How to Care for Others and Yourself?

By Sarah Earles, MS, LPC, NCC | October 20, 2023 

The Bible has quite a lot to say about caring for others. The Old Testament commands care for the fatherless, widows, and orphans. “One another” verses pepper the text. The writing condemns selfishness. The New Testament lifts high the name of Jesus as a selfless Savior. With all this, though, is there still a place for self-care? One can make a strong argument that there is, and that care for others, in fact, requires self-care.

Caring well for others first requires an accurate knowledge of self. Recognizing one’s sinfulness and God’s love can help a person have an accurate view of self (Compelling Truth, n.d.). Understanding God’s love for self allows a person, in turn, to share that love with others (Bible Study Tools Staff, 2021). Knowing Jesus as Savior allows a person to draw on an infinite well of love, sustaining care for others as long as God ordains.

Bible verses that talk about care for others never suggest that a person should forget himself or herself. The Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12 states that a person should “do to others what you would have them do to you” (New International Version, 2011). Paul, in Philippians 2 talks about “valuing others above yourselves” (v. 3), but never forbids valuing self as God values each individual, unique human being. As commentator David Guzik (2018b) shares, “Paul doesn’t tell us that it is wrong to look out for our own interests, but that we should not only look out for our own interests.” In Ephesians 5, where Paul talks to husbands, he writes that “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (v. 28). Guzik (2018a) comments, “Any man in his right mind is going to take care of his own flesh, even if it is just in the sense of feeding and clothing and caring for his own body. He knows that if he doesn’t, he is going to suffer for it.” So it is that care for others finds its origins in care for self.

Trying to make oneself smaller by belittling or talking negatively about oneself can actually have a detrimental effect on care for others. It can decrease ability to see opportunities to help others (Scott, 2022). Self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff found that self-criticism ignited the fight/flight/freeze response, which can specifically impair thinking and limit access to the higher levels of thought needed to care for others (Marriott & Kelley, 2022). Negative self-talk can also harm relationships in that those who overhear it may apply the same criticisms to themselves. It would follow, therefore, that lack of self-care, or in fact not caring for self could have similar negative effects.

So, what is a person who wants to be both selfless and focused on caring for others to do? Simply stated, the person needs to care for himself or herself in a way that equips them to care for others. This might look like getting enough rest to have tolerance for a child’s non-preferred behavior. This might look like going to the doctor for a chronic health issue so that the person has the capacity to care for an ailing parent. It looks like acknowledging personal needs as well as the needs of others.

Self-care and others-care are not exclusive. Rather, they are complimentary in that each requires the other. Finding a healthy balance is more nuanced than either selfishness or selflessness. It is a balance that requires thought, prayer, and Holy Spirit wisdom to find, but when it is pursued, it images the care of God, which is the greatest and most perfect care possible.

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The Bible has quite a lot to say about caring for others. The Old Testament commands care for the fatherless, widows, and orphans. “One another” verses pepper the text. The writing condemns selfishness. The New Testament lifts high the name of Jesus as a selfless Savior. With all this, though, is there still a place for self-care? One can make a strong argument that there is, and that care for others, in fact, requires self-care.

Caring well for others first requires an accurate knowledge of self. Recognizing one’s sinfulness and God’s love can help a person have an accurate view of self (Compelling Truth, n.d.). Understanding God’s love for self allows a person, in turn, to share that love with others (Bible Study Tools Staff, 2021). Knowing Jesus as Savior allows a person to draw on an infinite well of love, sustaining care for others as long as God ordains.

Bible verses that talk about care for others never suggest that a person should forget himself or herself. The Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12 states that a person should “do to others what you would have them do to you” (New International Version, 2011). Paul, in Philippians 2 talks about “valuing others above yourselves” (v. 3), but never forbids valuing self as God values each individual, unique human being. As commentator David Guzik (2018b) shares, “Paul doesn’t tell us that it is wrong to look out for our own interests, but that we should not only look out for our own interests.” In Ephesians 5, where Paul talks to husbands, he writes that “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (v. 28). Guzik (2018a) comments, “Any man in his right mind is going to take care of his own flesh, even if it is just in the sense of feeding and clothing and caring for his own body. He knows that if he doesn’t, he is going to suffer for it.” So it is that care for others finds its origins in care for self.

Trying to make oneself smaller by belittling or talking negatively about oneself can actually have a detrimental effect on care for others. It can decrease ability to see opportunities to help others (Scott, 2022). Self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff found that self-criticism ignited the fight/flight/freeze response, which can specifically impair thinking and limit access to the higher levels of thought needed to care for others (Marriott & Kelley, 2022). Negative self-talk can also harm relationships in that those who overhear it may apply the same criticisms to themselves. It would follow, therefore, that lack of self-care, or in fact not caring for self could have similar negative effects.

So, what is a person who wants to be both selfless and focused on caring for others to do? Simply stated, the person needs to care for himself or herself in a way that equips them to care for others. This might look like getting enough rest to have tolerance for a child’s non-preferred behavior. This might look like going to the doctor for a chronic health issue so that the person has the capacity to care for an ailing parent. It looks like acknowledging personal needs as well as the needs of others.

Self-care and others-care are not exclusive. Rather, they are complimentary in that each requires the other. Finding a healthy balance is more nuanced than either selfishness or selflessness. It is a balance that requires thought, prayer, and Holy Spirit wisdom to find, but when it is pursued, it images the care of God, which is the greatest and most perfect care possible.

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References

Bible Study Tools Staff. (2021, February 25). Bible verses about self love. Bible Study Tools. https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-self-love/

Compelling Truth. (n.d.) Does the Bible talk about self-love/loving self? https://www.compellingtruth.org/Bible-self-love.html

Guzik, D. (2018a). Study guide for Ephesians 5. Blue Letter Bible. https://www.blueletterbible.org/comm/guzik_david/study-guide/ephesians/ephesians-5.cfm?a=1102028

Guzik, D. (2018b). Study guide for Philippians 2. Blue Letter Bible. https://www.blueletterbible.org/comm/guzik_david/study-guide/philippians/philippians-2.cfm?a=1105003

Marriott, S., & Kelley, A. (2022, May 10). Harnessing fierce self-compassion to speak up & claim your power with Dr. Kristin Neff. (No. 175). [Audio podcast episode]. Therapist uncensored. https://therapistuncensored.com/episodes/fierce-self-compassion-harness-your-power-with-dr-kristin-neff-175/

New International Version Bible. (2011). Bible Gateway. https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/

Scott, E. (2022, May 24). The toxic effects of negative self-talk. VeryWell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-self-talk-and-how-it-affects-us-4161304

References

Bible Study Tools Staff. (2021, February 25). Bible verses about self love. Bible Study Tools. https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-self-love/

Compelling Truth. (n.d.) Does the Bible talk about self-love/loving self? https://www.compellingtruth.org/Bible-self-love.html

Guzik, D. (2018a). Study guide for Ephesians 5. Blue Letter Bible. https://www.blueletterbible.org/comm/guz
ik_david/study-guide/ephesians/ephesians-5.cfm?a=1102028

Guzik, D. (2018b). Study guide for Philippians 2. Blue Letter Bible. https://www.blueletterbible.org/comm/guz
ik_david/study-guide/philippians/philippians-2.cfm?a=1105003

Marriott, S., & Kelley, A. (2022, May 10). Harnessing fierce self-compassion to speak up & claim your power with Dr. Kristin Neff. (No. 175). [Audio podcast episode]. Therapist uncensored. https://therapistuncensored.com/episodes
/fierce-self-compassion-harness-your-power-with-dr-kristin-neff-175/

New International Version Bible. (2011). Bible Gateway. https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/
New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/

Scott, E. (2022, May 24). The toxic effects of negative self-talk. VeryWell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-self-talk-and-how-it-affects-us-4161304