Living Selfishly

I'm referred to as selfish regularly, several times a week on average. I am however in the very early stages of divorce proceedings and I'm told that this comes with the territory. What these accusations have done however, is give me the inclination to consider selfishness on a more personal level, and I've dedicated many recent meditations to considering whether selfishness should really be treated with the disdain that it is, or whether, in fact, it's almost essential to our happiness and well-being. At what point does being selfish cease to be about failing to protect or nurture others, to their detriment and harm, and become a simple matter of self preservation?
Let's look first at the straight forward Oxford dictionary definition of the word, selfish.

Selfish: An adjective of a person, action, or motive. Lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure. 
I would never go so far as to condone a lack of consideration for other people. When we act selfishly (and as I'll argue shortly, sometimes we have to), we often put ourselves above the wants and needs of others, but there is a difference, I believe, in prioritising yourself, and setting out to harm. Never set out to harm, and where you can be considerate of the feelings of other human beings, do. However, what is important, is recognising when you can't or don't want to put others before yourself, and realising that that's OK. 
Here are my "rules" for selfish living; not hurtful living, which is an entirely separate set of behaviours that have no place on this blog.
  • Listen to your heart. It's the oldest and arguably most clichéd piece of advice, but it's as real as the socks on your feet (if you're wearing any, if not, it's October for goodness sake, put some socks on.) Sometimes you can do nothing to navigate your way through life but stop and ask yourself whether something feels right. If something doesn't feel right, you might have to act selfishly to stop it from happening. That might mean failing to cover for a friend, or not accompanying them to an event that you don't want to go to, or it might mean even more than that. If something feels right, and I mean really truly feels right, but pursuing it would mean putting your own happiness above that of others - then that is what you have to do. 
  • Sometimes it's going to suck. Acting selfishly usually means disappointing someone at best, sometimes it means breaking their heart. It's not going to feel empowering, or liberating, every time; sometimes you're not going to feel strong and unbreakable and suddenly go Beyonce on everyone's arse - you'll probably cry, and you'll be overcome with guilt, and shame, and there'll be a generous dollop of self loathing in there for a time too. It's OK. Just because you feel awful, doesn't mean you did the wrong thing, it's just that doing the right thing for you, often means doing the wrong thing for someone else; and we're overly conditioned to believe that that makes us terrible people. Allow yourself the time and space to work through your own emotions. Meditate. Relax.
  • Recognise that love is selfish. It is almost impossible to love selflessly, we fall in love for our own pleasure, and we go on loving for our own pleasure, and we fall out of love when our pleasure is not maintained. If anything, love is the most selfish of human behaviours and also, at the same time, the most beautiful. Of course this is true for all forms of love, other than perhaps parental love, and it is not an argument against love - you must love - you must love passionately and deeply and with every fibre of your being - but it's bloody selfish to do so - enjoy it!
  • Be kind. There will come times in life when you have no choice but to be selfish or desperately miserable. Choose selfish, but know that in doing so, you may let down family, friends, a lover, even your own children. Be kind to those who suffer as a result of your selfishness. They may respond in anger, confusion, sadness, or dismay, and it is always best to allow them their feelings, forgive them their reactions, and step away calmly. Just because you had to act with your own interests at heart and not theirs, doesn't mean you're "in the wrong"; you don't have to apologise, just be humble, and be kind.
  • Be kind to yourself. Don't beat yourself up. You were put on this planet to survive - that is the sole reason that you appeared, and the sole reason that you are still here. Your "role" as a creature on Earth is not to die, despite the fact that your death is inevitable (thanks life.) You are hard-wired to protect yourself, and when you do so, you display natural, human behaviour. Protecting yourself emotionally is as vital as protecting yourself physically, and you must do what makes you happy when you can, failing to do so will impact monumentally on your health. You are not a bad person for seeking happiness. You don't have to give up on happiness for the sake of other people. Please be kind to yourself and remember, allow yourself time and space, just as you would a friend going through a difficult time, don't be horrible. 
  • Don't apologise all of the time. My best friend is Indian, and is thoroughly amused by the regularity with which British people apologise. Generally speaking she's referring to when we bump in to people in the street, or bosh someone with a shopping trolley in the pizza aisle, but it's true that we're a nation of guilty conscious apologisers. Acting selfishly might cause other people to hurt, but it is not always a hurtful act. Making yourself the person that bends over to say sorry for wanting to be happy sends out a message that your happiness is worth less than theirs.
  • Don't be a mug. People who say "yes" to everything may be described by their friends and family as "kind", "helpful" and "generous", you know the people, the "oh there's nothing she wouldn't do for you" people. However, what those people are also doing by "yessing" everything, is saying "I'm only worth as much as I can do for you." Say "No", let people know (and by people I very much mean children too) that there are things you want to do, and there are things you don't want to do, and that they don't hold in their hands the power to make you say "Yes" to something that makes you unhappy. 
  • Teach your children to be selfish. I often tell my son that he can't do something because I don't want to do it. I tell him that he can't listen to what he wants to listen to in the car, because I want to listen to something else. Sometimes he goes to a babysitter, not because I am caught in an unavoidable situation wherein I am forced to ask someone else to look after him... but because I've made plans that don't involve him. Make no mistake, I would die for my son in a single blink if it came down to it, I'm a nurturing and involved Mother, I do things with my son, I encourage his interests, I go and watch him play football, have horse riding lessons, look for creatures on a windswept beach; it's not that I don't live life with my son. However, I want him to grow up knowing that his Mother is a person; she works, she has friends, she pursues her own interests. I hope that one day he will remember, when he's in an adult relationship, that the man or woman who helps him to raise his children, should he have any, also works, has friends, and has interests that are worth pursuing, and that he doesn't grow up with this idea that the people who love him should bend to his every whim, or that of my grandchildren.

If you make no other changes today, simply stop, and reflect upon whether there is anyone that you are putting before yourself, that is causing you upset or harm. Perhaps your children are taking your efforts for granted at home - but you don't want to upset them, or your partner isn't pulling their weight but you don't want to start an argument. Be selfish today, say "No", do something that you want to do and let the rest of them sort themselves out; I promise you won't regret it. 

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