Selflessness vs Selfishness


Over the years, I’ve noticed that those with an inclination towards healing work (like myself) often grapple with a tendency to allow the care of others to overtake the care of themselves. They're often referred to as *selfless* which is defined as:

concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own; unselfish

In our society being *selfless* tends to be placed up there on the high altar of *the right way to be* whilst being *selfish* is deemed the darth vadar (evil) to selflessness’ skywalker (good).

Reality, however, is rarely so black and white and yet again through hard learned lessons (as tends to be the case with me…stubborn old goat that I am) I’ve come to realise that, to be a truly effective healer you have to re-frame both selflessness and selfishness as traits which of themselves span a spectrum from positive through to negative.

For example, reserving as much time and space for your own healing as you allocate for the healing of others in order to be well and effective can be a positive form of selfishness, whilst giving of your energy on an empty tank to the detriment of your health can be a negative form of selflessness.

There is even an argument that all forms of selflessness are ultimately driven by a selfish motive because being selfless feels good but I think that might be a whole other blog post!

Like many a well-meaning parent, my mother drilled in to LJ and I the mantra *put others first* (more specifically in Japanese “think of others first”) which is hardly surprising given the role model she had in my Japanese grandmother. By all accounts she was *selfless to a fault*, consistently putting the needs/well being/reputation of others above her own well being and needs. Sadly, she died only 60-ish years young and I have to wonder how much of her selflessness was driven by conditioning and the idea that to put yourself first is somehow terribly selfish and wrong.

So how do you free yourself from this martyrdom of selflessness ? Whilst acknowledging that it’s not easy to overcome the guilt that comes with putting yourself first, particularly given this background of consistently modeled *selflessness is good* behaviour handed down through the generations, perhaps the first step is to try to re-frame these concepts as neither all good nor all bad.

One method which I've found effective for letting go of the guilt surrounding putting yourself first is to rephrase *selfish* as *self-care*, because *care* and *caring* have good connotations and make it easier to feel positive about looking after yourself.

Ultimately, each one of us has to find our own unique balance between looking after and nurturing ourselves and others and there is no perfect *one size fits all* answer.

I try to keep in mind that, much like those air safety run downs prior to take-off where passengers are advised to put their life vests on in an emergency, the instructions always specify that you should put your own life vest on first before turning to help others.

Big love

Anna xx