When Being 'Selfish' Is a Good Thing

You can’t fully love others until you learn to take care of yourself

by Suzanne Gerber • Next Avenue
woman laying in hammock image
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

The surest way to get a woman to back off from a position she is taking or a demand she is making is to call her selfish. My typical response has been to defend myself and explain that I didn’t mean to be, and soon I am lost in that discussion rather than the original one.

My reaction is, I think, not unusual. Women like me dissolve in shame at the suggestion that we are putting ourselves first — at the expense, the implication is, of those who are counting on us.

Until recently we’ve bought into the assumption that what nature intended is a woman who nurtures, supports, understands, lends a hand and is selfless in her devotion to those she loves. “Selfless” is an interesting word — as in having no self. 

As we grow up in our 50s, 60s and 70s, though, we are headed in the opposite direction: toward becoming self-full. We are learning to listen to our needs and instincts and assert them, letting the chips fall where they may. “One tough broad” is beginning to sound like a compliment.
This is all part of the reinvention process of moving past the roles of daughter, mother, employee and wife and into a new stage of life where self-expression and self-fulfillment are the priorities. It isn’t easy, and it is very distressing to discard the scripts we have been reading from for so long and write our own.

But we and our friends are proving to one another that when we go off the reservation, we feel free to claim more self-caring behaviors that are good for our emotional and physical well-being — and, let’s admit it, are more fun.
An important breakthrough comes when we learn to defuse that empowering and intimidating word “no.” Until now, it has carried the stigma of a four-letter word; as if merely uttering the word were a hostile act — a selfish act.

But as we learn that even menopause can’t keep us down, we find ourselves strong enough to take risks and confront our fears. Everywhere I go, I meet women who tell me how surprised — and delighted — they were to hear themselves blurt out: “You know what? I don’t care what people think anymore!”
(MORE: Why Even Strong Women Sometimes Have a Hard Time Saying No)
After a lifetime of pleasing, accommodating and soothing others, this is a declaration of war.

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Photo courtesy of Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

First Published Wed, 2013-01-30 15:50

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