SELFISHNESS VS. SELF-LOVE
In my profession as a psychologist I have discovered many of my clients are struggling with the belief they are selfish. When I asked them what it means for them to be selfish, I usually get the same response, “I can’t say no to others, that would be selfish.” They explain that they have been raised and taught by their parents/caregivers that while being kind and forgiving, they must always think of others before themselves. To insure the needs of others are met before their own. The choice to put their needs ahead of others led them down a path of feeling guilty and inadequate. Having that social expectation instilled in them at an early age, it appears to me that people have learned to believe that putting their needs ahead of others is an act of selfishness. I further asked my clients, “why can’t you give yourself the same consideration you so freely give others?” They often respond with a perplexed look, suggesting that question has never crossed their mind.
I explain to them how I see selfishness and self-love as being remarkably different. Selfishness is the act of taking from others, using others, and even abusing others, in order to get what we want without consideration for their wellbeing. Self-love is taking care of our needs and wants without taking advantage of others in the process. And to be clear, the act of taking care of our needs, which might mean the needs of another may not be immediately met, does not make us neglectful or abusive. We are only at our best to serve others once our needs have been met.
When my clients find themselves facing the dilemma of distinguishing between whether their next choice is self-love or selfishness, I encourage them to ask themselves, “am I taking from others when I tell someone, no? If I decline to do what others want, am I abusing them?” I emphasize how important it is to recognize the need to be comfortable enough with ourselves to truly understand our individual needs and wants. Through therapy, for the first time my clients begin to pay attention to themselves and their needs. Something that perhaps has never been a part of who they are until that moment.
Putting your needs before others is not selfish. Being in tune with your feelings, and honoring your emotions is self-love. This is not something that will come easily, especially if for most of your life you have had to ignore your feelings, wants and needs to accommodate someone else.
I have witnessed the change and growth of many people in therapy as they began to discover themselves in ways they never imagined possible. I assure you that the more you practice self-love, it will soon become a healthy habit that will ultimately lead you to a more rewarding and fulfilling life. Over time, the feelings of guilt and inadequacy for putting yourself ahead of others will be replaced with inner peace and well-being.
Dr. Cristina Gómez, Psy.D.