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When Self-Centered is Okay

on June 19, 2012

Generally, I don’t consider myself self-centered.  I’m not the kind of person who thinks that she should be the world’s priority.  Honestly, for most of my life I’ve had trouble asking for what I need and want.  Hell, much of the time it feels like I can’t define what I need and want.  I say “it feels like”, because if I’m being totally honest, I’ll admit that I realize that I am often uncomfortable believing I have a right to see my needs and wants met — even if I’m the only one doing the meeting.

I grew up with a sterling example of a woman who put other people ahead of herself.  My Mom was a caretaker, a nurturer, a people pleaser.  Loving, caring, compassionate, friendly — Mom wanted everyone to be comfortable, happy, content and satisfied.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s good to care about other people . . . except if you care about and for them more than you do for yourself.  Mom was the eldest of three girls born to a well-off couple.  I never knew my grandfather but everything I’ve heard says that he was a generous, caring, affable man.  I knew my Nana very well.  She was smart, opinionated, self-sufficient, generous and fairly rigid in her conduct and her beliefs about what constituted proper behavior.  Her opinions were quite clearly and sharply defined.

Somewhere, sometime, I believe in early childhood, Mom absorbed the lesson that it was not okay to be angry.  She had great difficulty expressing her anger, even if the emotional reaction was absolutely justified.  Let’s face it.  Sometimes people, even the ones we love, are going to do or say things that make us angry.   For whatever reason being angry or expressing anger wasn’t something that Mom could comfortably do.  Eventually, her anger and upset came out via her alcoholism.  I remember one Christmas time when I arrived home and knew immediately that she’d “fallen off the wagon” after a long, solid stretch of sobriety and abstinence.   “What the hell is wrong?” I wondered.

We found out the following day.  Dad had previously decided to retire and he and Mom had plans to spend their winters at the vacation home in the Florida Keys.   That morning, Dad shared the totally surprising news that he was being considered for a position on the governor’s cabinet.  It would have meant needing an apartment/condo in the state capital, lots of work, travel, stress, time from home, etc.  It also would have meant that his plans to retire would be on hold indefinitely.  My brother and I looked at each other across the table.  I knew that this was exactly what had upset Mom but, true to form, she was unable to express the upset constructively through communication.  In her defense, Dad was pretty caught up in the honor of being considered and the challenge.  She might have tried to bring it up to him before and he might have discounted her objections.  I don’t know, but something happened and she communicated her upset by drinking.

That’s a longer story than I meant to tell, but when the words take me somewhere I go with their direction.   It’s part of the process as I pick my way through things.  🙂

Anyway, like I said a couple of paragraphs ago, it’s good to care about and for other people, as long as you can do so without detriment to yourself.  Just like we all know people who believe the world revolves around them, we all also know others who subvert their own well-being in service to those people.  I’ve been one of those people who’ve ignored my needs while I was busy trying to satisfy or serve the needs of other people.  It isn’t healthy.  In fact, it can be downright destructive.

I learned in OA a long time ago that in order to recover, our commitment has to be strong.  In fact, we need to be willing to go to any lengths to recover.  For me, having weight loss surgery is an example of being willing to go to any lengths to recover and live a healthy life.

Right now, it is absolutely okay for me to be self-centered.  That also is part of going to any lengths.  I have to commit to my food plan and be sure to have access to the food I need when I need it — regardless of whether my timing is aligned with that of other people.   It means limiting myself to a splash of wine instead of filling my glass or taking more when I’ve finished the splash.  I’m being vigilant about my behavior to guard against transferring my addiction.  Sometimes it means that, no matter how much someone else might want be to do something, if I need to do something else because it’s better for my recovery, then that’s what I choose to do.  The other people will either understand and support me or not.  If they don’t, that’s their problem.

Good self-care demands that we put our needs first.   No, it doesn’t mean that we callously ignore the family, friends and co-workers that also need us.  We don’t need to be obnoxious.   It simply validates that it’s okay and necessary to make ourselves the priority.   In the long run, not only will this make me better, but it will also help me eventually be better for those around me.  It takes me back to the airplane analogy that I’ve mentioned before.  When traveling next to someone who might need our assistance, we have to put the mask over our own face first.

Learning how to, and then becoming comfortable with, defining and verbalizing my needs is a process.  I’m making progress.    Acknowledging the progress makes the journey easier while I’m in transit.  With each successful attempt, I’m building a new foundation.

One response to “When Self-Centered is Okay

  1. hoperoth says:

    I don’t think you’re being selfish. I think you’re putting the oxygen mask on yourself before looking around to see if your fellow passengers need a hand. And that’s what you’re supposed to do.

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