It is Not Selfish to Be Self-Compassionate
By Nate Terrell, LCSW
When I tell people I have written a book on achieving self-compassion, they often ask, “Isn’t it selfish to be self-compassionate?” I always respond that there is nothing selfish about being our own best friend, knowing we are inherently worthy, choosing happiness or enjoying the present moment, which are the cornerstones of self-compassion.
In contrast to self-compassion which is simply about treating ourselves well, selfishness is about being self-centered and meeting our needs at the expense of others. Selfish people put themselves first and are driven by self-preservation rather than fairness. Consequently, they feel a sense of entitlement which leads them to promote their interests even this causes others to suffer. In fact, many of the problems in this world are caused by the destructive behavior of selfish people who lack the empathy they need to be caring and sensitive human beings.
Self-compassion is vastly different from selfishness because it fills us with happiness and goodwill that we can pass onto others. Highly self-compassionate people live their lives with fulfillment rather than scarcity and therefore have no need to be self-centered or selfish in their quest to get their needs met. They know that they do not need to choose between being compassionate to themselves or others. They can do both at the same time and enjoy the rewards that both have to offer.
For much of my life, I too believed that it was selfish to focus on meeting my own needs and that the main purpose of life was to help others. Not surprisingly, I became a social worker which has brought great meaning into my life and taught me a lot about the keys to healing and personal growth. However, I routinely put my needs aside in my efforts to serve others which often led me to feel depleted or even burned out.
My conviction that I was responsible for happiness of others was challenged by my son, Darqui, who my wife and I adopted when he was nine. As a result of the trauma he experienced before he joined our family, Darqui often sank into dark and angry moods where he seemed beyond our reach. When this occurred, I would hover around him, trying desperately to help him exorcise his inner demons and find the happiness he deserved.
During a particularly difficult time in our relationship four years ago, he informed me that he hated me trying to make him happy, that he had the right to feel however he wanted and that there was nothing I could do about it. He also told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to leave him alone and worry about my own life.
Although hurt by this rebuff, I began to realize that it was grandiose for me to believe that I could make Darqui - or anyone else for that matter - happy. I gave Darqui the space he demanded and reinvested some of the energy that I had using trying to rescue him from himself to better meet my own needs. I spent more time in the woods by myself where, began meditating on a regular basis and most importantly, began to listen more to my own inner voice that knew what was best for me at any given moment.
After not speaking to me for a couple of weeks, Darqui finally wandered into my home office one day and began to talk. I asked him how I had done leaving him alone and he congratulated me on my efforts. Although I am devoted to doing everything within my domain to help Darqui, I have never again taken on the responsibility for his happiness which has helped our relationship immeasurably. Although we are very close, he never fails to remind me when I need to back off and let him be.
I have continued to treat myself with the same compassion I have always tried to extent to others. Rather than make me more selfish, I have experienced greater happiness and positive energy that I am eager to pass on to others. As a result, I feel even better about myself which has created a cycle of increasing abundance in my life that I treasure.
I hope you are also able to recognize that there is nothing selfish about taking great care of yourself. Rather than take my word for it, prove it to yourself by experimenting with the self-compassion strategies I list on this website and in my book that Darqui inspired me to write entitled, Achieving Self-Compassion: Giving Yourself the Gifts of Happiness and Inner Peace (which is in the process of being published). I have no doubt that you will become more rather than less giving to others as a result and look forward to reading about your experiences with self-compassionate in the forum section of this website!