The myth of strength and clarity as selfishness

This is interesting. Below is a post I wrote a long time ago, probably last spring. I had voices telling me that being comfortable in my own skin was selfish and that selfish was dangerous. (This was very internal. On the outside I have the appearance of being pretty dang comfortable following my own drummer. And I am. But the deep resistance and fear associated with that was real, and debilitating, and encouraged self-medicating.)

Note the past tense. This stuff seems actually pretty far away now. I’ve shifted out of that energy. It’s so cool to see how far I’ve moved from that mental space of last April or May, and I thought I’d put this out there despite its being out of date. Hopefully all of my words on this site will be out of date some day.


It’s frustrating now to see how narrow and rigid my parents’ and grandparents’ (etc.) definitions were of “selfish.” It was a zero sum game – you were either selfish or you were focused on others, and you couldn’t be both. If you were strong willed, you were assumed to be selfish. If you were focused on personally chosen thing, you were selfish. To my mother’s credit, she came along as a fairly good sport when her kids did their own things and it worked out okay. (Well, it was almost all me — my sister had/has a pretty traditional lifestyle and my brother is finally thriving as his creative self, but only after a bout with alcoholism (!). And my mother didn’t live to see the day, which is a bummer because she would have loved it.) But childhood leaves an impression, and those dynamics, in my experience, get indelibly etched into the brain.

The ancestors’ understanding of selfish was black and white. To them, pursuing your own needs means that you consider your own needs more important than others and you’ll therefore neglect your responsibilities (to society, to home/family/kids). (Never mind that I don’t have any kids whose needs I can neglect. That’s its own evidence of selfish.) You ask the world for nontrivial, nonstandard things, and you are assumed to be going to throw a hissy fit if the world answers “no.” The nonstandard things might be a job that gives you pleasure or a lifestyle that allows you to travel constantly. The inclination to ask the world for something besides going-through-the-motions seemed in their minds to be inextricably linked to the assumed hissy fits.

If you were to ask them point blank if these things were true, they’d deny it.

What they didn’t understand — and that I get great pleasure from having as a life principle — is that one can ask something strongly and openly of the world and also take no for an answer. Simply and easily.And not only can one do that, it’s our job. It’s the nature of living a strong and joyful life.

But they didn’t trust us to be mature about it. In the process of trying to save us from having our impossible dreams lead to us starvation, they couldn’t entertain the idea that we might figure out how to have a little dance with the world. Hey, I think it’d be cool to be a potter. Whatcha think, world? World says maybe. World says, well, I sort of want that and you make okay things in clay, so yeah, I’m sort of in favor of that. Person looks at balance sheet and discovers that the cash doesn’t cover groceries. Person continues to experiment with clay and also gets a day job. (Not that pots are all thrown at night, but you get my drift.)

Why is that so hard to conceive of guys? (Who all are, incidentally, dead now.)

They also couldn’t see how we could be powerfully focused on a passion and also completely fulfill our commitments to others. I don’t get this attitude either, but I don’t feel it deserves any pixels here.

I carried this selfish label always. Perhaps I still do, though it’s fading nicely. Until a few months ago, I would move according to my desires, the voices attacked me as selfish, and I medicated that hideous feeling of being attacked (by the tribe) with alcohol. Without alcohol now, I move through my days, feel the twinge of the accusation of selfish, pause to acknowledge the twinge, move slightly and feel another twinge, pause again and breathe, continue on, and eventually it fades to nothing. It’s slow going sometimes. But it works. And it is a very … I don’t know what to call it … lively, verdant, stimulating way to go through life. Very non-dead. Things are metabolizing.


And like I said, the twinges are gone now. Glory be.

Thanks for reading. Have a good one!


3 thoughts on “The myth of strength and clarity as selfishness

    • Wendy, you live in Minnesota, right? Are you from there? My mom was raised there, grandchild of immigrant farmers — I used to call those damaging (to me) voices “The Norwegians,” but I have since realized that’s not fair to Norwegians 🙂 Though I think that some Scandanavian mindsets do tilt toward “I am nobody” (“therefore, since you are somebody, we’ll go with what you want”).

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have a lot of German and some English.
        I was born and raised in Wisconsin.
        (I sound like I am a cow!)
        I was raised with a lot of guilt and shame voices.
        And I do like cheese!


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