There is something unpleasant about the word ‘selfish‘. For such a small word it punches well above its weight when it comes to inducing negative feelings – particularly guilt.
And, yet, there are times when being selfish is the best way to help others. You have to put on your own life jacket before you can help others with theirs.
You were brought up to share, to play nice, to put others before yourself. It’s all part of being well mannered and well raised. Some mothers and fathers view the selflessness of their child as a mark of their own success in the domain of parenting.
But, where does this get you?
How many individuals are simply not living the life they came here to live because they cannot put themselves first?
Since when did putting yourself first mean that you have to ride roughshod over everyone else?
How can you make the most of the opportunities presented to you, if you are always putting others first?
Surely being in resentment about lost opportunities is as bad as being declared selfish?
It is incredibly hard to help others when you don’t have everything you need for yourself (need, not want). It’s only by becoming selfish that you can finally get those needs met. Being selfish in this way doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you cold hearted or hard. It just means you are getting yourself on to a firmer footing in life so you can reach out and help others from a point of security.
You are no use to anyone if you are in the same quagmire as them. You cannot help anyone if you are both falling into the same abyss, you can only sink with them. Whilst that may be noble, some may even say heroic, it really doesn’t help anyone.
Before you can become healthily selfish you will almost certainly have to re-wire your brain. Years of conditioning around the negative connotations of being selfish will need to be shelved and reprogrammed. Being selfish in a healthy way does not make you arrogant, insensitive or egocentric. Give yourself some new connotations. Being selfish is healthy, it allows you to be more generous to others and to support them from a position of strength and stability.
Being totally unselfish, giving until you have nothing left to give, turns you into a resentful doormat.
I am talking to the people pleasers. Those who always say yes because they long ago had the ability to say no knocked out of them. Whether the pleasing developed as a safety mechanism to protect you from an abusive parent, relative or sibling or as manipulative ploy on your part doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that the racket you are running is recognised for what it is. There is no point in being everybody’s go-to-gal or guy if, having smiled sweetly as yet another dumpster is unloaded on you, you then burn with resentment. That kind of resentment is more damaging than any shame or guilt you may feel for saying no.
I’m talking to you – and to myself and I have a proposal to make.
This is the week when we can say no, just because we need the practice. We don’t need to justify the no. We don’t have to give a reason. We don’t have to apologise. We are going to the selfish gym to build up the muscles that will ultimately put us into a better place to help others. A more authentic place.
We are going to take better care of ourselves. In fact we are going to look after ourselves in the way we take care of others. I’m not suggesting that anyone stops caring for others – just put yourself in the same team. You’ll notice that you can actually take better care of your family once your own needs have been met. It’s almost miraculous.
This won’t be easy for some. I know. I empathise. I understand. But, from where I am sitting it seems to me that it will be a whole lot healthier than being selfless.