pride.

 **Double points for sneaking in a Christian buzz word! BAM!  

 **Double points for sneaking in a Christian buzz word! BAM!

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