Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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The word “selfish” has a bad press – how many times did our parents tell us “Don’t be selfish!”. The implication is that it is wrong to put ourselves before others, that our own needs are less important than those of others.
I think that we are inherently a selfish race and so it is important for us to learn that other people matter as much as we do, that their needs are important too. Hence the “don’t be selfish” message from our parents. It’s important to be able to look at the big picture, to see things from different perspectives, understand what is going on for other people as well as for ourselves.
But alongside that, we all need to look after ourselves, to make sure that our needs are met. People who are never selfish tend to end up being taken for granted and feeling used. So in the sense that selfish means “looking after myself”, selfishness is a good quality – indeed, an essential one. Often, those messages from our parents leave us feeling guilty about being selfish when actually we should be proud of being selfish – to the right degree.
I remember reading a piece once from a writer who coined the word “self-ful” in an attempt to describe the act of looking after oneself in an appropriate way. Thinking about one’s own needs whilst being mindful of others, I suppose.
Some people seem never to think about themselves, or if they do, it is only to remind themselves that other people have more urgent or more important needs to be met. And there is reward to be gained from such an attitude, a bit like those ascetic monastic orders who deprive themselves of all worldly pleasures. It is a sort of martyrdom, but often one which is not expressed, so that other people don’t necessarily appreciate the sacrifices that are constantly being made.
What I’ve seen from some clients – very unselfish clients – is that their needs seem to build up to the point where, like a caldera, they need to find an outlet. This can, like a volcano, be a violent eruption. People can suddenly leave apparently happy relationships after 20 or more years, or splash out thousands of pounds on a sports car, or adopt a new career that represents a complete lifestyle change. Sometimes the outlet is not a volcanic explosion but a gradual seepage – a secret activity conducted over many years – a long-term affair, grabbing a cigarette in private when the opportunity is there, using pornography, transvestism.
Whether it’s an eruption or a seepage, the discovery of the outlet usually causes shockwaves in a relationship. “I never realised that you were unhappy” is a common reaction from the unselfish person’s partner. But in the aftermath of the shock, comes the opportunity to do things differently. The relationship can be re-set, and the words “I want….” might even be heard.