Trying To Be Selfish. Kind Of.

3 Oct

“I want you to be really really selfish…The more selfish and nurturing you can be for yourself, the by-product for those that you love or work that you do is greatly enhanced.”  -Greg Gumucio, Yoga to the People

People ask me for things, and because I’m codependent (recovering, though), I often say “Yes,” even if it means that doing this thing whatever it may be, will make me feel depleted and resentful and pissed off and did I mention depleted?  But every-so-often, or OK, maybe with some frequency, I will go through periods in my life, when I maybe wake-up one day and am like, “Huh.  I’m so not where I want to be or thought I’d be.”  Which sounds like a calm self-reflection, but is usually accompanied by some form of pain and sadness.  Or I’ll realize that I’m exhausted and depleted and as I look around to assess my circumstances, I see that they are in some degree of let’s say, shambles.  But people are still asking me for things.  So I have to start saying, across the board, “No.”  And I have to enter into a phase of total and complete selfishness where I must 100% focus on myself and my life and getting everything back together and on track.

This, initially, makes me feel bad.  It makes me feel selfish, and everyone knows that being selfish is bad.  We probably learned that sometime around age two when we were playing in the sandbox and didn’t want to share our shovel and pail, and then it continued and continues to be reinforced.  Selfish = Bad.  Don’t be that.

I have this strong, visceral, total body reaction to saying No to people’s requests, to disappointing people, to letting them down.  To seeming, in any way, the least teeny tiny bit selfish, to not being thought of as The Nicest Person In The World Who Is Always There To Help Others.  And when I have to do this, and let somebody down in some way in order to take care of myself, I will often feel shaky and sick to my stomach.

But, luckily, there are times when I have no choice.  When myself and my life desperately need to be attended to, and to do this I just have to be selfish, no matter what.  And I have to sit with these awful, uncomfortable feelings about how no one is ever going to like me ever again if I am not always helpful and giving.

It usually goes like this:  first, in crisis management mode, I just have to say No to everyone and everything indiscriminately.  Then I start to feel like maybe I’m getting back on track and beginning to have more energy, so I can start to be giving again.  But I can’t then just indiscriminately say Yes to everything, or I will quickly get thrown back into the same rut I’ve been trying to dig myself out of.  I have to sit with requests.  So someone will ask me for something, and I have to slow down the process.  Instead of bursting out with an immediate, compulsive Yes, I check-in with myself and see if I really want to give this thing and if doing so will make me feel good and happy and fulfilled, or if I want to say Yes just to please someone or be The Nicest Person In The World, but I really don’t have the reserves for it, and doing it will make me feel depleted and resentful and pissed off and did I mention depleted?  I have to kind of play it out in my mind and tap into what I ‘ll feel like after I’ve given in this way.

And slowly, over time, I can start to give more and more, but only as much as I can without depleting myself.  This means that sometimes I have to experience the discomfort of being selfish and letting people down and not living up to their or even my own expectations of myself.  But the alternative is much worse.  Have you ever tried giving generously, selflessly to others while your life is crumbling around you?  Yeah, it doesn’t feel so good.

And the point of the S-word is not to be selfish as the ultimate destination, and never give anything to anyone ever again.  It is a nurturing resting place, where you stop to get filled up when you are depleted.  Where you can put up walls, or as they say in codependency, boundaries, to protect all your energy from leaking out in service to others while you stumble further into exhaustion.  Where you can declare big ‘ol Time Out to just stop automatically indiscriminately responding to what everyone asks of you without giving yourself what you need let alone even knowing what that might be.  Where you are selfish to get yourself and your life back on track.  And then from that rejuvenated place, you will have the reserves that you need to contribute to the people you love and the work that you do and the world in meaningful ways that leave you feeling energized and excited and inspired instead of depleted.

What connotations do you associate with the word selfish?  How do you feel when you have to say No to someone’s request?  How do you decide how much you can give without depleting yourself?  And what helps make this process easier for you?

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2 Responses to “Trying To Be Selfish. Kind Of.”

  1. Rebecca Fowler October 4, 2010 at 11:13 am #

    I really identified with this post, Jen. I have to do the same thing – when I get to a certain point, I just have to start saying no. And I call it selfish, and the connotation is bad, even though I’m just taking care of myself. I feel like I’m a bad friend when I say no.

    Over the years, I’ve gotten better about it. And I recognize things I don’t want to do and I don’t bog my life down with forcing those things. But I continue to fight with where to draw the line. At what point am I clinging to a comfort zone rather than pushing through my own crap and reaching out?

  2. Jennifer Garam October 5, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Thanks Rebecca! I know, it can be difficult to figure out your own motivations for saying no to certain things, and to decipher whether it is out of a genuine need for self-care, or out of fear, a pattern, or clinging to your comfort zone. Good luck drawing the line in ways that are best for you!

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