This is a huge question with an extensive philosophical history ranging from Augustine, through Descartes and Post-modern thinkers, the history of which I am not going to cover here. Sorry for all those of you are a fascinated to delve deeper. There are however some great books available that cover this topic extensively and I encourage you to delve a little yourself to understand more.
For the purpose of this article I will look at a definition of the ‘Self’ as stated by Atkinson and Field, Eds., (1995):
The ‘Self’ (1995, pp. 773-774) is ‘the inner core of personality; the almost indefinable centre from which one’s basic being radiates.’ From the ‘self’, Atkinson and Field state, it is possible to say, ‘I am’. In other words, the ‘self’ is not what I do, but who I am!
I am not defined by what I do but who I am.
The concept of the ‘self’ is complex.
Have you heard of the term ‘self-concept’? A person’s ‘self–concept’, what they believe about their ‘self’, is influenced by what they believe about their roles in life, their social groups, memberships, and by how others see them (McGill, 2018, p. 13). Feltham (2000, p. 293) defines self-concept as ‘a fluid but consistent pattern of perceptions of the ‘I’ or ‘me’ in relation to the environment, personal values, goals and ideals’. Self-concept then, is all those internal and external factors that influence how I view ‘me’.
Our sense of self develops over a lifetime and begins the journey within the parent/child relationship. Where there is reasonably consistent unconditional love and acceptance, a child develops a sense of self with a secure identity. They see themselves as a person to be valued (Atkinson & Field, 1995, p. 774). Sadly, however, the world is not perfect and not every child grows up to develop a secure sense of self. Through no fault of their own, life circumstances can leave them feeling insecure and under-valued. In an attempt to make up for this the child/adult may look for different and sometimes unhealthy ways to fill their internal and emotional need.
What does all this have to do with ‘self care’?
The journey toward developing our ‘self’ is influenced by our individual life circumstances, and by the influence of others’ along the way.
How I think about myself, and how I perceive my ‘self’ and how I perceive that others see my ‘self’ may influence how I care for my ‘self’.
If I have a poor self-image, low self-esteem, am unhealthily self-critical, I may not care for myself very well.
To understand the ‘self’ enables change to happen. It enables personal growth so as to make choices that influence one’s self-concept and the ability to develop self-compassion. Change then, begins with the individual – the ‘Self’. Hence, to do effective self-care we need to understand our ‘self’.
How do I perceive ‘me’?
How do I see that others perceive ‘me’?
What has occurred in my life that has strongly influenced ‘me’?
Is there something about my self-concept that helps/prevents me doing effective self-care?
Atkinson, D. J. & Filed, D. H., (Eds.). (1995) New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology. Downers Grove: IVP,
Feltham, C. (Ed). (2000) Handbook of Counselling and Psychotherapy. London : Sage. 293.
McGill, J., (Ed.). (2018) The Self Examined: Christian Perspectives on Human Identity, Texas: Abilene.