“Self-centeredness, from my perspective, posits that if you are good to yourself, you can be good to others. It comes from a more mindful, loving and gentle place. If you treat yourself with contempt and judgment, you do not embrace the “self” – that beautiful core deserving of validation and compassion. Self-centeredness is the highest form of self-love.” From DBT Center of OC.
We think selfishness is bad. Selfishness means we care too much about ourselves and nothing for others. We all understand that. So maybe selfishness, in the sense that someone has no concern for anyone else, or satisfies themselves at the injury of others, is really a bad thing.
But we need to start caring for ourselves, period. Without worrying about others.
Our society has gone far on the concept of being selfless. Helping others is a top value. There’s guilt from living in one of the most affluent nations in the world. We have it good, other’s don’t. Celebrities and influencers are praised for their philanthropy. Religious studies emphasize a focus away from self: Put others before yourself, put God before yourself, put yourself last.
Perhaps the leaders of society who provide true help for others do so from a deep place within themselves. There’s no need to judge them; that’s not what this is about. But we’ve come to idolize the mere act of giving, forgetting the essential source of that giving. Kindness. True kindness comes from a wellspring of joy and peace. The impact of giving from this place is much different from giving out of obligation.
When I do something nice out of obligation to this virtue of selflessness, it costs something. I’m not helping anyone. It’s surface level, insincere at the core, and actually a bit hateful. Better to leave someone be than to thrust on them an act of false kindness. Expecting a sweet response is another hazardous byproduct.
If you’ve ever held the door open for someone that walked through and didn’t thank you, and you felt indignant about it, you know what I’m talking about here. I’ve even blurted out, “You’re welcome!” in a snarky way a couple of times. The original gesture did not come from a good place.
The thing is, your self is very important. Who else but you is the highest priority in your care? Your physical health, mental well being, and spiritual vibrancy are yours to tend to. Not a doctor or healthcare system. Not a family member. Not a psychologist. Not a priest or minister. These people all help, of course. But you are not their ultimate responsibility.
You are responsible for your wellness.
I think about the last time I comforted someone who was crying. Eased someone out of their anger, helped them to resolve an issue with calm and dignity. Gave someone my time and emotional energy to provide company, an open ear, and support with suggestions. Provided a shoulder massage.
When did I do this for myself, last?
Buying myself tasty food, drink, fun experiences, movies and shows, may feel like self care. It can be, coming from the right place. But a lot of times it’s just hitting the pleasure button for pleasure’s sake. It’s trying to mask hurt and distress from something else. Perhaps from giving too much, from a place of emptiness and emotional debt.
It’s different from taking time to really tend to and care for myself. One of my favorite things to do: walk barefoot on the sidewalk in quiet neighborhoods. My own pleasure, no one else’s. Other things that can get your started:
Quietly examine where you are hurt. Figure out the treatment for it.
Move attention through your body to find areas of tension. Allow yourself time and space to relax enough to relieve the tightness.
Delve into your depths to behold your greatest strengths. Take joy in your disposition, personality, and unique characteristics.
Eat wholesome foods that make you vibrate with energy.
Create space for ample sleep.
And simply be with yourself during the day.
C.S. Lewis writes about this. “But till the end, give me the man who takes the best of everything (even at my expense) and then talks of other things, rather than the man who serves me and talks of himself, and whose very kindness are a continual reproach, a continual demand for pity, gratitude, and admiration.”
If you’re worrying about being selfish, you can stop. Heed yourself. It’s the first step to being a truly giving person.