Thursday, January 14, 2016

Are You Self-Centered?

Ever since I discovered Louise Hay half an year ago, I've been trying to work on my self-esteem. Yet, after months of ups and downs, I have to tell you, I'm still struggling with the concept of self-love.  Pretty much everyday, in fact.  I often find it a struggle to reconcile the idea of self-love with the seemingly universal "truth" that being self-centered is bad and that you should always be selfless.  Isn't it what every "good" person is supposed to do?  If I take attention away from my family in order to do inner soul searching, does that make me a "bad" person?

I was listening to a talk by Alan Watts on love, and I had a moment - a brief moment - of clarity.  I saw myself as a puppy, chasing its own tail.  I've been told that I am perfect exactly the way I am, so I've been chasing this image of a "perfect" self that I keep glancing out of the corner of my eye so that I can embrace it.  Yet all I'm doing is going around in circles, making myself all dizzy and confused.  I'm "copying the symptoms", as Watts said, of the self-assured person but I'm not getting anywhere because copying and being are two different things.  For example, you can decide to become more generous and give a gift to someone.  But if you consciously or subconsciously expect something in return (a thank you note, a tax write-off, or even a smile), are you really being generous?  That kind of generosity is different from the generosity of someone who can walk away unperturbed even when the gift is rejected unceremoniously.

So, copying the symptom of Louise Hay and other self-help gurus apparently isn't going to lead me to true self-acceptance.  What then?  I think it would be better if I could just stop chasing my own tail and sit down.  Sit down on that perfect little tail of mine and know that I'm already attached to it, that perfection is already part of me and it's not going anywhere.  What's necessary is a new way to look at myself.  A new way to define what it means to be self-centered and to be selfless.

Rather than equating being self-centered with being selfish, and being selfless with being saintly, let's take those words literally.  Meaning, being centered within yourself for "self-centered" and thinking less of yourself for "selfless".  Rather than being swayed by the opinions of others and then judging yourself for not being able to meet their standards, listen to them respectfully but decide for yourself whether those opinions and starndards serve you well. 

Let's go back to the issue of generosity, for example.  Conventional wisdom says that selfless people give, give, give, while selfish people take, take, take.  But the truth is, givers are always receiving something when they give, and receivers are always giving something when they receive.  The seemingly stingy person is still giving you a gift!  I mean, who hasn't received a gift that you didn't really need or want purely because the "selfless" gifter felt obligated to buy you something for a certain occasion?  How much better it would have been if the person could have just faced the fear of appearing stingy and given you the gift of an uncluttered home!  Instead, what really happens is that the receiver now feels that he/she is in the "lesser" position so must repay the debt in order to feel better.  And the game of "who's more selfless?" continues.

My personal struggle with self-acceptance is with meeting my own needs and desires while also meeting my family's needs.  I have 3 young children, a husband, and a dog who all need love and attention from me, which really doesn't leave much time for myself.  At the same time, I know that I need to have my own life.  My mother was a full time mom, and when I was younger, I used to believe that the measure of her success depended on how well my brother and I turned out.   I don't think that way now, but I do remember how much pressure it used to put on my shoulders.  I don't want my children to feel that way.  So, I need to establish an identity other than just being a mom, but that means I can't always meet my children's needs and wants.  This scares me!!  What if my kids grow up and tell me that I was a neglectful, selfish mom?!

But that's a risk I'm going to have to take.  My children are free to judge me however they like.  If they end up thinking that I was a horrible mother, they have the right to do so.  And I also have the right not to judge myself through their eyes, or anyone else's.  I have the right to believe that I am teaching them independence rather than being neglectful.  I have the right to believe that I'm teaching them to respect themselves as well as others by showing them that I have needs of my own and I respect them.  It seems so paradoxical that in order to help my children, I would need to do what seems like the opposite of what I ought to be doing.  But that's the nature of things.  Givers are also receiving, receivers are also giving.  We are all perfect and flawed at the same time.  And understanding THAT may be the key that finally opens the door of self-acceptance for me.