yet another entry on the nature of selfishness

This might skirt into the land of narcissism, but in my limited experience, I have found that most egoists are riddled with self-doubt rather than confidence. Maybe a few narcissists out there are genuinely confident in their abilities, but I haven’t run across them yet.

When we say ‘selfish’, we mean putting our own needs above others. I hate to shock you horribly, dear reader, but we all have to be selfish to some degree. When we are hungry, there almost certainly is someone else who is hungry also. By eating first, in a way, you are putting your own needs above theirs. Unfortunately millions of people go hungry every day, so most would consider this act not of ‘selfishness’ but of basic survival. If you don’t feed yourself, how will you be able to help those others who are hungry, after all?

Yet the line is again unclear. You could say that selfishness is when we put our own needs above others when the other people have greater need. The problem still remains, we need to provide for ourselves in order to exist. The reason we have the desire to help others is so that they may exist.

And here is, therefore, where I find the line personally. The line between self-care and selfishness is if you treat yourself as another person or as a better person than everyone else. Would you hate someone else for being slightly awkward in a social conversation at three in the morning? Would you hate someone for taking a night off to relax? Would you hate someone else for being potentially* obnoxious at lunch? Maybe, but likely far less than you feel towards yourself.

The uncomfortable fact is that we care about ourselves. We care about our own opinions and livelihoods. Thinking and acting on what we care about isn’t selfish, it means being a normal individual.

Again, here is where I reach out from my armchair to make broad generalizations about people, and I welcome a different perspective, but there tends to be a connection in that those who are selfish probably don’t engage in a lot of self-care. This feels counterintuitive, I grant.

By self-care, I mean being emotionally and physically responsible for your own well-being. This may mean taking a shower, getting enough sleep, eating well, or facing down a mysterious figure from your past. It means knowing where your limits are while pushing towards your goals. Selfishness, on the other hand, usually comes about as a result of psychological mismanagement.

Take the stereotype of the suburban neighborhood pest who is an envious self-absorbed prat. In this imaginary scenario, Neighbor Chad doesn’t seem to care about others and consistently hypes up his own baked goods while putting down other’s hard work. Why does he do this? Consider Neighbor Chad is insecure. He knows Sally Ann down the way has far superior blondies, but he doesn’t want to admit so because he has built up his confidence based upon the assumption that he is a good neighbor. He doesn’t want people to look down on him. He wants to fit in. Perhaps other factors in his life are making him feel like he didn’t reach his full potential, and he has bandaged his pride in said baked-good outlet.

At the end of the day, the man is still a prat. There is an instinct there to argue that everyone has had their pride damaged, and being a hypocrite is still an unfair practice. We have social sanctions and rules for a purpose, living in a community demands some standards. But everyone has some part of their life that they struggle with, and for Neighbor Chad, that struggle is pride and self-worth.

That very struggle, at its core, is the inability to care for oneself, to know when you need to push for greater things and take out your struggles in better ways. It’s self-control, but self-control requires knowing when to step away and when to step forward. And that takes time, as well as the all-important ability to have healthy connections with other people.

In sum, selfishness is a tricky fellow to pin down. It’s always more complicated a situation than we think. We all make mistakes and we all make a fool of ourselves, the trick is how we handle ourselves in the aftermath of these normal standard errors.

thinking about positive affirmations

Here are some positive affirmations I found:

I am a diamond. It is time for me to shine.

My opinion matters.

I am a magnet for love.

Self-love is a natural state of being.

I am loved and I am wanted.

The site I got them off of has a massive list of all sorts of positive affirmations, these are some of the self-love ones. I guess half of me was curious about the process of positive affirmation and the other half was frustrated with myself for procrastinating. However, as I was reading some of these, I began to feel uncomfortable.
“I am a diamond. It is time for me to shine,” doesn’t that sound self-centered? I realized it was aimed at self-love, but it put me off balance. Growing up, I was taught that the highest form of good a human can do is to serve others. Focusing on yourself was a risky path down to the way of being selfish.
Even “I am a magnet for love”, and “I am loved and wanted”, these two involve other people. It’s like game theory, you can’t map everything out on your own because there are other player’s strategies you need to keep in mind. And deep inside of me, it felt wrong.
Not all affirmations make me uncomfortable or angry, but these particular ones did to a certain degree, and I was trying to figure out why. The answer is relatively straight forward: maybe I don’t love myself enough.
But the question goes deeper, because what does it mean to love yourself? Why do simple phrases get under our skin?
When we compliment other people, we say similar sorts of things without thinking, “Oh my goodness, you’re a Queen”, or “You have so much potential, don’t sell yourself short!”. In those situations, it’s usually clear: this individual being someone of worth is independent of everyone else’s worth. Person A is absolutely lovely, kind, intelligent, funny, and they are all of this without making Person B less kind, intelligent, etc. They are two separate people, and we recognize that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.
Something like, “I am a diamond” insinuates that your own life should be valued more than others. But also: does it?
A lot of the value of a diamond comes from the people who value it, who wear it. It’s a symbol of a bond typically. As living human beings, we exist in networks. There are people who value us, who like us near them. Our personalities in some way are the result of the bonds we have with other people.
As for “I am loved”, and “I am wanted”, these things are easy to doubt. By definition, you aren’t the other people around you. How can we ever be sure we are loved and wanted? Most people assume there aren’t psychic connections or body swapping magics we can turn to.
But this also has caveats we overlook. If you love yourself, if you want yourself, then you are loved and wanted. We need other people, but we don’t need the same exact people every day of our lives.
Sure, we have issues. We can be frustrated and wish we were physically different, mentally stronger, more adept, etc. But this doesn’t mean we can’t love ourselves through that. When we love someone, that doesn’t mean we are okay with what the other person does 100% of the time. Sometimes we can really dislike someone, but we fundamentally love them. The same can be true with yourself.
Self-love is more about being comfortable with the decisions you’ve made. It’s about having hope that tomorrow you’ll be better. It’s like any other relationship, you spend special time, you get gifts, you listen, you communicate (via introspection), and so forth. It’s being committed to making the life you live the best it can be.
Saying you are worthy of love doesn’t suddenly make you unworthy of love. Instead, it actually makes us more likely to love others. If you don’t need to spend all of your energy worrying about your image, about feeling shame over your choices, then you can live a better life for both you and those around you. Self-love isn’t being self-centered, it’s about being comfortable enough in your own skin that you can focus on others in the first place.

 

So yes, it feels weird at first, but say positive affirmations about yourself. Understand why you’re feeling uncomfortable, and why you’re saying it in the first place.