September 16, 2021

The Difference between Self-Growth & Selfishness.


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“This chapter in my life is all about me. I’m done losing myself to others.”

The self-improvement, self-development, and self-growth movement is all around us.

People have had it with being taken advantage of, saying yes at their own expense, and are now, somewhat, rebelling.

They will not say yes so quickly. They will establish firm boundaries. They will do what’s good for them. To hell with everyone else.

It’s life on their terms and they’re going to do it their way, just like Frank Sinatra.

Most moderate their self-interest, still finding room in their heart for others, but there are some who take it a step further.

They shut everyone out. They say no like a two-year-old who has just learned the word—and in most cases, they actually have. They take everything personally, making it all about them.

They practice their anger. They push you away so they can feel strong. And they take seriously their mission—as they should.

But what is the difference between self-growth and selfishness? At what point does a person’s self-interest become self-absorption, an irrational focus on self that no longer takes into consideration their family, friends, loved ones, or anyone else around them?

I recall an evening with a former colleague who was in therapy working to figure out too many things to count. Aren’t so many of us today?

What I remember most is how she made everything a fight. Everything a cause. Everything a matter of life and death that needed to be tackled, fought, and won.

The waiter was sexist. The parents are ignorant. The world is wrong.

There was no room for discussion or debate. There was no room for exploration or an exchange of ideas.

Because those of us who tried were shot down in an instant. She was trigger-happy and the bullet screamed, “You just don’t get it.”

Everything and everyone was wrong. She was right—about everything. And we all needed to fight the establishment—any establishment, all establishments.

Just because she was mad. And had been given permission to express her anger, which she did quite well.

This period of her self-growth was exhausting for those of us who socialized with her, but I sure do hope it was productive for her because it certainly wasn’t for most of us. I’m not sure if she ever resolved or came to terms with her own issues, but she excelled at making issues everywhere she went.

And this brings me to my point. When does self-interest turn selfish? At what moment in the process of self-focus do we risk losing sight of being of benefit to others? The goodwill and generosity of our spirit and deeds? To show up for others when no one else will?

Or is that goodwill an illusion? Do we, as human beings, use our problems and unresolved trauma to generate interest from others, building an audience who will keep our issues alive? Are we seeking pity versus healing? Attention versus remission?

If our release is truly cathartic, mission accomplished. But if we are practicing anger, disappointment, or any other negative emotions, are we actually fueling, rather than extinguishing them?

Self-care is not synonymous with self-interest or self-absorption—but by no means am I faulting that. If it’s what you need to do for a period of time, do it. Set a date and act out in whatever way you need to for a specific number of days or months.

However, it should not become a way of life.

Tending to your own needs should be the path to healing, resolution, and learning how to set realistic—and kind—boundaries.

If we succeed with those matters of the psyche, we should come back to the world with an open heart, a steady hand, and a soothed soul.

We can then make better decisions based on experience.

We will be selective about the people we allow into our personal space. We will have learned how to repel negative energies and attract the more positive. We will choose carefully the activities we participate in and pay attention to how we manage our time and energy.

But never should it become selfish. Never should it become personally inclusive at the expense of those who love and care for us—or at the expense of playing our role in making this world a better place.

If we’ve done the inner work, we should be ready to share ourselves with others without giving ourselves away.

May this be the ultimate goal of self-growth.


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