I think one of the most insidious things we get told as young girls and children is that we’re selfish. For women and AFAB people, we’re constantly expected to be these nurturing, giving, and unconditionally loving beings. We’re complimented on how giving we are and praised when we have little to know needs.
Sure, non-women/AFAB folks get taught this by parents unable to communicate and be emotionally present. But we get told this in spades through society, religion, cultures, and yes, our parents. It’s frustrating, isn’t it?
I think about the amount of things I’ve not given myself, the time I’ve given, things I’ve denied myself, boundaries I didn’t set, opportunities I didn’t take that all revolved around one fear…
Fear of being seen as selfish.
Even those of us who have felt not good enough or lacking in some way I can still see an opposing fear of being selfish. Hell, sometimes the not good enough is subconsciously put in place to mask the fear of being selfish. It’s there often because at some point we were told that we were selfish or acting selfishly. We didn’t know what that meant exactly but we knew it was bad!
We knew selfishness was something you never wanna be. It means your outcast and tossed aside. It means you don’t belong and one of our core emotional needs is to belong.
But what does it really mean to be selfish? Like what’s the definition of it?
Well selfish means — concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.
So, was that really you as a kid when you asked for things or wanted attention, time, to fit in and be heard?
I don’t think it was.
I remember being little and getting told by my mom that I was selfish for wanting toys, different foods from the grocery store, clothes, to do a dance class, or get music lessons.
I wanted those things to fit in with other kids so I wouldn’t be bullied or cast aside. I wanted the food because I’d never gotten a say in what type of cereal or snacks, I ate. I often wasn’t given a snack, to begin with. I wanted the classes and lessons because I loved music, dance, and art so much and they filled my little soul with joy. I wanted to self-express and experience.
I wanted attention and connection because I wanted to feel love and matter to my mom instead of being ignored most of the time and then screamed at the rest of the time.
Based on that definition of selfish that’s not at all what I was. But that’s what I got called all the time. Sure, we had times of housing and resource insecurity, and it limited what was available. But was the best way of dealing with that to tell me I was selfish?
I don’t think so, in fact, I know it wasn’t because I look at times when my daughter Angel wanted things and if I couldn’t do, I calmly explained I didn’t have the money right then, but I get it when I could or I found a way to make it happen.
I’m not saying I gave Angel whatever they wanted. There were limits and boundaries but that was explained without shaming them.
A lot of us didn’t get that.
I know many friends and clients that were shamed for wanting as well. Told they wanted to be the center of attention when they wanted to be noticed all. Told they were too sensitive or annoying and to shut up when they needed comfort and again, selfish for wanting anything. Even the messages around attention and comfort built up a fear of selfishness.
The irony I’ve found about many parents that said these things is they tend to embody the definition of selfishness. They’re emotionally immature and stunted or just straight-up narcissistic.
The way they behaved or their lack of ability to be honest and present became our burden to hold, and we’ve carried it far too long.
I remember the last “conversation” I had with my mom when I told her I was pregnant. She screamed at me telling me she didn’t care if I killed myself and that I was worthless, I’d never achieve anything, children were a burden, and I was too selfish to raise one.
If she’d been honest and emotionally aware what she really would’ve said is:
“I regret becoming a mom because it’s not what I wanted, and I resent you for the fact that being a mom made me give up any dreams I had for myself, and I resent how ambitious you are because I know you can raise a child and still do what you want. That makes me angry because you can break free of what I never could.”
I didn’t get that honesty though and so I spent Angel’s childhood fearing being a selfish mom and denying myself most of what I wanted. I didn’t want her to be right and anytime I gave myself a little something I felt so much shame and guilt. I’d find some way to “punish” myself aka self-sabotage success in various areas of life to make up for my audacity to have that one little thing.
It was exhausting and when I finally faced the belief that I was selfish I started to feel this invisible chain I’d wrapped around my heart break.
I faced every part of me that was holding onto this irrational fear of being punished for wanting and showed these parts that they were safe. I taught these parts how to allow themselves to ask for things and receive in the smallest bits. That has grown more and more and while it’s still scary at times, selfishness doesn’t rule my life.
I can’t even describe the weight that has been lifted from my body in releasing selfishness!
I did this by meeting my parts and giving them what they needed while learning to take up space again. I did that through speaking and expressing my needs, thoughts, wants, and desires to others and I did this through my body. I physically practiced taking up space through dance again and the more I did it just for me the more these parts of me let go and I could meet with the empowered parts of me.
The ones that have known all along I’m a loving, worthy, magical, witchy, badass bitch who has so much goodness in her heart and soul that it’s a crime to hide it!
I know selfishness can be a hard thing to overcome but I believe within the depths of my soul that you are also full of goodness and deserve to be free of that burden.
Take some time to ask yourself how much a fear of being selfish rules your actions, thoughts, and the way you live.
If you got told any of the things I mentioned or similar ask yourself “what would they have said if they’d been honest and emotionally aware?” That one blows the minds of my friends and clients when I ask it!
Ask yourself if you knew you deserved what would you do, ask for, allow, have, receive, etc.?
And for the love of goddess, practice, in little bits at first, taking up space! Do it with words and your body because both contribute to breaking free.