On being selfish...

I’ve been reflecting recently on the notion of selfishness and why it is such a negative one. Because to be described as selfish – someone who is “concerned only with their own personal profit or pleasure” – is not something most people would wish for. Instead we aspire to be selfless, kind, compassionate, empathetic. We are taught from a young age that caring for others and about other’s feelings is the right thing to do. After all, isn’t mastering our selfish passions and instincts in order to become a social, caring and reasonable person the mark of a ‘civilised’ person? But in the struggle to become selfless we can take this mastery too far. Our wild hearts can become so used to being silenced by our rational heads and we can become so well trained at denying ourselves our emotional wants and needs that we can end up forgetting that they even exist. We can become automatons that actually believe we are “fine” even when there is no-one else to prove it to.

The pursuit of selflessness is not the only reason our emotional needs are ignored, it may also be because it can be deeply vulnerable to expose them. We may believe that some are unacceptable. Either because they don’t fit with one of the many masks we choose to show others or because they aren’t part of the family rulebook we have inherited. By asking to have them met we therefore run the risk of becoming disowned or disrespected by either our peers or the wider cultural collective. So they stay hidden by shame and fear.

One of my greatest personal challenges is in acknowledging my need to rest and to just be. Mainly because a very dominant part of me thinks that those needs shouldn’t even exist. I am strong! I don’t need to rest! Too much to do! Too much to achieve! So I keep going, setting myself endless long-term goals and short-term challenges to perpetuate the high state of adrenalin that has become so much of a habit that not to feel it is not only totally unfamiliar but also deeply uncomfortable.

But in the rare moments of stillness when I do take a moment to pause, I hear my inner voice. I see that they exist and know that sometimes, they need to be met. I can suspend my judgement of them and forgive myself for needing more. I can ask that they be met. And that takes both vulnerability (Buddha) and courage (Warrior).

How often do I do this? Not enough. I should do it MUCH more. Because the great thing is, that if we do acknowledge, accept and ask that our emotional needs be met, when we are courageous enough to risk being seen as selfish, this becomes an act of compassion to ourselves and the foundation on which our empathy for others can grow. Because if we don’t know what are our own needs are, we can’t truly respect another’s. We can’t be truly selfless and put aside our own desires without first having acknowledged what they are.

So the irony is that sometimes, being selfish becomes an act of selflessness and then, we all reap the benefits. We personally can feel the freedom and release that comes from expressing our authentic selves, we can divert the energy required to keep it hidden into more positive, creative outlets and we also allow others permission to do the same.

Are there particular areas of your life in which you struggle to ask for help? Which kinds of emotional needs do you find it unacceptable to express? I would love to hear what they are. Please comment below so that we can practise being selfish together!

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