Thursday, 12 June 2008

Just What is Selfishness?

On Tuesday evening I went to my friend Christopher’s house. I originally met him through a writers’ group that we were members of and have since become very good friends – he’s a man who never fails to interest and inspire me.

Last night he held a meeting entitled “Finding Your Highest Self” where one of the subjects explored was the concept of ‘selfishness’ and how the accusation of selfishness is used to control us.

It's not too long since I had this discussion with somebody close to me - a person who has used his/her own concern for my welfare in order to try to persuade me to change my mind about certain things I've wanted to do.

"If you do such and such a thing, I'll spend the entire time worrying about you." In other words, it would be selfish of me to do something that I want to do; something that I believe would enrich my life, because it would cause him or her concern.

But isn't it equally as selfish of that person to expect me to live a life that doesn't meet my personal needs, in order to satisfy his/hers?

So just what is selfishness? The group came to the conclusion that it's basically any action that stops a person from reaching their potential, as long as nobody is deliberately hurt in the process.

So what is 'hurt'? Would I be deliberately hurting another person by leaving them to worry about me? I don't believe I would. Their worry is, after all, their choice and not something I've deliberately brought upon them. Is it acceptable for that person to use their worry in order to stop me leading the life that feels right for me? I don't believe it is. In fact, in my opinion, that's nothing short of emotional blackmail.

Now this person insists this has never been about control - that they were merely making me aware of their concerns. But if those concerns are such that he/she would worry about me the entire time, it's obvious that it's going to put the dampers on my enthusiasm for whatever it was I wanted to do. Sometimes it's better to NOT say how you feel and offer support anyway. That would surely be the least selfish path to take. Voice concerns, by all means, but if the person making the decision still wants to go ahead, don't use "but if you do, I'll....".

Far too many people use emotional blackmail as a way of controlling others. Because nobody likes to feel that they're selfish, we accept this and often put aside our own needs in order to satisfy theirs.

Unfortunately this is something we learn at an early age. We see how well it works for others and start to use threats like "if you play with her instead of me I won't be your friend anymore (because you're being selfish by not caring about my feelings)".

In later life we continue to use it. We become more subtle about it, but it's still emotional blackmail regardless and that, I feel, is most definitely a more selfish action than wanting to enjoy a fulfilling life by reaching our emotional, intellectual, physical and/or spiritual potential.

Am I wrong? Maybe you see things differently. If you do, I'd love to hear why.

Sharon J xx


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Emma Jane said...

Isn't worrying about someone a perfectly natural emotion? If you care about someone you can't put your concerns on the back burner so how can you claim to be close to that person if you fail to understand their feelings? Accusing them of emotional blackmail, as you put it, could be seen as displaying your own insecurity.

Pat said...

I agree with what you've written, Sharon.

I felt caged in during my 19 year marriage because my husband didn't like me to do the things I wanted to do (visit Russia because he didn't want to come with me is one example. He said he was worried that a single woman would be an easy target and all sorts of things might happen to me. I knew he'd sulk if I went and couldn't stand that). In the end I left. I wanted more from life and believe I have the right to make my own choices.

Pat x

Sharon J said...

An interesting response, Emma Jane. Thank you.

Of course people will have concerns about the welfare of those close to them but I do believe there are time when those concerns shouldn't be voiced. Or if they are voiced, at least in a "I can't pretend I won't be concerned but if this means a lot to you then I think you should go ahead" kind of way. I really don't think we should put our own concerns before the emotional/physical/spiritual/intellectual development of others.

Also, worry is a CHOICE and isn't, in my opinion, the responsibility of anybody else. It's wrong to say "you cause me to worry" - the truth is "I have chosen to worry about you".

Concern is also different to worry. Most of us can easily live with concern whereas worry can be debilitating. Fortunately, worry can be put on the back burner. By collecting the facts instead of relying on 'what ifs', worry can quite easily be controlled.

Oddly enough, I happened to be watching Trisha on telly this morning and she said something about how her mother, when told that Trisha was leaving Australia, had said something like "Do as you choose. Go out into the world and live the life that's right for you" rather than "Oh, don't leave. I won't know what to do without you here". A wise woman.

I'm not quite sure how my own emotional insecurity might come into it. I've certainly never tried to stop any of my loved ones from doing what felt right for them. My daughter decided to live with her father abroad at 12 and went with my blessing (even though I was extremely sad I certainly didn't use MY emotions to stop her). My younger daughter is moving abroad in September and will also be going with my blessing. Sure I'll miss her and am concerned about certain things but it's what she wants to do and I have no right to make her feel bad about doing it.

Obviously we can't always just do as we please without any consideration for others. A married person, for example, shouldn't spend excessive amounts of money leaving debt behind them; there has to be compromise and respect within any kind of relationship. But if we truly love somebody, then surely we should allow them the freedom to develop in areas that important to them?

Sharon J said...

Hi Pat. You must have been posting your comment as I was writing my response to Emma Jane.

I can sympathise with your Russia story as I've also experienced a partner who sulked (and more) in order to get his own way. It's horrible to live with before the event and horrible to come home to. I swore, when I left him, that I would never put up with that kind of behaviour again.

Like you, I also believe we all have the right to make our own choices as long as we're not deliberately hurting others. If a person plays the 'worry card' everytime we want to do something that could be remotely dangerous, or maybe even because it will give us more life experience than they themselves have (jealousy is often a reason why people try to stop others from reaching their potential) then they end up feeling like our gaolers rather than supporting, caring people with our best interests at heart.

Richard said...

Might as well stick my head up here because this is about me so it's only fair that I put my side of this story. Yes, I worry about Sharon but I've known her for 7 years now and I know full well that she's her own woman and that I venture advice at my peril. My worry is MY problem to deal with and I realise that but let's put this into perspective. I've seen her close to death because of her medical condition and twice I've travelled back the length of the country to start again with her when her physical condition has made it almost impossible for her to cope, the last time being two months ago. Over the years I've made concessions in line with what she wanted out of a relationship hoping that it would preserve ours. So now I live in my own house and perform the role of a carer and hopefully, companion. I still love her more than I could ever put into words.

Just before I came back in March, Sharon admitted she'd started smoking again. Her medical condition, and subsequently the mess we've had to endure over the last 5 years as we both struggle to find some direction is in no large part down to her old smoking habit so yes, I have a well grounded resentment against smoking and I felt let down, especially as she'd done so well. She knew I was angry and upset and as far as I knew, gave up again. Unfortunately, and without going into too much detail, there were too many tell-tale signs that this was not the case although she continued to deny it. On Monday after seeing, hearing and smelling more evidence to the contrary, I asked her again and she admitted she had been. I'm sorry, I don't know what other people's feelings on this are but it feels as though I'd been dealt a monumental kick in the nuts.

Now, am I being selfish when I say that I worry about her already fragile health when she jeopardises it like this? Do I just politely tut tut and let her get on with it and watch her die? No, I can't and I defy anyone in that situation to do that. But what upset me more than anything, Sharon, and it's the thing that has been so very difficult for me to deal with this time is the fact that you didn't have the courage to tell the truth and it's cut me to the core.

Richard said...

I'm also rather concerned that I'm in some way being painted as an overbearing ogre. This isn't the case. Sharon will readily admit that she's a right pain in the arse to live with - in the wrong mood more liable to take a sledghammer to the coffee table than to ask me to move whatever it was I erroneously put on there in the first place. And getting any kind of tender sentiment or emotion out of her directed towards me makes feel like I've single-handedly won the Ashes and scored the winner in World CUp Final.

And, yes, I do actually love her to death (probably mine).

Carol said...

The thing is R, I love her (in a different way obviously) as much as you do. I am afraid I have to disagree with you. There is nothing you can do BUT quietly and politely tut tut and let her get on with it as she is well aware of the risks she is taking.

Have you considered that you force her into lying because of the fuss you make?

You can disapprove of her smoking, as she knows I do, but brow beating isn't going to make her stop.

Carol said...

Oh and I don't think you are an overbearing ogre, just overbearing sometimes :-)

Richard said...

Carol, Sharon says we should have the right to make our own choices as long as we don't deliberately hurt others. Hurt in what sense exactly? Who decides the terms and where is the line drawn as to what is unacceptable or not?

Sharon J said...

Well... since when did this blog post have anything to do with smoking? Smoking is hardly something I'd consider life enhancing! It was about control through worry - the fact that you've so many times in the past told me how much you'd be worrying about me if I went camping, went on the canal boat, went to Norway etc. You're actually much less likely to do that nowadays and as such, I used past tense in my post. "This person would..." rather than "This person does...".

I didn't name names - I could've been talking about my mother, my father, my daughter, an ex partner... anybody who's been close to me actually. But you managed to recognise yourself and then felt you needed to put your side of the story forward by hanging me out personally about my smoking. Is that fair? I think not!

Carol hit the nail on square on the head when she said the reason I didn't tell you the truth is because I couldn't stand the thought of the aftermath that would come out of it.

Do you really think there is anything you can tell me about smoking that I don't already know? I'm not a complete idiot - I do KNOW that it's damaging me. Don't you think that if I found it as easy to give up as you're always saying it is that I would already have packed it in?

I originally asked you to support me in quitting, but even when I was trying by just having a few puffs and then putting it out, you still criticised me. Believe me, that didn't help!

I notice that you didn't mention how you eventually found the conclusive evidence. I won't be petty and tell everybody who visits this page, but you know as well as I do that what you did was wrong.

As for your last response to Carol, I'd like to answer that seeing as it was me who originally wrote what you're questioning Carol about. I don't smoke to deliberately hurt you, no more than I do it to deliberately hurt myself. I'm not on some kind of suicide mission and I don't deliberately scheme in order to find ways of hurting you. I'm sure you know that, though. I smoke because I'm addicted to nicotine, as is the case for most smokers, including you when you were still smoking.

Even you didn't quit the day you discovered what had happened to me, did you? You continued to smoke for 4 months until I came out of hospital before putting out that last fag. In the mean time, LM was worrying that something might happen to you too because she knew why I'd become ill. Did you stop to consider that you might also be hurting somebody?

Nobody is perfect, you have your faults as I have mine. While there are areas I can (and have) improved on, I can't just stop smoking because you're worried about me. It doesn't work like that. For you maybe, but not for me.

Sharon J said...

Just re-read my post and the tense was actually mixed. I've made a couple of adjustments to rectify that. It was meant to be past tense.

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