Teresa Brooks Life Coaching

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Selflessness versus Selfishness

Recently, I had a discussion about selflessness versus selfishness. So that we are all on the same page, I am going to  define selfishness as, being devoted to or caring only for oneself, one’s welfare or one’s own interests. 

So, to be unselfish, the implication is that one must make space in one’s life for the care, welfare and interests of others, to some degree. And therein lies the sticking point; to some degree.

Who sets the unselfishness standards? Are you unselfish if you spend 50% of your time on yourself and 50% on others? Does it depend on whether you have a family or a full time job etc. ?

Many religious traditions promote unselfishness as a virtue to be aspired to. Some societies reward unselfishness with praise and flattery. If unselfishness is so prized and promoted, why does it cause so many problems?

Women, my age, have been socialised to be ‘ unselfish’. The criticism, ” How can you be so selfish! ” makes many women (and  men too) cringe. The trouble is that there is no reliable measure of unselfishness. Not wanting to be selfish because it is ‘ so-o-o bad’, the person being criticised is pulled back into line and back under the control of the criticiser. For some people, this socialisation translates into becoming Pleasers. They are not pleasers when they want to be pleasers but as a way of keeping the peace and avoiding criticism.

Consider a form of selflessness that does not put you at the beck and call of another without any regard for yourself. A person who knows his/her own limits, that is to say, how much they are prepared to give graciously or enthusiastically or even dispassionately, leaves a much different emotional ‘footprint’.

Let’s say that compassion is the quality in question when you are deciding how selfless you are prepared to be.

Check your level of compassion. This may sound like an odd thing to do at first but I’m sure you have all experienced more compassion on some days than on others. So, if there is only 10% compassion available on a particular day, give what you are able from that amount without emptying the supply. On another day, there might be 65%. How much to give of that amount is your decision. Standing up for yourself, knowing what you are able to give, is the best gift to another and in my opinion, the mark of a person accessing the truth or their own power. It is an honest transaction. Under these conditions, you add value to your giving because you give gladly or with a sense of lightness or even fun!

Not caring for yourself is not selfless. It is damaging and disrespectful.

If the ‘selfish’ criticism is biting or you are sick and tired of giving while feeling resentful, consider it an opportunity  to examine your responses/behaviour. Shine a light on what is really happening and find that part of you that is in need of some TLC- love and appreciation. This is the silver lining. This is  the positive side of what appears to be a negative situation. Here is your chance to strengthen your relationship with yourself and your consciousness. Which course of action will you take?

Selflessness is an honourable quality. It is the stuff of amazing acts of heroism. When it is self directed or inspired by the plight of others, we are often in awe.

Become your own hero. Be inspired enough to stand up for that part of  yourself that needs your care. Be honest about your level of commitment because giving with an open heart is truly rewarding for you and for others. Most importantly, how you care for yourself and what you believe about yourself has lasting effects. When you believe that you are okay, then nothing anyone else says will disturb your peace of mind.

Be your own hero, your own best friend.

Be kind to yourself


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This entry was posted on August 5, 2013 by in Life questions, Relationships, Self-esteem.
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