Why selfishness is underrated in relationships.
I had a lovely talk with a friend a few days ago which made me stop in my tracks and gave me cause for thought. Do we undervalue our need to be selfish in relationships? Also, with the current climate in today’s society what are our self perceptions of selfishness? Are we too critical of ourselves in 2019? Or are we under critical of ourselves? It all started with the idea that my friend was worried that she may be coming across as too demanding to her partner, and was at the same time stifling her needs to make way for his. I can see how this plays out, it’s an all too familiar song that I’ve sung too many times myself, but in the gender reverse. Me being the man that puts his needs on the line for his lady.
Selfishness is actually a good thing in relationships
I’ve grown immensely with Natalie over the span of our eleven year relationship. In my previous relationships I was always putting their needs before mine. I can remember being the metaphorical whipping boy for my girl friends until they grew tired of me and moved on to the next unlucky soul. I can remember at the time feeling resentful that I was servicing all of their needs whilst mine weren’t being met. Of course I didn’t know at the time how to properly communicate that to them, or even know that my needs weren’t being met — I just knew that I was one unhappy chappy at the end of it all.
It all changed with Natalie, though. She brought with her a strange mixture of complete empathy and compassion for me, so much so that I mostly feel happy in our relationship, but at the same time she is absolutely not afraid to tell me when her needs are not being met.
About eight years ago, into the second year of our Marriage and still in the honeymoon phase — I had just bought our first ever smartphones. One for me, and one for Natalie. I couldn’t contain my level of excitement, because anyone that knows me will know how much of a tech geek I am. When they were delivered, I ran home after work and went straight upstairs to unpack them and set them up. After an hour of fiddling about with them I came down to a very unhappy wife. Normally, she’s used to opening the door to a smiling me, a big kiss, and then we would talk about our days, whilst jiggling Alex on our laps if he was awake.
“Oi! Where’s my hello? Where’s my kiss? Do you know you just barged past me and went right upstairs without saying a proper hello?”
It stopped me in my tracks but she was totally right. She wanted that need met, and she wasn’t afraid to ask for it. And that’s the good thing about her, she’s not afraid to tell me when I’m missing the mark. If I was in her situation back then I would have just let it fester and build up until I exploded in a rage over practically nothing.
This is where I began reflecting on the need to be selfish. If I wasn’t selfish then I wouldn’t get my needs met. And that’s asking for a whole lot of trouble.
Balance is great! Selfishness AND compassion.
A very wise person once told me that balance is the key to most things in life. And if I don’t have my own needs fulfilled then how am I going to go about helping others with theirs? Or more to the point, how can I teach others about happiness if I don’t know what it’s like to be happy? You see?
I’m hardcore selfish now. I recognise why it’s important to be selfish. Why it’s important to have my own needs fulfilled before I start working on anyone else’s. But then again I’m hardcore empathetic and compassionate. I’ll be the first one to stop and help, and try and understand. The key is to maintain the balance. I’ve heard people say, “too much of one side isn’t a good thing” — and that’s true for everything. Take alcohol for example. Too much alcohol can kill, but if taken moderately with regular breaks in between then it can be a relaxing experience.
Our self perception of selfishness
Personally I feel being selfish has too much negativity attached to it. I’ve never talked to anyone about being selfish without it being a negative conversation. When we talk about being selfish we attach it to traits like cheating, narcissism, lying, etc. But when we do that we miss the benefits of what being selfish can actually help us achieve in life. If I didn’t slow down, start being selfish, and begin working on myself, then I wouldn’t have developed the skills to help other people. One needs to understand the true effects of how we feel inside and how that impacts our world view.
I was brought up to think that selfishness was the embodiment of evil, that for even suggesting to think about myself for a moment was to end up like my father. You see, my mum thought that my dad was a selfish man, and she was right, he was, but in her attempt to not have me turn out like him, I in turn ended up putting my needs last. I couldn’t understand that thinking of myself first was a good thing. What I needed to understand that dad was too much selfish, in that he would walk over anything in his path, and say anything to anyone to get what he wants. I needed a good balance of selfishness with ethics and a well grounded personal code of conduct.
Realistically everyone is selfish. If you think about life, the world is but a plethora of self-perceptions, tainted with the experiential selfishness of our own thoughts and feelings.
Are we being too critical?
Yes. We are.
Duties that were seen as honorable thirty years ago are looked over by disdain now. I was brought up to protect and provide for my family, but everyone seems to be wrapped up in providing for the masses these days. There is a tainted taste to the selfishness of only providing for yourself and your immediate’s.
To be virtuous in 2019 one must care about a plethora of activist issues or be slung from the group think mentality on both sides of the thought spectrum — and I fear this is having a harmful effect on our society, and even deeper in the way we process our thoughts and feelings.
To put it more clearly, fast movements in user-based technology has opened us up to a far wider spectrum of world events than I think our minds are ready to cope with. When you had to wait years to hear from someone you met on holiday — today you can reconnect with them as soon as you get home.
Information is fast paced, in copious amounts, and some of us are wearing the problems of the world on our shoulders. It’s not a healthy way to live.
Why do I go down this route? Well, with the negative slant of selfishness, and with all that’s going on in the world, and no doubt one of your friends are talking about it, it can often be difficult to detach. We can guilt ourselves into caring for these things, when it’s perfectly acceptable to take a step back and only work on yourself. Too much caring is a bad thing too. Think of it in terms of War. A country that has all it’s soldiers out helping the poorer countries then leaves its own bases unattended are rife for ransacking by enemies. A crude example but my point still remains.
A certain amount of selfishness is healthy.
Just don’t walk over people with it! Learn the balance between selfishness and empathy and that should set you on a good path to a happy life.