Selfishness and Self-sacrifice by Nic Beets

Lots of couples have one person who is more self-centred and one who is more self-sacrificing. It can be very hard to acknowledge the unhelpfulness of these tendancies as there is a lot of judgment about these ways of being.   Further more we have usually learned these ways of operating as a self-protection in our formative years and, as a result, just think these ways of being are “normal” and that being “selfish” or “selfless” must be more extreme than what I’m doing. 

To make matters even harder, if this is a long standing way of protecting yourself, it can be hard for us to imagine what the alternative is.  Typically we fear that we will become like our partner (whose behaviour hurts and frustrates us).  We fear that “If I’m not self-sacrificing then I’m being selfish”.  Or “If I’m not self-centred then I’m going to be a doormat”.   But there ARE other options.

If you are one of the many people who tends to be a bit self-centred OR a bit self-sacrificing then try and accept this about yourself without getting defensive or ashamed about it.  You are far more likley to change this behaviour for the better if you start with a compassionate self-acceptance.  

The table below is intended to help you get clear about what the middle ground of having a solid sense of your self looks like across a range of aspects of relating.  Not everyone will necessarily fit every attribute described here – but it gives a general idea.

These are just a list of words – they are only of use if you explore what these words mean for YOU.  For example if you think you have a bit of a tendency to be self-absorbed, caught up in your own feelings (OR if you have a tendency to be a bit self-less, caught up in the feelings of others to the point of self-neglect) what does it mean to you to be “connected”?  For one person it may mean being more aware of and giving more importance to the experiences and feelings of others.  For another it may mean connected with my own feelings and thoughts.   You can then think about what practical steps you’d have to take to get more connected.  One person might need to ask more questions about their loved ones inner world, while the other might need to schedule time alone to check in with themselves.

 If you can see there is room for you to grow and change in this way – then it can be interesting to see if your partner feels the same about themselves.  Then the two of you can explore what practical steps you can each take in the relationship to make it more grounded.


Nic Beets

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