Sep 26, 2023



On the journey to unlocking your potential, one of the most transformative shifts you can make is to give yourself permission to follow your heart.  This shift involves understanding the nuance between being perceived as selfish and embracing self-love.  These two words can significantly influence how you view the world and shape your behaviour. 

Let's dive into it...  This discussion reflects one interpretation of the word 'selfish'.  Clearly this is a complex topic, evoking many strong emotions and powerful opinions.  For today, let's look at one aspect that resonated.  



From our earliest days, parents and authority figures employ a system of:

  • Language / Words
  • Tone - Soft / Sharp
  • Physical Responses / Body Language

to guide us in various ways.  They teach us:

  • The Difference Between Right & Wrong
  • How To Adhere To Rules - Designed To Keep Us Safe
  • How To Adapt To The Needs Of Our Family
  • Our Place / Role Within The Dynamics Of Our Family Unit


Parents do this with the best of intentions.  Their aim is to mould us into healthy, happy, intelligent, and productive adults.  They strive to equip us with an understanding of societal rules to ensure our well-being in the wider world.


Yet, consider a scenario where a parent urgently needs their child to stop an activity and comply with a request.  A young child may not immediately respond as the parent desires, caught up in the world of play, so richly engrossed in what they're doing (a reflection of their innocent and potentially 'true nature').  In such instances, it's not uncommon for the adult to become impatient and resort to using  a harsh tone and words that will elicit the behaviour they want, such as "come now, don't be selfish, do as I ask."  The adult's primary focus is on getting the child to comply, but the inference of being 'selfish' changes everything for the child, who always wants to be loved and physically safe.


It's crucial to recognize that a child, in such moments, lacks the contextual understanding of the term "selfish." To the child, being "selfish" means being so involved in what they're doing, that it's challenging to stop and shift their attention.  There's no inherent negative intent, disrespect, or malice in their actions.  They simply lack awareness and comprehension of the parent's schedule, the necessity to adapt to changing circumstances, and the importance of rules.


So, why is it that we label such behaviour as "selfish"?  From the parent's perspective, this is likely a learned response from their childhood, however it's important to understand the significance of this word when used in conjunction with a shift in tone and a change in body language.  Initially, the child may not understand the wording and will rely on the tone to interpret the meaning; logically, with time, they learn to associate the word 'selfish' with behaviour that is personally self-serving, all encompassing, enjoyable and fun - behaviour whereby you become 'lost in your own world' (see Blog 6, Discovering Your True Nature).


When it comes to altering the behaviour of a child, was the word 'selfish' co-opted, in lieu of expressing a genuine need in a more accurate way?  

By extension, is it potentially selfish to be deeply engaged in:

  • Something That's Personally Fulfilling
  • Something That You're Enjoying To The Exclusion Of All Else
  • Something That Temporarily Renders You Incapable Of Shifting Quickly 

Or does this action only become selfish at the point where another person wants you to stop and do as they ask, and in the event that you do not comply, your action now becomes selfish?


It's worth considering that you don't often call yourself 'selfish', it's something that is directed towards you, when you momentarily neglect the needs or request of another.  This distinction is crucial.  Young children do not become engrossed in an activity, to neglect the needs of their parent or another intentionally.  Their engagement is driven by fascination, enjoyment, and the all-encompassing nature of the activity.  For parents, this is an opportunity to stay curious.  Notice what acitvities your child is naturally drawn to, what role they assume within the acitivity, i.e., giving orders, following instructions, being creative or introspective.  This will pay dividends when they are teenagers, sitting in career counselling offices, trying to choose colleges and career trajectories.

Reasonably speaking, children need to learn to do as they are asked, when they are asked, in order to co-exist within the family structure and eventually society at large.  The lesson here is for adults to be conscious of the wording being used to elicit certain behaviours, so that it supports the self-esteem, self-respect, and self-worth of the child, so that they grow into healthy adults, able to discern their own passions and purpose.  


Children learn quickly and the responses to their behaviour, particularly a primary caregiver, can reassure them, make them feel accepted and loved, or have them questioning themselves; it impacts their ability to feel physically safe or not.  They need adults to establish healthy boundaries, be consistent, explain rules and teach them how to show up in life.  They also need to learn how to love themselves.  Manipulation and coercion may be effective tools in the short-term, but they separate a child from their innate selves.  Children who constantly question themselves, may become anxious adults, afraid to trust themselves or their environment. 


Question: Am I being selfish?  This question in itself may seem reasonable, but when accompanied by behaviours such as people pleasing, lack of boundaries, overgiving, and perfectionism, it may indicate a need for greater self-awareness and self-love.  It's time to look closely at your priorities.  Personally, I've learnt that putting the needs of others ahead of my own was a survival tact, learnt in childhood.  Recognizing that you're not responsible for everyone's happiness, a moving target by all accounts, has been revelatory.


That's not to say that children aren't selfish, they're inherently engrossed in having their own needs met - it's about nuance, and identifying 'selfishness' as a window into a person's:

  • Character
  • Emotional Set-Point
  • Needs
  • Natural Skills
  • Passions
  • Talents


A selfish child, a 'child', is adaptive, choosing when to exert their voice / needs and wants, and when to yield to the needs of others.  Separate the child from this trait, and they will spend a lifetime trying to figure out who they are, because who they are innately, has been drilled out of them, under the 'guise' of selfishness.  The underlying message received as being, 'who I am is not enough'.  'Oh you're being selfish again, doing as you please...'  


Rules are undoubtedly essential, but it's equally vital to teach them in a way that honors a child's self-respect, maintains their self-worth, and nurtures their self-esteem.


I would propose that they are essentially, at their core, the same thing.  Selfish / Self-Love means doing something:

  • That Brings You Joy
  • Purely For Yourself
  • To Satisfy Your Own Needs
  • Because You Want To

Selfish satisfies your own needs:-

  • Without Thought As To The Impact Your Actions Have On Another

Whereas, Self-Love satisfies your own needs and is:

  • A Conscious Positive Choice
  • Never Done With Intent To Harm Another
  • Always Trusting That As You Give Yourself Permission To Show Up For Yourself
  • You Acknowledge Another Person's Right To Show Up For Themselves  


As the child transitions into adulthood, they often hear the advice, "You'll Never Work A Day In Your Life, When You Choose A Career You Love!"  Now, consider the challenge this poses to someone who has spent their life being told that pursuing self-satisfying activities, things done for their pure enjoyment whilst simply following their heart, is 'selfish'.  How does such an individual grant themselves permission to be selfish and by extension self-love?


Words carry immense power, and the tone with which they're delivered matters.  If you're someone who struggles with the concept of being selfish and self-love, let's reclaim the word 'selfish' and imbue it with positivity:

"For the next 30 days, I give myself permission to be 'selfish' and practise self-love, prioritizing my needs, pursuing activities that I enjoy, and doing what makes my heart sing.  I really commit to getting to know myself.  As I do this, I set the intention to be responsible, set healthy boundaries, show up for the people I care about, and communicate clearly.  It is not my intention to neglect anyone else's needs, although I recognise that as I say yes to me, I will say no to anything that doesnt honour my commitment to myself.  I trust that by doing this, those around me can also meet their own needs and authentically show up for themselves.  In an act of authenticity, I grant myself permission to decline doing favors for anyone, unless I genuinely wish to do so, trusting that someone who is able to show up authentically, is now able to do so.  I know that saying 'no' when needed, allows me to establish healthy boundaries that benefit both me and those I interact with."


Give yourself permission to follow your heart, and distinguish between selfishness and self-love. Reclaim the word "selfish" in a positive light.  Recognize the power of language, tone, and body language in building self-esteem and self-worth.  Break free from the trap of continual compromise, and embrace the transformative journey of knowing what you want.  It's the key to unlocking your full potential and transforming your dreams into reality.


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