Know that you can not help but judge. What you then do with your judgment is the choice. - Story Waters


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Self-absorbed vs Self-aware vs Selfish

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When we experience difficulties in life it can preoccupy our thoughts a lot. We are faced with a dilemma. Do we take the time to understand the nature of what is happening and think about the problem or do we distract ourselves because we fear becoming self-absorbed?  This can create a battle within us compounding the problem because we won’t allow ourselves to listen to what our mind/body is trying to tell us. The words “self-absorbed”, “selfish” and “self-aware” are often misused and interchanged when they are quite different. Here is my view on them and what they mean.

Being self-absorbed is when one’s own feelings are all that matter in one’s life and where the feelings and needs of others are disregarded and unimportant. Self-absorbed people manipulate situations in order to get attention from others and make sure the focus of conversation is firmly on them. They may become martyrs, narcissists, victims and play the role of “poor me” or become very arrogant or cruel. There is no giving unless it is a means of self-inflation or it creates more attention for themselves.

Being self-aware means that you are aware of what makes you tick and have an understanding of your issues and where they came from. This means you can recognise your own personal history being triggered when negative feelings surface, and can take responsibility for them instead of doing what most people do and project them outwards by blaming, judging and upsetting others. Being self-aware also means having an acceptance that, while you have needs that deserve to be met, you are no more important than anyone else AND no less than anyone else either. Most people’s actions are directed by ego and their unrecognised and unmet needs. In other words their actions usually have ulterior motives behind them (often unconscious). They do things in order to get rewarded with approval, thanks or to make them feel superior, or to get some kind of self-validation (e.g. “if I give it must mean I’m a good person”).
When we meet our own needs we are able to give to others selflessly because we don’t need anything from anyone else. We just give for the joy of giving. Developing self-awareness allows us to own our baggage and free others from our issues too. Being self-aware means listening to the messages we get from mind/body and, because we are self-aware, we can discern what is ego trying to manipulate us and what is the true calling of who we really are. This is not possible without spending time understanding ourselves and exposing our ego behaviours. From self-awareness comes truth, honesty and integrity.

Most people I have met aspire to be happy as well as wanting to be less affected by the opinions of others, yet believe that to consider themselves is wrong. There is a big contradiction here. One of the biggest blocks to achieving these aspirations for happiness is the fear of selfishness. Selfishness is misunderstood and unjustly characterised as wrong or bad. Happiness, peace, fulfilment and spiritual growth are simply not possible until our understanding of selfishness is corrected to a more balanced concept. Selfishness is not wrong anymore than money is evil, but is culturally taught as being bad.
Being selfish means giving to oneself. I have never heard of anyone being accused of being “otherish”, because giving to others is regarded as a great positive thing. However, it was never intended to be used to grind our self-esteem into the dust and that is what happens if there is no giving to self.
Our belief that selfishness is bad usually comes from childhood and I see it in almost every case of stress related issues and illness. Because the mind generalises concepts and beliefs we tend to see spending any time on ourselves as wrong. This inability to focus on our own needs worsens over time as the corrosive effects of self-disregard works away over the years until problems emerge.
So we see ourselves as selfish if we say ”no” to someone who wants to go out when we want to stay in by the fire with a glass of wine and chill. We may feel selfish when we ask our similarly hard-working husband to look after the children while we go for a walk on our own to let go of the week’s stress. Being selfish is standing up to someone who treats you with disrespect. You definitely feel selfish and guilty if you cut someone out of your life because you cannot grow as long you keep them around.
None of these things are bad in the slightest, they are merely acts of self-consideration. Perhaps that is the best way to view selfishness: an act of self-consideration.

It could be regarded as selfish if we do something purely because it hurts someone else and gives us pleasure. Acts of vengeance could be viewed as selfish. So, perhaps another way of deciding whether selfishness is positive or negative is the intention behind the act of selfishness.
Please note, that it’s not whether or not it upsets someone else but what the intention behind the act is. We don’t have to trample over the feelings of others but we do have to stop trampling over ourselves. We cannot be held hostage by someone else’s reaction. Other people’s reactions are theirs not ours and we cannot judge ourselves based on how others react to some of our decisions. If we do then we risk becoming powerless in a popularity contest we can never win. Some people use emotions in order to manipulate others through guilt or victimhood. Some parents are very adept at controlling their adult children this way causing the “child” to feel guilty or bad if they put their own lives first for example.

Another point about the need to be selfish is this: We are beings made from vibrating energy. The world of energy dictates that like attracts like and so our fate is tied into the vibration we send out into the world. This means that if we constantly tune into what is bad about ourselves, our life or our health we are vibrating at the frequency of things we don’t like and we attract more of the same because the world has to match what we send out. If we can be selfish enough to reach inside and purposely look for things to appreciate we vibrate at the level of something that feels good. Like attracts like. The world of energy has to match what we feel and so the more we feel appreciation the more we will attract or create things that we can appreciate. The key is the feeling. We must practise at not just saying and thinking good things but work at actually feeling appreciation at the same time. Our emotions are key to managing our vibration to a large degree. This is why it serves nobody for us to be sucked down into someone else’s misery even though it feels compassionate to worry or be sad for them. It isn’t possible to worry and love someone at the same time. Lowering our vibration diminishes us and helps nobody. Vibrate with peace and love and we lift others and create more of the same. Managing our own vibration requires us to be selfish and not be sucked in to what others or conventions say we should do.

We can see from these definitions that being self-absorbed, self-aware or selfish can be very different indeed.  Our beliefs about selfishness can be very powerful and changing them can feel counterintuitive or even plain wrong.
Think about this: A mother has to be told by airline crews that she should be selfish and put her oxygen mask on before that of her child in an airplane emergency. This way she is able to look after her child because her own needs are met.


© Phil Grant unless otherwise attributed