The Dark Side of Selflessness

Darth Vader

It’s my nature to take others’ needs into account. A big part of Life, after all, isn’t about me, it’s about what I can contribute. How we can make the world a better place for ourselves and for those around us. There are many similarly-minded folks out there, and reading this you are likely one of them.

Sometimes this shows up for us as hosting the family gathering. Other times it’s picking up the tab. Could be it’s dog sitting for the weekend. Maybe it’s quietly changing plans in order to enjoy the surprise company. No matter what the form of the outcome is, our first response is Yes, I’d Be Happy To Do That. And, we truly mean it. It really is at no personal detriment, and it actually makes us happy to help others feel good.

Hang on there Vader, there is a dark side to our selflessness.

We succumb to the shadow the moment we neglect to consider ourselves. Take a deep breath with me and don’t worry, you are not going to change into something unrecognizable — you can simply use this Force to be Self-ish, selflessly.

Hang on, hold up, say what?

We think that putting others first means to place ourselves last, when the opposite is actually true. (A paradox, I know. But pay attention anytime a paradox finds you, because that’s where the divine lives — remember, Jesus was born in a stable!)

When we actively and regularly care for ourselves first, that is what provides our abundance for others. After all, we can’t help our neighbor by driving them to their destination without first putting any gas in the tank, right?

Darth Vader at a tea party

It’s so easy to save our care for after everyone else is covered. We save our self-care for the end of the day, later in the week, after this season, on a vacation. When there is leftover time, or as a break from routine. After all, we have the natural ability to meet others’ needs, we have the stamina to do it all, and our needs are fewer. Are they? Or are we just not valuing them?

It’s a wild thought to place ourselves first, and we are afraid that in doing so we will turn into snarling, selfish, unrecognizable beasts. We fear that we will ultimately lose ourselves if we overly focus on ourselves.

Darth Vader in an apron with a cookbook and a mixer

Fear not. In elevating ourselves we do not reign supreme over others. It does not mean we always get our way. We simply become more aligned with our deepest and truest selves — which includes our active care of and concern for others. (There’s that paradox thingie…)

Okay, let’s look at it another way. It’s not that we don’t stand up for ourselves. It’s not that we deny our truth. It’s that we haven’t tuned into ourselves deeply or often enough to identify what our truth means for us in that moment, occurrence, or event.

We slowly lose touch with ourselves. That’s what happens when we continually put ourselves last.

The good news is, we can begin to turn that around, to reclaim and build our relationship with ourselves, right where we are.

I invite you to begin by looking at everything — and I mean everything — through the lens of, “What does (insert your name here) need?

Darth Vader sipping tea in a field of flowers

Sometimes you need to leave the party early. Sometimes you need to take yourself to that movie that none of your friends are interested in. Sometimes you need that particular take-out meal and a glass of wine–in the tub. Sometimes you need someone else to drive.

Now, once you have identified what you need in each given instance, it doesn’t mean you will get it! Because after all, there are others involved here that we care about, and this is not about turning into a demanding dictator.

That’s totally okay. The point of this exercise is not to get what we want in every given situation, but to identify how we feel within each one. This, dear friend, is the first step to reconnection with your Self.

And You are so glad you’ve come home.

For me, this recently showed up over Easter. I discovered that I could not fully meet the ideas of one part of my family for the holiday weekend as I would have liked to, because I needed to be with another part of my family at this time as well. I discovered peace simply by recognizing what I needed — and living from that space made all the difference. (I ended up making separate travel plans. I felt fabulous and no one was emotionally harmed. Go figure!)

author with her family

Now over to you: what is one thing happening today that you could stop and ask yourself, “What does (your name) need?” Nothing is too big or too small to view through your new lens, or to share in the comments below.

Darth Vader teddy bear

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