Selfish vs Self-Preservation
Putting Money in the Bank: Putting Me First
I had a very hard time with this concept in the beginning of recovery. I knew family was a priority. I also knew that I’d do whatever it takes to protect my priorities. Or so I thought.
I would do anything for anyone that I cared about so long as it didn’t contradict my moral compass. I’d do it even if it meant giving up what I had or wanted. I’d go all out. I always tried to remove myself from the equation. That was selfless, no?
This is true for all people, but particularly for an addict. We tend to glorify martyrdom. We think it ideal to give up on something just for the sake of saying that we denied ourselves. It comes in all different forms. For some it’s doing all the dishes and letting no one else help. A child may give away their snack to another child and be left with nothing for themselves. Some people will do whatever is asked of them no matter what.
Now all of these things in of themselves are not a bad thing. In fact, oftentimes, they can be wonderful, selfless acts. The big question is, what will be the expense for both you and those around you. I have come to see that me being a martyr, aside from being an expression of co-dependency, oftentimes is a way of me reaffirming that I’m not important, don’t matter, or don’t count. How is that selfish, you ask? Because, more often than not, I end up holding onto my feelings of self-sacrifice. I use it as a tool to justify all sorts of things.
Does this sound familiar? Well, I did just take out the garbage even though we agreed that it would be Mike’s chore. So, I now deserve to have that ice cream. Or, I put the kids to bed all on my own, I deserve a break, more attention, or anything else…
Is that not selfish? I’m holding onto my self-imposed sacrifice as a power tool. It might be a power struggle with others, or with myself. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, I’m looking to please others in order to get what I want. In addition to being selfish, that’s manipulative.
That’s not to say that I can’t do something for someone else selflessly. I most certainly can. But as long as I’m retaining the self interest, when the other person is just a means to my goal, that is selfishness. If I can do something for someone else and be happy with just the giving for its own sake or for the sake of making someone else’s life happier or easier, that would be selfless.
Though I have heard the philosophical argument that we are doing it just to feel good about ourselves. I maintain that as having an element of truth. But the delineation lies in this: Am I doing it to feel like I did something good, or is the good feeling coming from having done something good. And that makes all the difference.
So what does all this have to do with self-preservation and putting me first? It’s like this. If selfishness is doing something for someone else so that I can benefit, the inverse would be true too. If I do something for myself so that others can benefit, me being selfish is, in fact, being selfless.
When I take care of myself I am “putting money in the bank”. My emotional bank, that is. I’m taking care of me so that I can feel good about being there for others. When I’m well-taken care of, I can give to others for the sake of making them happy. If I put myself and my recovery first, I am allowing myself to be available for others.
I still struggle with this concept many times. Dysfunction has really ingrained in me the idea that martyrdom is selflessness. I’ve got to be on the watch at all times. “Constant vigilance!” as Mad-Eye Moody would say. And when I start to feel that stifled feeling, like I’m being taken advantage of, the first thing I need to do is something for myself. It can be taking a shower or a nap, going to a meeting, taking a walk, listening to music, or even baking. Those acts are selfless acts. Why?
Because I’m putting money in the bank!