One of the questions I often hear from my clients is, "If I take care of myself and do what brings me joy, aren't I being selfish?"
Let's take a close look at this false belief.
Allison is a very bright and vital woman. She grew up in a family that valued women who stayed at home raising their children. Not wanting to be judged or rejected by her family, Allison followed in her mother's footsteps, giving up her budding career in TV advertising to get married and have children. Allison became a "good" mother — driving her kids everywhere, going to PTA meetings, showing up at all her kid's events, and doing volunteer work. There was nothing inherently wrong with any of this, except that Allison felt trapped, unhappy and angry much of the time. Allison really wanted to be expressing herself in the world in some way, but believed that it was her obligation to stay at home with her children.
The problem is that an unhappy, angry, irritated mother is not a good mother. And Allison is going to continue to feel irritated and angry as long as she is not doing what really brings her joy.
"But if I go back to school, which is what I really want to do, aren't I being selfish? Since I chose to get married and have children, don't I owe it to them to be here for them as much as I can?"
"No, not if it means giving yourself up and being miserable. Not if it means giving to them out of obligation. They will not benefit from this. They want you to be happy, and they need you to be a role model for taking personal responsibility for your own happiness.
You will find that if you do what is really loving to you, they will benefit as well. They might not like it in the short run, because they are used to you being there all the time, but in the long run, they will turn out to be happier and healthier adults."
Chad is a medical doctor who works long hours to support his family. He is not happy working so hard. He comes home exhausted, and then takes care of various household chores so his sons can have the time to play sports and do their homework. He has no time for himself. He is often short-tempered with his wife and children. He wants time to ride his bike and to pursue his love of writing.
"But if I work less and we have less money, aren't I being selfish? Don't I owe it to my family to keep up their standard of living? Aren't I being selfish if I expect my kids to do the chores in addition to doing their sports and their homework?"
"No, you owe it to yourself and your family to be a happy, peaceful and fulfilled person. The very best thing you can give to your family is your happy and joyful presence."
We are being self-responsible rather than selfish when we take loving care of ourselves.
We are being selfish when: