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knightcore

selfless vs. selfish

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I feel like shit right now I don't really know how to cut it any other way. I was always brought up to put others before myself and how if I didn't it was ungodly and I'm dealing with so much right now since coming out and making it clear I'm not coming back to the faith. I feel so selfish for my choices and like I should have just shut up and gone along with things to help keep my family dynamics going, and to keep other people from being uncomfortable. But at the same time, that's not fair to me! Why should I always be the one to sacrifice? Why can't other people feel discomfort for once? Why can't my family compromise for me and be selfless too?

 

I have spent my ENTIRE life giving up things for my siblings, my parents, my church. I've been selfless. I don't want anything in return for that stuff. I just want one moment where I can try to blossom on my own, for my own good. But apparently I'm the only one who took selflessness so literally. And now I'm just a selfish bitch.

 

This might go in Rants and Replies, I'm sorry if I put it in the wrong category. I guess my overarching question is, do any of you deal with that too? Not just vague guilt but the specific nauseating feeling that you're not being selfless enough still? I can't shake it and I don't know if I ever will.

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My personal opinion would be that it's best to try to find some kind of balance. It is good to think of others and be selfless to an extent, but you shouldn't do so to the point of never considering your own needs. Just because we all detest self-centered jerks doesn't mean that we should never do anything for ourselves. Nobody should expect you to be constantly giving and doing things for them and never reciprocating.

 

Of course, that's easy to say, but I do understand that family dynamics can be very difficult. I wish you the best as you try to work through it all.

 

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The family issue is difficult.  It is why I still attend church and have not openly stated that I no longer believe - though it would take a particularly blind idiot not to work it out.

 

Anyhow, the bottom line is that only you can decide where the appropriate balance lies within your own family circumstance.  For me it's about protecting my wife; hence I go "so far and no further".

 

Put that aside, and stuff the lot of them.  "You're selfish" is a very useful mantra for those who want to enforce their views and practices on others.  It is, in fact, one element of tension between my wife and myself.  She thinks I should be a lot more accommodating towards others in the church.  I tell her I couldn't care less what they want me to do.

 

It's not selfish - at least, not in any pejorative sense - to want your own life back.  It is selfish to expect others to conform to your way of thinking.  Apply that to your circumstance and ask yourself "who is the selfish one"?  You may find that it your family who have this particular problem.

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I think everyone always does everything out of self interest.

 

One may please himself by buying himself a new car or take an exotic vacation, another feels more fulfilled and happy by helping someone else in need. Even if one performs a "selfless" act under pressure or duress, that person made the best choice for his own circumstance.

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Embrace your "selfishness."  You have at least as much of a right to happiness as the people you have been helping -- I would say more so, as it's your time and energy and not theirs.  If you've spent your whole life denying yourself, restore the balance by affirming yourself and putting yourself first, pursuing your own goals instead of those of other people.

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Fit well into your own tribe if you can. (Family and close friends) No man is an island. We do need each other. So it benefits us all when we 'give and take'. It's survival when we help each other. Just make sure you're not doing all the giving. It's OK to step back if you are the one doing all the giving. The comments above are wonderful. It's all about finding balance.

 

(hug)

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Focusing on selfish vs selfless causes too much dichotomous thinking. If you are worrying about it too much, it might be better to not focus on those concepts in your decision making process for a while. Disassociate "selfish and selfless" from being semi-synonymous with "immoral and moral." Believing that selflessness, in and of itself, is moral sets you up to be taken advantage of. If someone is using the accusation of "selfish" to get you to do things for them, they are the ones most likely being selfish. When you are constantly doing things for other people, they adapt the expectation that you should do those things. If you live your life thinking that selfish acts are immoral and selfless acts are moral, then you could end up becoming a selfish person's unpaid servant. The people you are helping tend to not feel gratitude, but rather that you should be selfless for their sake because it's just the way things are. This is just my personal experience from dealing with these issues in many, many people.

 

Anyway, your family is going to try to make you convert back to the faith because it's in their Christian programming to do so. There are many psychological tools that can be used to get you to go along with their wishes. Making you feel that you are being selfish and that selfishness is inherently bad is just one of them. The Christian guilt trip complex has worked for centuries.

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Pardon my ignorance, but how do I 'like' a post?

Lucy, I love what you've written. I agree: Selfish is their judgement based on what? On how it affects them? Hmm, sounds like the pot is calling the kettle black...

I think passing judgement on your own thoughts and behaviour based on what other people tell you is like letting someone into your own home and telling them to put all the furniture where they think it should go. I think passing judgement on anyone or anything (including ourselves) only ever leads to shame, fear, anger and despair, which is what got us into this mess in the first place, but that's another discussion.

I also think the idea of selflessness as a moral is a confusing one. Catholic teachings always told me I had to be selfless, as if prioritising my own needs takes the focus off my higher calling to serve others. It teaches me that I am loved and important, but that I certainly shouldn't act as if I think highly of myself, let alone think I have anything to offer but servitude.

Buddhism on the other hand seems to focus very heavily on the self as a priority - yet I wouldn't describe a Buddhist as selfish at all. They seem to focus initially on mastery of self - developing an awareness, knowledge and deeper understanding of self, as in who I am and what I am capable of. They concentrate on developing inner peace, on patience and integrity, and look much more broadly at self control than Catholics do. Self control in my education was always to do with sex, whereas for Buddhism I think it begins with controlling your breath, then your mind, and then your body.

For me, I try to remind myself every time I interact with people that I control only me - my breath, my mind and my body. Everything else requires a connection to other people that is based on interacting with kindness, gentleness and generosity (instead of 'selflessness'). But I have to know and be honest with myself and with other people about who I am, what I need, and what I can offer them before I can do this. If they're not ready to do the same, then I can't make them. But they also can't make me upset or angry, and they can't make me think or act against my awareness of who I am. Only I can do that.

Good luck with your family, knightcore. Look after yourself (your breath, your mind and your body), and then perhaps when (or if) they finally stop focusing on themselves, they might see a happy, healthy, and more genuine you, who is capable of giving generously on his own terms.

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There is an interesting contradiction of sorts in the morality of selflessness. After all, if it's in one's interest to sacrifice one's interest for others, then isn't what's good and bad forever shifting and impossible to pin down? If what's bad for you is suddenly good for you and what's good for you is bad for you, then what meaning do those terms have anymore?

If everybody is to sacrifice themselves for one another, why not just cut out the middleman and let everyone tend to the person they're closest to first – namely themselves?

 

If there really is a superintelligent being out there somewhere who can explain why it's bad to put oneself first and good to throw people into furnaces of fire, then perhaps he'll explain it to me one day.

But until that time, I think we have to look at it the other way round. Other people are great, and it's a wonderful thing to share experiences with them and help them attain happiness and receive their help, but up to a point.

For the time being, we're still separate persons experiencing life from separate viewpoints, and until the singularity comes, or God, that's how it's going to be.

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P.S. Seems you're not the only one. 

 

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