Sunday, 21 August 2016

Learning To Be (Positively) Selfish

I've always hated selfishness.  I hate it to the point that I've been known to wear myself out, trying to be unselfish, probably to a ridiculous degree.  When my original plans to celebrate my birthday fell through and my friends started asking how else I would like to celebrate it, my stock answer was: "What would you all enjoy?"

I'm not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination.  Sometimes, we all do things that others could interpret as being selfish, even if it's completely unintentional.  But, whilst I have a long list of personal flaws (for starters, I am liable to cry over everything), I do try to ensure that deliberate selfishness isn't one of them.

So, it struck me as being odd when, after a sustained period of stress in my life, someone told me to "be more selfish."

I basically replied with this:

But the more I thought about it, the more right I realised they were.  There's a massive difference between negative selfishness and positive selfishness, and it's one I'm still in the process of learning.  If I was asked to sum it up as simply as possible, I would say this: "Negative selfishness is about putting yourself first, to the detriment of others.  Positive selfishness is about putting yourself first, to ensure you're in better shape to help yourself and others when they need it."

"Selfish" is a word with such negative connotations, that it almost doesn't seem fair to use it when we're actually just talking about taking time for yourself when things get rough.  And let's face it, things get rough for all of us, at one time or another...

It's good to try to be there for our families and friends when things are going badly for them.  In fact, it's not only a good thing, it's the human thing to do; to try to empathise with and give support to someone you care for, when they're having a hard time.  And sometimes, being there for other people almost inevitably means putting yourself further back in the metaphorical queue.  That's fair enough.  When someone is ill, or exhausted, or going through something major and needs support, putting them first feels like the right thing to do and we do it willingly.

But whilst we're pushing our own needs to the back of the queue, we can't abandon them, entirely.  Doing that is to take a shortcut to Misery Town.  Do not pass "Go."  Do not collect £200.

When you put yourself last one too many times, you start to notice the negative impact that doing so can have on your well being.

To counter that, we need to find the balance between putting ourselves last and putting ourselves first, for a change.

If you feel like you never have time for yourself, there is nothing wrong with taking some.

If you feel as though you're always there for other people and you're taking on their stresses as your own, there is nothing wrong with turning your phone off for an hour and having a bubble bath, or lazing around watching YouTube videos, or whatever else makes you feel relaxed.

If you're dealing with a situation involving a family member or friend who's having a hard time and is leaning on you, there is nothing wrong with arranging to meet for coffee with someone else and talking things through, so you don't keep it all inside.  After all, if you're listening to someone else's worries on a regular basis, how else do you stop yourself from internalising their pain, other than by letting it go in some way?  Sharing the burden helps.

If you need time away from a situation, take it.  If you need to do something nice for yourself, to counter the stress you're going through, do it and don't be ashamed about it.  Your loved ones will never want you to be putting yourself last, all the time.  Your friends will understand if you need a bit of "you" time.  And if they don't understand that, then frankly, they're not very good friends.  The people that are good friends will get that to be at your best - for yourself and for them - you need to take some time to put yourself first, every now and then.

I feel like I'm finally getting to grips with the idea that positive selfishness (even though I still don't like using that word) exists.  And that deciding "you know what?  I'm turning my phone off for a while, I'm watching a film and eating a big bowl of popcorn and I'm not going to think about stressy problems - mine or anyone else's" is not a bad thing to do.  On the contrary, it's good for you.

We should all remember, that whilst it's nice to put other people first, we must never continually put ourselves last.  It's okay to be "selfish" now and then.

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