I was pondering our relationship with the word ‘selfish’ as I crept back into the healing sanctuary of my bed with a nasty cold this morning….. We don’t generally question or judge the times when illness calls for a more gentle, nurturing moment in our daily routines do we? However, when we choose to focus other moments on ourselves; invest in ‘me-time’, it is often met with self-imposed judgement as well as a wider condemnation of times of giving a little bit of time (or a lot sometimes) to the self!
Of course there is a huge difference between “being concerned excessively or exclusively, for oneself or one’s own advantage, pleasure, or welfare, regardless of others.” as per the dictionary definition, and spending time positively investing in one’s own emotional, mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing! However it would appear that the word ‘selfish’ has permeated more than a certain level of decent behaviour and altruistic focus.
Let’s take a moment to focus on what happens when we give (of time, energy, money, advice….you get the drift!) to such an extent that we find ourselves depleted, drained, possibly resentful and out of touch with ourselves? I often use the analogy with clients of a car running on empty and pose the question of whether we would run our cars on empty, never top up the oil and expect them to perform in tip top condition? Yet our bodies and emotions will often be drained and ‘on empty’ and we see it as ‘selfish’ to top ourselves up, due to our ingrained view that we must put others above ourselves at all times.
Often, the best thing you could possibly do for yourself when you are depleted is to be ‘selfish’. The point is not to do this so you never help others; the point is to give to yourself first so that you are able to help others; more so in fact than if your personal petrol gauge is flashing red! In turn, you find yourself giving to others not out of obligation, resentment or a forced belief in abundance, but from a true spirit of generosity.
It is interesting (and alarming in equal measure) that we so often deem our needs and values to be inferior to those of another. Naturally there are myriad times when our needs can rightly and understandably be directed at another above our own, but there is merit in asking ourselves whether we constantly give to others out of obligation, fear, conditioning etc and how that affects ‘the self’?
Perhaps my cold is making me feel a little reckless on the keyboard today so, ready to take this to the next level and throw another possible perspective out there?….Here goes….!
The word ‘selfish’ seems a little daunting because we’ve grown up learning that being so is a bad thing and a negative character trait. In fact, it’s not considered one of the most admirable traits in anyone’s personality is it, but is it in some ways a manageable one? How about if we redefined it so that we no longer cringe when we think of it?
How would it feel if we could, at some level, accept that being ‘selfish’ means gaining personal satisfaction from our life choices? The word then already hints to us that it’s got something to do with theself.
A ‘selfish’ act is something that will cause us to feel a certain amount of personal benefit. We have something to gain, whether spiritually, emotionally, or sometimes financially. When we volunteer our time, for example, we are helping others and benefiting a cause, but we also invariably feel good about ourselves when we reflect on the joy and comfort we bring to others.
So does this mean that ‘selfishness’ in fact – when viewed from this perspective, has a more expansive meaning; one that sits a little more comfortably than the rigid connotation we are so familiar with? Food for thought if nothing more and whether you are nodding your head or shaking it in disagreement, it is so important that we take time now and then to check in with our thoughts, interpretations and the messages our words and their meanings give to us.
Whatever one’s relationship with the word is; however we choose to interpret and apply it to our own lives, surely the most engaging permutation is one that encompasses love and respect for the self, together with a positive and healthy desire to be present and loving wherever possible for those around us as well?