I was taught from a very young age that it is wrong to be selfish. Selfish people are bad people – they only care about themselves, disregard others’ needs and are spoilt. Simply put – be whatever you want to be, but do not be selfish.
This fear of being (or being seen as) selfish has been growing untamed over the past 30 years and only recently I realised how much it has affected me and my relationships with others. I have accepted bad friendships out of fear that demanding more from my friends would make me seem selfish. I have accepted poor treatment at work because demanding fair pay and fair workload would make me seem selfish. I have put people’s needs before mine, even when these people have been utterly unfair, abusive and selfish themselves. All out of fear of being selfish. All out of fear or feeling like a bad person in situations where any sane observer would have told me I was not in the wrong.
The older I get, the more I realise how selfish a lot of people around me are. My ‘best’ friend expected me to go on her lavish 30th birthday ski trip (I do not ski) but has never visited me in my new home country. My potential new employer wants me to sign an 18-month non-compete which effectively would mean I can never leave this company unless I move to a different continent but is unwilling to commit to anything beyond low salary for 6 months and hope that new clients will come and they will be able to pay me more in the future. People like to talk about being fair and reasonable but in reality this is only when it suits them and only when it benefits them.
The issue with trying not to be selfish when everyone around you is focussing on their own side of the story is that you end up allowing them to take advantage of you. Willingly and consciously I have continued relationships that left me deflated, personally attacked and honestly unhappy.
As much as I would love to say that undoing this mentality will be easy, nothing ever is. It is a work in progress and it is definitely a slow progress. I remind myself every day that I deserve to be treated with respect and I deserve fulfilling relationships and any relationships that does not meet this criteria need to either change or simply end. For a long time, looking out for my own needs would have made me selfish and I guess, if that’s what I think is selfish – it is OK to be selfish.