Okay folks, here we go! This is one of my favourite topics to talk about – probably because it is the corner stone of a very important life lesson that has been one of the most important in my life thus far. Today we are going to talk about why it’s not only okay, but also why it is essential to your health and wellbeing to be self-‘ish’.
Now, before you go all crazy on me and send me angry emails, let me explain what I mean.
I’m not talking about being a narcissist or self-absorbed. I’m talking about having love, compassion and respect for yourself and loving yourself enough to know that you are worthy of all these things, just because you exist.
There is a big difference between being selfish (self-‘ish’) and being self-centred or self-less. Picture a spectrum and on one end is selflessness and on the other there is self centeredness. And right in the middle there is selfishness. Being selfish is where we want to be – in a place where we acknowledge our needs and boundaries and love and respect ourselves.
Let’s explore these three terms more shall we?
Selflessness: This one is a doozy! This term is used to describe someone who has little or no concern for oneself. This is someone who puts others and their needs before their own. They do not consider their happiness to be important, but live to make others happy. This display of altruism is often regarded as pious and honourable. The idea of putting others before yourself is something that is celebrated by some. While it is indeed virtuous to display kindness and generosity to others (I’m not denying this), I want to talk to you about the unhealthy side of selflessness. I want to talk about how, over time, it can actually be the leading cause of burnout, loss of boundaries and unhappiness in many of our lives.
There are many of us (particularly us women) who have grown up believing that it is important (even essential) to please others and put their needs before our own. This is how many of us have learnt to survive in our relationships – by making others happy. Selflessness has been our ‘currency’ for love and feeling accepted. This pattern of behaviour, however, has also led us to unhealthy patterns of codependency and the ever life-sucking YES-syndrome. Do you know what I mean when I say YES-syndrome? It’s when you say yes to everyone else and their needs so often, that you end up saying no to yourself and your needs by default. Worse yet, you become convinced that saying yes to your needs is a bad thing and you feel guilty for any act of self love or self care that you may display. In fact, for some this unbridled benevolence can become pathological to the point of martyrdom. Where some believe that the suffering they feel by putting others first is a righteous thing and that they do not deserve to feel happiness or joy.
To be self-less, implies that there is no self or that you deny yourself. You act as if you do not exist and deny your own wants, needs and desires. To the point that you lose touch with who you really are. Hence why so many of us end up unhappy because we have lost touch with who we are and deprived ourselves of much needed self love. While it is important to love others and show generosity and kindness, it is not healthy to do so to the detriment of oneself.
Selflessness in my opinion, is just as unhealthy as being self-centered.
To be self-centered is the exact opposite of being selfless. It is when you are so self absorbed that you solely focus on your own needs to the detriment of others. This is someone who does what they want and does not care how their actions may effect others – think narcissist. Ironically, the selfless person and the self-centered person make for a match made in dysfunctional relationship heaven!
Now let’s talk about being self-‘ish’.
In my mind this is the balance between the two extremes; selflessness and self-centeredness. It is a healthy balance between being considerate of others and their needs, but not sacrificing our own needs. The reality is that if you don’t take care of yourself, you can experience a vast array of health problems, depression, burnout, stress, unhappiness, fatigue, reduced mental functioning, anxiety, frustration, inability to sleep and even death. No joke.
You have to make sure there’s gas in the car if you want to drive it and you can’t get very far driving on fumes.
A great example of this concept is when you fly in an airplane and the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping the person seated next to you. Now for the selfless person, they would think, “But shouldn’t I help the other person first? That seems like the right thing to do.”
The self-centered person thinks, “Heck yeah, I’ll put the mask on myself and only myself. I don’t care about the other person.”
The self-“ish” person puts the oxygen mask on themselves first because they know that they need to take care of themselves to survive. And then, once their needs are taken care of, they can help the person seated next to them. The self-‘ish’ person knows that if you are 10,000ft in the air and run out of oxygen, that they are never going to be able to help anyone else, let along help themselves??!!
All jokes aside, this is an important metaphor for those of us who run around taking care of everything and everyone else except ourselves.
It’s time to love yourself enough to put yourself first. You can only give to others what you first give to yourself.
It’s time to ask yourself honestly where you fall on the spectrum. Let go of the excuses and the guilt, and genuinely commit to being more self-“ish”. Because if you are healthy and happy and taken care of, everyone else around you will benefit.