I grew up with this word stamped into my brain as something I needed to overcome on a daily basis. Like many in America, with our Christian/ Protestant history, there are beliefs that get passed down. Such as, to be good you need to not be selfish; you must ask for forgiveness from God if you do something wrong; you are a sinner and incapable of being good without God.
Maybe my upbringing was more extreme than most, but these beliefs still seem to be common among many of the Christians that I know. The big taboos being selfishness, greed, and pride. There is judgement directed towards people with those aspects.
For me, being taught to believe this way fed into my already low self-esteem. I already didn’t think I was good enough due to reasons I won’t get into here. But the idea that I was being selfish if I didn’t first make sure everyone else was ok before doing something for myself, created a disconnect in my soul.
I started discounting my feelings and needs. I learned to feel guilty if I wanted to relax or if I was tired. Things needed to be done. People were counting on me and I needed to put on a good face so that I didn’t make anyone uncomfortable.
As an adult…
I started noticing the negative effects of these mental programs more so as an adult. I was burnt out by the time I left home. I didn’t want to worry about everyone else all the time. This is when I really felt the guilt.
I was riddled with guilt. I felt it when I was tired and took a nap; it plagued me if my boss called me in to work on my day off and I said I couldn’t make it; there was guilt if I didn’t call people in my life enough and make sure they were doing ok.
Lost sense of self…
I lost my identity and didn’t know who I was or what I liked. This effected my relationships and the type of people I was attracted to. I found myself in relationships that involved a strong personality that demanded a lot of attention. That person would complain about me and my lack of passion or interest in anything. I only cared about making sure they were ok. I didn’t know what my interests were.
I’m not the only one that has experienced this effect caused by being taught to care for others first; you can read more at goodtherapy.org. Many experience this and don’t realize it is happening.
I’m not responsible for you…
It took me a while, but I came to realize that I’m not responsible for anyone else. I am not on this planet to make other people happy. I’m not here for other’s entertainment or comfort. I’m not here to live for someone else. I have my own life to live.
It has been a journey and it was super uncomfortable to break through the old feelings. For a while, I kept attracting people that were needy and demanded my attention. But I slowly started pulling away from those people. I started paying attention to what I wanted. I started to believe it was ok to want things.
Is selfishness real?
Where did selfishness come from? The English word supposedly came from the Presbyterians in the 1620’s. I’m not surprised that a word would spring up from a religion in order to guilt and condemn in an attempt to control. Or maybe they had good intentions and were just trying to explain the deeds of unthoughtful people. I will try not to judge.
Either way, the question is, does selfishness really exist? Are some people just so into themselves that they don’t care about anyone? Can someone love themselves too much?
What is selfishness really?
I’ve come to see “selfish” people as the opposite of someone who loves themselves too much. I see them as people who have lost touch with who they really are. Fear triggers an impulse to stuff that fear by overcompensation of what they think they want.
I believe they’ve lost touch with who they really are because if they were connected to their inner self, they would see that we are all connected. Therefore, caring for yourself is like caring for others, and caring for others is like caring for yourself. We’re all aspects of the same whole. One wouldn’t want to hurt someone that is part of themselves.
I also see fear because of the incessant need to take and fulfill imagined needs. There is a belief that no one cares for them and that they need to look out for themselves. There is the view of complete separation and vulnerability. We saw this during the pandemic when people bought up all the toilet paper and canned foods.
Selfishness as a defense mechanism…
I see so-called selfishness as simply a defense mechanism. It’s another way that humans attempt to feel better in a world that they view as hostile. It’s based on false beliefs.
I would just call it fear. Fear causes people to be unhappy, lash out, close off, and self-preserve. “Selfishness” is not evil or to be shamed, it is something that needs to be healed and released.
You are safe…
An autosuggestion that I tell myself every day is that “I am always safe”. I have had the belief for years that people are mean and that I need to protect myself from being hurt. This belief sprung up from what was conveyed to me, many times energetically, and also by my misinterpretations as a child.
When I start to believe that I’m safe, and I see other people as extensions of myself, I start to relax. If someone is rude to me, I see it as an aspect of me being rude to myself. Instead of feeling hurt or wanting to retaliate, I seek to understand. I want to find what thoughts are causing that and change the beliefs. I also want to have compassion for others and where they are at on their journey, because that’s how I want to be with myself.
Embrace your wants…
This life is full of amazing things to experience. We are unique and have desires for a reason. It has been super fun to explore what I like and dislike and get to know myself. I keep track now, and add new preferences to my list of likes.
The wants I have are not needs. I can want something and have fun just thinking about it. I can see someone else with something awesome and feel joy for them that they have it. It’s so freeing to know that I’m here to have fun and enjoy my life, and that everyone else contributes to my experience in a wonderful way. There is no competition or need for fear. I let go of those thoughts and embrace love.