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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What makes you happy?

The list of things that make this woman happy is so delightfully simple. And so honest! 


So many of us in the west, with its abundance of stuff to buy, to eat and to do, lose sight of what we really need to make us happy. Of course we can all say world peace and health and food for everyone a la Miss World - those general and slightly abstract desires that don't really touch our inner needs. But if I asked you what are four things that really make YOU happy, what would you say?

Mine are 1) to feel the hot sun on my body 2) to dance to great house music 3) to be pampered with a massage or beauty treatment 4) to receive a hug from my kids. Sadly I live in a country that doesn't "do" summer and I have only been dancing twice in 7 years but I do at least get hugs from the kids. And I've only got 9 months to wait before I get some sun on holiday. But I can book myself in for some pampering. And I do. Regularly. Because even though you might sometimes feel "selfish" to act upon your personal desires and to put yourself before others, we actually help others by helping ourselves. Because our actions allow others to put themselves first too. The more we take a break and look after our own happiness, and the more fulfilled we become as a result, the more we radiate that contentment out into our circle of friends and family. They benefit from our "selfishness" and instead it becomes "self-care".

What could you do today that is purely and totally for your own benefit? That will allow you to be happy and thus pass on that happiness?

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