Marilyn is an author who recently published her third book. She loves to share her insight from her 30+ years on a spiritual journey.
Recently, I was talking with someone and as our conversation went on, I realized how much she gave—time, money, effort to others. She looked drained and soon admitted that’s how she actually felt. And later, when I was by myself, I started reflecting on how hard it seems for some people to be good to themselves. Not wanting to appear self-centered, they constantly accede to the demands and needs of others. They can’t say no. They don’t want to or refuse to see, their own behavior as self-destructive.
I remember how difficult it was for me to see my own ways in myself. I was so wrapped up in my own needs, my own feelings, my own problems.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care about others—I certainly almost always put them first—but that I didn’t care about me. It wasn’t that I was self-absorbed and forgot people’s birthdays or didn’t respond to requests for help. It wasn’t that I wanted to keep everything to myself and minded sharing.
It was that I gave too much.
And what I didn’t realize for a long time, was I gave mostly because I wasn’t happy. I wanted to liked, to be loved. Yes, the truth was that I gave more time, more effort, more of myself than was comfortable. If I did focus on me, it wasn’t on what really what felt good to me. In fact, I didn’t even know what felt good to me.
Most of the time too, I didn’t acknowledge the impact of constantly giving was having on me. I just knew I felt drained, diminished, and unappreciated.
I also didn’t recognize the power of my ego, the hold it had on me and my emotions. I constantly reacted to what others were saying and doing. I wanted to fix things and make them happy. I did not realize everyone is responsible for their own behavior, their own happiness.
Questioning My Own Behavior
In relationships, like most people who are unaware that they do not love ourselves, I did many things that later caused me to feel guilt and shame. I wanted to please. I couldn’t see my behavior meant I didn’t care about myself—I didn’t know or realize what was important to me.
Only when I began to explore spirituality did I start looking at this—at how my thoughts and behaviors reflected what I thought about me. Then, I understood how I felt about myself—started thinking about and focusing on self-love,
The key for me was understanding how fear was affecting my life because fear encompasses selfishness. I was afraid—of loss, of weakness, of not being accepted and loved. And it was so helpful to know fear was holding me back, destroying my peace.
For years, I mistakenly thought paying attention to how I was perceived by others was important, when what really mattered was what I thought of myself. I believed I should give to others without recognizing that first I needed to give to me. I assumed getting others to love me was everything, but in fact I needed to love myself first before I could truly love someone else.
Knowing this moved me to think and act differently. I went inside and found the reasons behind my negative behavior towards me. I also questioned, is it selfishness or self-love to want time to myself? To set boundaries which help me feel comfortable about other people’s demands on me? To treat myself with love and respect? To know and have what is important to me in life?
I was amazed at how easy it was to come up with the answers. How awareness brings insight and a desire to change. How the information, people and loving energy began coming my way when I opened the door to self-love.
I realized that loving and caring about ourselves is integral to experiencing peace and joy in our lives—to being the best we can be, to feeling good, healthy, and happy. And for me, recognizing the difference between selfishness and self-love, made it easier to pursue and stay with the changes I wanted to make.
I finally understood that needing or demanding attention from others, giving so much that I have no time or energy for myself, continually trying to meet someone else’s needs or make them happy is not being loving to me.
Taking care of my own needs, ensuring my mind and body are healthy, being responsible for my own happiness—caring for myself—all comprise self-love and promote real generosity with others.
Ultimately too, self-love now enables me to see the fear, the selfishness, in others and remain comfortable with who I am. Self-love allows me to let go of judgment, offer forgiveness, and be true to myself.
Gone is the need to please, the fear of letting someone down, the focus on what matters to others. And in its place, is an inner strength, a desire to be good to myself, a feeling of being able to give freely and not feel drained or diminished, because I have taken care of my own needs.