Feeling Selfish?: You’re Only Human
Feb 02, 2016 04:43PM
● By Yudit Maros
“Don’t give up on your own welfare
For the sake of others’ welfare,
Clearly know your own welfare
And be intent on the highest good.”
Our heads are filled with misguided notions about who we are and what we must do in this life. People who take advantage of others are rightly labeled as selfish; on the other hand, others who have a plain preference for their own well-being are also wrongly labeled as selfish. Many people grow up thinking we must exploit ourselves on the job, at home and in the community to be thought of well. In the United States, time off, breaks, vacations, idling around, creative activities, and even playtime and intimacy are deemed unproductive, thus generating guilt in those who even ponder such things. We end up feeling exhausted, sick and tired; we abuse and neglect our own selves as a way of life, in order to avoid feeling—or being labeled as—“selfish”.
Self-centered is the only perspective we have in life. It is not a moral issue, but rather the way we are built. No one can see the world through someone else’s eyes, wishes, desires or fears. We only have one perspective: our own. We live in separate bodies; our bodies are hard-wired for feeling and knowing what is healthy for them. The way you feel is your truth, dictated by nature—not your mind and not your neighbor’s either.
In regard to feelings, needs and preferences, there is only my truth and your truth; no other truth is manifested in the universe. This is because our feelings carry the information about what we need to be well, and that is nature’s intelligence built into us. Others’ preference is not truer than yours. At the point where two preferences collide, there is communication: you explain and educate the other about your needs, and then negotiate plans of action that honor both parties’ preferences. The result is a caring resolution to the satisfaction of all parties involved. Whenever this process is stunted, there is a risk of selfish behaviors.
If you feel like a bad person for wanting to be well, stop. It is your birthright and your main mandate. Selfish behavior is quite the opposite of self-care. Choosing your own convenience over someone else’s true needs is selfish. But do not confuse convenience with necessity. Choosing what is necessary for your well-being over someone else’s preferences is self-care. That self-care is a prerequisite for generosity is a truth that only seems paradoxical on the surface.
The main reason for a pattern of selfish behavior is stunted growth; any living organism lacking adequate nutrients would be reaching for more, driven and absorbed by the hungry Self. If fundamental needs are not met during the early years, maturation is stunted, and that person is “stuck”. Only when you get what you need can you fully mature, and then be altruistic by giving from the overflow. Hence, it is normal for children and adolescents to behave in a selfish way. They are still in the process of growing in self-awareness: knowing how they feel and what they need to feel better. Moreover, they do not yet have the skills and tools to meet their needs. A larger awareness follows from self-awareness, just like altruism springs forth from self-care.
Examples for selfish behaviors would include blaming or criticizing others for asking for what they need (abuse), or ignoring others’ needs and choosing one’s own over them (neglect). Deep down the culprit is a lack of adequate attention or compassion to one’s own feelings and needs.
It stands to reason that the only stance that is decent and fair to your Self, as well as to others is to care.
“Compassionate toward yourself
You reconcile all beings in the world.”
When you don’t get what you need, there will be an imbalance—a dis-ease—and you will burden others by having to rely on them to do your job and compensate for where you lack. If it is necessary, then rely on them; we all need help when we are sick or down. Is it necessary though for you to be weakened or down if you could help it by simply paying attention to your needs and meeting them? By loving yourself? How can others love you more than you do yourself—and why should they do what only you can? It is actually selfish to not put yourself first.
You cannot overdo fulfilling a need, simply because once it is met it will cease to be. Therefore, you cannot be selfish by reaching for all that you need. If you don’t, you will end up hungry. That is a setup for reaching for a temporary fix or a substitute such as money, drugs, alcohol or power. These are not necessarily wrong choices; it is when people reach for these things as substitutes that they become selfish and hurtful to others. This is a direct outcome of self-neglect, or ignoring one’s needs.
You can only be good to the extent you are well. Health is positive energy. When you are sick or tired, you are deficient in positive energy. No one can give from an empty satchel. The more you give yourself the things you really need—like love, acceptance, attention, soothing and communication—the better you feel, and the more of it you can give to others. Relating positively to others happens simply by extension, by virtue of you practicing these qualities in your relationship to yourself.
Most people have a modicum of guilt or discomfort thinking of themselves first. We still do at times, but we try to hide it, or cover it up with a white lie as if there was something wrong with it. Convincing ourselves to say “yes” to others can often be a betrayal of our own truth. Do you realize what damage this causes inside of you? How much energy you “bleed” in the process? It causes serious internal conflict, and then perpetuates it—by extension—between you and others. This is when the enemy is within the doors; as we focus on external expectations rather than on internal whispers and urges, we lose track of our own truth.
As a result, we lose faith in ourselves; in our ability to reach for what we need; and in feeling peaceful, well, lovable and important. Living in denial of how we truly feel causes an internal war that is exhausting and depressing. It drains our sense of self-empowerment, simply because there is literally no one “home” you could trust. No one to bring your pain to, who would listen, accept and help. Truth is, you are the one who must and can be that person in the first place. When you do that, others follow suit. When you do not, others don’t either. Call it selfish, call it another name, but the fact remains, you are the one nature put in charge of you.
It is time we afford the luxury of giving ourselves the compassion we deserve. Compassion is being positive, validating, loving, caring and present. It is the way you want to be in this world. If this makes you feel selfish, then you can do this with good conscience for the sake of others! “What’s good for the goose is what’s good for the gander”—no saying was ever truer. When you are well, you are optimizing the potential for the welfare of others around you. Not only you do we not burden others, you also radiate well-being, love and peace everyone will benefit. Fill your own container first, and then give to others from the overflow. Don’t buy into the destructive myth that this is selfish.
“Our entire life… consists ultimately
in accepting ourselves as we are.”
When you find yourself thinking of someone in your surroundings as selfish, it is important to ask yourself if you made it clear what you need from this person before you get deeper into judgment. Have you been assertive, positive and specific regarding your expectations?
We often label each other when we are disappointed.Consider this your chance to take care of yourself by taking responsibility for getting your needs met. You are good enough just the way you are. If you notice you give too much or too little to others, it is because you are not getting what you need. When you make sure you do, your life will rebalance itself.
Yudit Maros, LMFT, CHt, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Ridgefield. She is the author of Apple of My I: The Four Practices of Self-Love, a four-step protocol to tap into the body’s truths and live an authentic life. Connect with her at Center4AuthenticLiving.com. See Community Resource Guide listing, page 57.