Self-Awareness as Self-Care

I recently commented to a friend that I wish I’d recognized and embraced my introversion much earlier in life, as doing so would have helped me better navigate relationships, social situations, and transitions both significant and minor. More recently, I’ve discovered the Enneagram as an incredibly useful tool for understanding how we respond to situations and engage with people who also have their own, unique standpoints and styles. I have grown far more aware of myself moving through the intersecting realms of work, family, and personal life.
A simple reaction to all of this would be to avoid uncomfortable social situations, vulnerability, or conflict so we never find ourselves at the crossroads between our self and the world. But instead, self-awareness should not be an avoidance mechanism but rather a means of making a rocky path a little smoother. Embracing our internal self-identity, as an act of self-care, can help us embrace other elements of our identity rooted in work, family, relationships, and belief systems. In turn, instead of relentlessly trying to fit into a dominant cultural image or stereotype, we begin to reshape these images around who we are and the gifts we bring to a position, informed by our unique style of action and interaction.
My research interviews always included a discussion on the stereotypical image of a pastor or clergy spouse, and it was interesting to hear how people described themselves in relation to the images embedded in our culture. Micah, who has twenty-plus years of ministry experience, described the role of a pastor as “impossible:”
It can’t be fulfilled. The expectations are that you are…You lead like a CEO, you shepherd like a Franciscan monk, you have a prayer life like a Franciscan monk, you’re available like a chaplain in a hospital, you’re like the dad of all dads or mother of all mothers, you are a cultural exegete, you’re a missionary, you’re an evangelist, you’re a communicator, you are a financially solvent person, you’re an administrator, you’re a coach, you’re a mentor. You know, of course you have to have mentors because it’s expected that you’re healthy. It’s not possible. It’s not possible. And then when you put on top of that the growth edges of yourself and the church, it’s just like being in the bottom of the NFL pile on, you know?  
While few people I met felt they fit the mold, everyone still felt the weight of these cultural pressures. Micah, along with other pastors who named similarly unattainable characteristics, were pretty open about the reality of these images and the pressures that clergy, in turn, face on a daily basis. It is what it is, to use the clichéd phrase.
While one might expect either avoidance or resignation to the pressures, the conversation almost always took a different turn following these reflections, evolving into self-reflection and self-awareness. Instead of letting the cultural images shape who they are as a pastor or clergy spouse, these women and men led with their style and personality in shaping how they live out their role as a pastor or clergy spouse. Indeed, our task is not to change who we are to fit a particular image but instead to recognize who we are in the midst of it all. As one pastor stated,
Part of what was hard for me being a pastor is I’ve never seen myself as the most put together person or the most righteous person or things like that. All these things I think people expect of their pastors, I’ve never seen myself like that. And so I try to do it in a different way and try to be more authentic and be myself and relate to people as I would.
My next two posts will draw from these conversations on self-awareness, addressing how pastors and clergy spouses navigate their roles, not by conforming to cultural images but by reshaping that image through practices of self-awareness and, in turn, self-care. In the meantime, consider who you are as an individual and ask how that fits or doesn’t fit with the pressures you may encounter in ministry life. How can you build practices of self-care out of this awareness, opening up opportunities rather than finding yourself stifled or stuck? I look forward to this exploration and reflection in the coming weeks.
Lenore Knight Johnson

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