No one should have to apologize for taking care of themselves.
This is something that took me a long time to realize and embrace in my life, and I’m still striving to do better at avoiding saying “I’m sorry” for taking care of myself during a time that people deem inconvenient for themselves, or when they feel my absence proves I don’t care about them. “No one is ever ‘too busy’ for what’s important to them!” they claim.
What cuts deep about this statement is that it often comes from the very people who had inflicted the emotional wounding that required my self-care in the first place, subhaanAllah.
But no matter the source of any wound or mental exhaustion, I consider “busying” myself with nourishing my emotional and spiritual health quite crucial. Today I realize that anyone who truly loves and cares for me would never ask me to sacrifice my emotional or spiritual health to “show up” for them.
True love is in empathy and giving space for others’ deepest needs, even if we don’t understand their healing process. It’s not in arbitrarily demanding our loved one’s time and presence, and then telling them they wronged us for needing time and space for themselves at all.
Healthy love is rooted in emotional maturity, which allows us to recognize when we or someone else is suffering the slow death of serving others to the detriment of themselves. This emotional maturity also allows us to realize that someone else’s self-care isn’t about us, even when they have to pull away from us (whether temporarily or permanently) to nourish their emotional, mental, and spiritual health.
Here are some lessons and reflections I learned during my own emotional healing journey. They are glimpses into my own heart’s path toward healthy love and emotional maturity, many of which I share in my books Pain, Faith, and Broken Yet Faithful:
Glimpses Into a Healing, Hurting Heart
Suffering is not the same as sacrifice. Know yourself. Know your limits. Draw the line.
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You cannot give of a self that does not exist. Thus, self-care and self-preservation must be essential to your life if you wish to truly give of yourself to others. You cannot give charity from wealth that does not encompass your possessions, and you cannot give from a spirit that does not encompass your being. So invest in your emotional, physical, and spiritual wealth. You can only spend from what you have.
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I wish we would stop turning the word “busy” into a bad word—unless we are speaking of being “too busy” to worship Allah. And I wish we would stop teaching people that goodness and kindness rest in their constant availability in doing things for others.
Whenever we claim that we are never too busy for others, we are not being honest with ourselves.
Allah is the only One with the ability to be always available when others want or need Him.
In fact, He is the only One for whom this quality is a good thing. And we are not Allah.
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If someone who usually checks on you suddenly stops, if someone who usually calls no longer reaches out, and if someone who usually responds to every invitation no longer does; do not take offense and grumble about their insensitivity. Reflect on your own. Perhaps, it is they who need you now.
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“It’s their loss,” we often tell ourselves when someone turns us down for something we think we deserve. But what makes us so sure? Perhaps, it’s actually their gain—and yours too. Everything that doesn’t include us isn’t a loss. And even if it were, it’s quite possible that the loss is ours.
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“If you truly cared, you would’ve never left!” or “A good friend will always be there, no matter what,” we say. But is it true? These claims might make us feel self-righteous when loved ones walk away, but in truth, they’re self-serving and dishonest. It’s possible that the person left simply because they prioritized their physical, emotional, and spiritual health over our company—no matter how much they loved and cared for us.
We hear a lot about toxic relationships and the importance of letting go, but it’s rare that we turn that logic around and take an honest look at ourselves: Yes, it’s possible that you are toxic to someone you love.
…So if they truly care, they’ll never leave? No, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather, if they truly care—for their soul—they’ll do all they can to protect it, even if it means walking away from someone they love and care for more than life itself.
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There is such a thing as simply having hurt feelings and nothing more. We don’t have to turn every pain or frustration into someone else’s fault.
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Self-accountability is a part of self-care. While we need to recognize toxic and abusive relationships in our lives so that we can remove ourselves from them, we also need to recognize when we are suffering from hurt feelings or emotional triggers and nothing more.
Just as you have the right to walk away from anything and anyone that you feel isn’t good for you, others have the same right in walking away from you.
And just like you don’t always have the ability to make someone understand why you needed to let them go, others don’t always have the ability to make you understand why they needed to let you go.
So be careful before you paint yourself a victim when you are merely on the opposite side of the very right you say you have in cutting others out of your life.
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“Anything that’s important enough, you make time for!” we say. “No one’s too busy!” But this isn’t necessarily true. Anything that’s important to you, you’ll want to make time for even though sometimes you’re not able to, no matter how much the sacrifice hurts.
So if you have a friend or loved one who values you and their Lord enough to recognize the existence of an unseen reality they might not be aware of, treasure them. For most people, if you do anything different from what they want or demand of you, they accuse you of selfishness and not valuing them. Yet every struggle a person faces in life, whether due to health or personal reasons, isn’t something they want to talk about, even to friends and loved ones.
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Relationships—whether through friendship, marriage, or ties of the womb—are not our personal playgrounds where we constantly “test” our loved ones to see how committed they are. Life brings those tests naturally, so there is no need to create adversity. Statements like “I build walls to see who loves me enough to climb over them” might sound good on paper, but in real life, this approach isn’t necessarily sensible or beneficial.
Yes, we all need loved ones to “climb over walls” at times to reach out to us and show love, but this shouldn’t be because we consciously shut them out to “test” the relationship. Any walls we build (or those built through the natural tests in life) should be because we genuinely need “alone time” for personal healing and spiritual growth. Authentic walls are about our own self-love and healing, not about someone else’s responsibility to climb over them or knock them down.
Our loved ones have their own painful tests in life, and it just might be that the one you imagine should be climbing over your wall needs you to climb over your own so that you can reach out to them and offer a hand during their difficult time.
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A toxic relationship does not necessarily involve toxic people—just as there are chemicals that are harmless in themselves and become deadly only when mixed with something else.
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Suffering does not move in only one direction. The one from whom you’ve suffered harm may have also suffered harm from you. So be careful before you label yourself a victim and someone else a wrongdoer. It is possible that you are both victims and wrongdoers.
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Being honest with yourself about the source of your pain and blaming someone for your pain are two entirely different things.
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Being hurt is not the same as being wronged. Being wronged is not the same as being abused. And yes, you can suffer emotional trauma without being the victim of any crime—or even of wrongdoing or abuse. Life is complex, as is pain and suffering. And every agony doesn’t have behind it a person to blame. Someone can be the trigger of your pain, but not the cause of it. Part of emotional maturity and personal growth, as well as fully healing, is understanding these basic truths of adult life.
• • •
I reserve that right to get up and walk away from anything and anyone who seeks to disrupt or dismantle my personal boundaries of self-protection of the heart, mind and soul.
In other words, protect the health of your heart and soul as if your very life and spiritual salvation depend on it.
Because they do.
• • •
It hurts when you’re the one who’s turned away. But I’ve learned to fight feelings of annoyance and indignant defensiveness when someone decides they no longer want to be in my company. It’s an inevitable life experience, to be on the other side of hurt. And it doesn’t necessarily mean someone has wronged you—or that you’ve done anything wrong.
I’ve certainly made the difficult decision to let go of coveted friendships myself from time to time. So why should it surprise me that others have been burdened with this decision themselves?
When I feel the natural hurt from such a separation, I try to resist the messages of narcissism that this society teaches us…
“Anyone who doesn’t want to be around me, I don’t want to be around them!”
“If they were true friends, they would never leave you!”
“It’s their loss!”
While I certainly believe there is occasion to not wish to be around someone who doesn’t wish to be around me, I also believe there is occasion to genuinely value and benefit from someone’s company who doesn’t feel the same about you.
Thus, when I’m the one left behind—as nearly every child of Adam is at times—I try to embrace the healthier, more honest response of humility and self-reflection.
I just don’t see the benefit of making matters worse.
I’ve already lost a friend. Must I lose myself too?
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. In 2019, she launched UZ Soul Gear, a passion project fueled by her love of both art and inspirational reflections. UZSoulGear.com offers apparel, wall décor, and more, aimed at supporting and inspiring the soul-centered lifestyle.
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