selfish: "(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure"
self-centered: "preoccupied with oneself and one's affairs"
I find it so difficult, somehow, to talk about practicing selfishness. In my family, or my social circles, society as a whole, or perhaps all of these, egged on in my own mind, I have come to believe, against my own will, that to acknowledge the self and her wonderful, unique qualities is detestably egotistic and conceited.
For years, I have been trying to accept permission to love myself. Now, having intensely practiced self-acceptance (it is a habit that requires effort; some days are harder than others), I am trying to give myself permission to love myself in a way that the whole world can see and acknowledge, by doing what I want to do; standing up for myself; ignoring or putting aside others' expectations, opinions, or hopes and dreams for me that are not my own; not being concerned by what other people think of me; putting myself first; saying no and not being overwhelmed by guilt; and setting boundaries and sticking to them.
For too long I believed that being a kind, good, likable person meant denying absolutely everything I felt, dreamt of, and needed, and instead putting every other human – and their needs, opinions, expectations, and requests – above me and my own self. I thought that, if I were to push my self aside and ignore her entirely and continually, others would love me. I thought, paradoxically, that if I denied myself I would be happy.
Of course I wasn't. Instead, I was resentful, depressed, and felt unacknowledged for all I did. Even worse, because I never increased my happiness, I thought that I was not being selfless enough.
It's hard to practice self-love. I feel sometimes that I am being greedy and narcissistic and that I am the archetype of a gluttonous, spiteful, vain soul who feels that she deserves absolutely everything and is responsible for nothing. (Think of all those ads and commercials we are continually bombarded with: you deserve this. You need this. Get what you want.*)
*As I write these mantras, I realize the messages themselves, stripped of product, are truthful, but when tied to sick consumerist and capitalistic values that chant "more more more", I feel sick.
What is the line between selfishness and self-confidence, between selflessness and self-denial? How can I continue to practice self-love without denying others' selves, and practice love of others without falling into a habit of self-denial? Do women, in particular, feel that selflessness and voicelessness equal their worth? (I'd love to hear from you; all I know is what I myself have experienced.) Does motherhood – or the biological fact that any of us women could be mothers – further emphasize our potential for biologically-induced self-denial? What about this concept of superwoman, the modern mother who does it all?
The age-old maxim "do unto others as you would have done unto you" is a good one to follow. But I have found that to find balance I need to practice the reverse, too: "do unto yourself as you would do for others:" give yourself love, and patience, and comfort. Lift yourself up. Have faith in your abilities and your goodness and your wholeness and your talents, imperfect as you may be.