Who out there has ever thought any variation of following: I can’t possibly take an extra hour to be by myself, to say no when people really need me, to ask my partner to put the kids to bed while I go spend some time with friends. How many times have you really wanted to do something but didn’t because you thought you were being selfish?
What does it actually mean to be selfish?
Technically being selfish means to only care for oneself, regardless of others. So when we take that extra long shower, when we say no to a function that we don’t really want to go to, even though we know it is expected of us, are we being selfish or stay with me here, are we really caring for ourselves and therefore caring for others? Are we actually creating more life energy to put to good use serving others in ways that we do have energy, talents and excitement for?
If we don’t want to be selfish, what do we want to be? Selfless. Selfless is the opposite of selfish it is concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one's own self. Based on those definitions it is no wonder that we want to be selfless and not selfish, right?
Where did the strong negative association with being selfish come from ladies?
On a cultural level being selfless is something that is culturally ascribed to a female. We receive this message over and over again. Women are supposed to be selfless; it is part of our nature to serve and in some ways that is actually true. However, we have taken it on so much that it can cause us to feel bitter, angry, and burn out because all we do is give, give, give. It becomes this unconscious thing that we do because we are suppose to rather than this beautiful thing that we do because we want to.
We need to examine the messages that we have and continue to receive about women and selfishness. Even as I research images for this blog post I am struck by the images that I have to choose from. Images of women and mothers that depict being selfish are shown as mothers doing things for themselves and a child left crying in the corner…seriously. Images depicting selfless involve mothers shown as a bird flying, rain coming down and the mother sheltering the babies and getting sopping wet. Images of words that say help others, and love is selfless. Basically proving exactly what so many of us have in our heads…in order to be a good mother, wife, daughter etc. we must be selfless and give, give, give. It we take time for ourselves then our children will be crying in the corner and that is bad. So it’s time to make some change and that starts with YOU!
Maybe being selfish has gotten a bad rap.
Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of actions that warrant a negative connotation to the word but as many things in life humanity has created this all or nothing/black and white idea; we are either selfish or selfless. So imagine here that you have said yes to something that, given where you are at in your life, this is causing you feelings of overwhelm. You do it anyways because you think it is expected of you and you don’t want to be selfish. Your might think we all have a full plate so you just have to suck it up and do it. After you are done with the project you get extra grumpy with your kids and short with your partner. You stay up way late and the next day you turn in the project feeling bitter and burned out. Ugh! Now say that you said no to the project. You were self-aware and knew you had too much on at the moment and this particular project wasn’t in your skill set. Consciously saying no helped you realize that you were feeling low on energy and so you enacted some strategies to help fill you up. You DID NOT beat yourself up and knew that you would be able to give at some point just not right now. The next month when another event comes you have more space and energy so you dive right in, getting the project completed in half the amount of time and twice the amount of joy as you would have if you simply would have said yes the month before. Sounds easy right?
How can we change this in our lives?
First we need to figure out our own relationship with the word and idea of selfish. I suggest doing some journaling around what this term means to you in your life. What is your history with the term and how does it show up in the now? Then if you find that this is a major barrier for you create a list of what triggers your thoughts of selfishness. Become self-aware of what occurs in your mind when these reactions are triggered. Finally, make a commitment to change and see how it positively affects your life. You can change by becoming more aware and making different choices both internally and externally. It takes time and effort to change!
Start here and answer the question, how would your life look differently if you lived it from a place of self-awareness to what you can really do and what you want to do in service to others?
Let's do this!