Oh the terrible evil! Let me make one thing clear first. There is a difference between selfishness and putting yourself first. In our lives we need to put ourselves first in certain areas to ensure that we are emotionally stable and healthy. We need to look after our bodies and our hearts, if we don’t, then we’ll lose a part of ourselves and we would be less able to successfully support and help someone else. We become thinly spread and at the end drained, tired and unable to motivate ourselves or others. What you need to do to stay emotionally healthy will be different for each person and it is something that you need to decide for yourself.
Selfishness comes in when we put ourselves first at the expense of others. When we become self consumed and blinded to the needs of others. Selfishness is so sneaky, it creeps in so slowly and before you know, it’s all about me and in that moment you see yourself as the victim (because you are not being agreed with or treated as you think you should and this seems unfair to you). If you recognize this behaviour, then a red light should be flashing.
As soon as you start seeing yourself as the victim (self pity), everyone else’s actions will be amplified and any negative reaction from someone might be experienced as an attack. When selfishness increases, your grace for others start decreasing and soon patience and kindness go out the window. In short, selfishness does not make us more satisfied, it actually makes us unhappier, because it creates an insatiable desire which nothing and no one can still and it makes us feel that we are constantly being treated unfairly.
So how do we manage the fine line between selfishness and putting ourselves first? Firstly we can learn to define our boundaries clearly and then consider where we are overstepping boundaries onto other peoples’ lives in selfishness. Imagine your life as a field, if you keep living on other peoples’ fields then you are stealing from them and being selfish, but if you keep letting others steal from you by allowing them to pitch their tents (needs, desires, opinions) on your field, then you are not looking after yourself enough and you might be burdened and too thinly spread. Ensure that you live comfortably on your field by allowing time for resting, loved ones and lots of time to give, to love and be loved.
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You might wonder what I mean by ‘mourning’ and how it can be applicable to you. Mourning is not just something you go through when a loved one passes away. It’s also a process that you go through when you lose something or go through significant change. For example, losing your job, losing a friend, losing abilities, leaving a community, divorce, changing your lifestyle and in my case leaving your country. The range is quite extensive and can also differ from person to person.
In general the process looks like this:
1. Denial – It is a defense mechanism that carries us through the shock. We deny the reality and facts of the situation in order to cope with the pain.
2. Anger – As reality starts to sink in, we still do not know how to cope with the change or loss. We feel guilty. We might cast blame or harbour resentment due to the intensity of the pain.
3. Bargaining – We struggle to let go. We feel helpless and this often makes us want to regain some kind of control. We bargain with the “what if’s” and the “buts” and how things could have been if…
4. Depression – Sadness, lack of motivation, craving comfort and support. We sense a void left behind.
5. Acceptance – We gain new perspective, peace settles in and though slowly, we start moving forward.
You might not experience all of the above for the same duration or intensity, but they will be present somewhere. The duration of the process also differs significantly from person to person and from situation to situation and thus the items should be viewed as guides through the process and not a fixed schedule.
It would be to our benefit to define the stages, realise what we are going through, properly work through each stage, deal with the emotions and remember that it’s a process and not a race. It also helps us to identify what our needs are during each stage of the process in order for our partners, family or friends to support and comfort us.
The stages are not intended to scare us. It is merely a tool to help us manage the stage that we are in and understand why we think and react the way we do. Take heart, the light at the end of the tunnel is knowing that the last stage is acceptance and that the process does not have to last forever. It is true that some aspects will never be forgotten, but hopefully through managing the process we can reach a point where painful moments can become beautiful memories.
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Give yourself a break and have some fun! Give yourself a break from whatever keeps you busy, even if you are the one giving yourself a hard time. We can so often become slave drivers to ourselves, not allowing for mistakes to be made or sufficient time to rest.
We cannot be the best version of ourselves, if we do not look after ourselves. It is not selfish, it is our responsibility. We need to look after our bodies and emotional well being so that we can be the best version of ourselves at work, socially or to our families. Sometimes we care so much about work, other people, our kids or our spouses that we forget to take time out for ourselves. At the end we become drained and a terrible version of ourselves and in actual fact, we only have ourselves to blame.
It might seem selfish to you if you do something relaxing like read a book, go for coffee with a friend or watch a movie by yourself, but in actual fact you are just giving yourself the reboot needed to be the best version of yourself for the rest of the week. In this way you feel appreciated and loved by yourself. It is surprising how much love we can show other people, but how little we sometimes show to ourselves.
It sounds strange, but it’s true. We need to show love to ourselves. You need to show yourself that you matter, that you are loved and appreciated. You were made to live life and life to the fullest. It is important that we find joy in our daily lives. This can be difficult if you are in a new country, but think of things that you enjoy and find something similar that you can do for yourself. Spoil yourself and go find some fun!