Nature was actually designed to thrive through a healthy and selfish form of self love, whereby an organism finds what it needs first to survive and eventually to thrive. A wonderful example of this is an apple tree. It could not offer oxygen for us to breath, apples for us to eat, or shade for us if it did not selfishly absorb the water and nutrients from the earth or the light and energy from the sun that it needs to grow strong and healthy.
Being an integral part of nature, we, too, were designed to function optimally through this same form of healthy and selfish self love. As human beings, our bodies, hearts and minds not only work best when we give ourselves what we want and need most to be well, happy and strong, but the natural byproduct of this dynamic is that we also have much more to give to others and to life when we have first given to ourselves.
When you read the phrase "healthy selfishness" you might think these two words contradict each other. Or you may recognise the limiting belief you inherited from your parents or from society that being selfish is negative, bad, wrong, unhealthy or sinful.
Many readers may recognise that they have created their entire life based on the fear of being judged as selfish. If you fall into this category where you have spent, or still spend, most of your life pleasing others and putting yourself either second or last when dealing with your family, friends, partner, or spouse, the truth is you are still selfish in your ways. You have simply learned a very unhealthy and self destructive form selfishness. It is currently masked, in your perception, as selflessness or martyrdom, but, in reality, it is your way of indirectly getting what you want and need.
In other words, our fears of losing love, support, and security, or of being judged, or of feeling guilt selfishly cause us to protect ourselves and remain comfortable, rather than face the criticism and judgment of those closest to us. When we love ourselves wholeheartedly, and thus honor and value ourselves with everyone - no matter what - we run the risk of being rejected by the people we love and value most, because anyone who still compromises and betrays themselves regularly will find it hard to accept or understand our growing sense of self respect and self worth.
The ultimate example that deconstructs the myth of selflessness, and proves that everyone is selfish, is that of a parent. Underneath every possible reason for a woman or man to bring a child into this world lie strictly selfish motives. No woman or man says, "I want to have a child and give up the next 20+ years of my life to meet the needs of someone who will most likely take me for granted."
Since anyone who reads this article is obviously the child of their parents, please pause for a moment here and ask yourself why your parents conceived you and then birthed you into this world? Was this motivating factor selfish or selfless?
If you yourself are now a parent, or have been for years, please also pause to ask yourself why you had children in the first place? Was your motive selfless or selfish? And please try to be as honest with yourself as possible.
Whether parenthood was a conscious or unconscious choice, it is such a great example of selfishness disguised as selfless sacrifice. Men and women create children primarily because it's their own dream to do so, or it's their dream to have a family, or it's their dream to parent better than their parents did, or to give a child what they never received. At other times, a child is an unwanted mistake, for either one or both parents, who were simply wanting to have fun, or to enjoy the pleasures of sexual intimacy, or seeking the love, approval or acceptance of the opposite sex.
In some cases, a woman or a man doesn't know what else to do with their life and so having a child seems like a good option, because - why not? - everyone else is doing it. Sometimes having a child is a ploy to keep a man, or not to lose a woman, or to become financially secure, or to escape one's own parents. In some sad cases, it's an opportunity for a larger support cheque from the government. In other words, all human beings are very selfish - even the most loving, giving and apparently "self sacrificing" parent.
There is nothing wrong with this fact though because it's the way life is. The key point here is that it's healthier to acknowledge both your own selfishness as well as that of others, so you can make informed and conscious choices based on deep self love, as opposed to misguided ones that are self destructive.
I often joke with my clients that I am one of the most selfish men you will ever meet. And they laugh and say they don't agree. And then I say, "I'm serious." I have now helped over 10,000 people. Five days a week, I work with people one on one in my office supporting others to overcome their mental, emotional and physical suffering and also to achieve their life goals and dreams. When I'm not in my office, I'm often travelling and speaking, or writing articles like this to share what I have learned to help me and those I've worked with to be healthy, happy, fulfilled and at peace.
But all the service I offer stems from selfish motives. For years, I was selfish in unhealthy and self destructive ways that led to pain and suffering for both myself and those around me. I was addicted to drugs and alcohol. I lied, stole and cheated. I compromised myself for other people to love, accept and approve of me, while unknowingly hurting and betraying myself as deeply as one can.
Then, I embarked on my healing and spiritual journey where I learned to love, value, accept, forgive, be true to, and care for myself fully and wholeheartedly. After years of learning how to effectively and practically live in this way, I found that I had not only filled my own cup up with health, happiness and purpose, but I had also mastered using these tools in a way that benefited others who were struggling with the same emotions, needs, desires and dreams that I was.
I love to love. Because love is both who I am and why I was born. I believe this is true for everyone. I love to be well and to feel good. I love being true to myself because the result is deep self respect. I love sharing with others the key lessons, insights and steps I had to master to maintain a high quality of life, health and happiness. In effect, I absolutely love sitting with another human being, or a group, and talking about the things that really matter in life - love, being authentic, fulfilling our life purpose, overcoming our suffering, finding peace and creating health in mind, heart and body.
Selfishly, I make my living doing this and I enjoy it, which makes me good at what I do and of real benefit to those I have the honor of working with. I have no shame about this, nor do I make myself wrong for living in this way, because I know that me being selfish in this healthy manner is the best thing I can do for those around me and for the globe. I have found that not living in this way, or in other words, being selfish in an unhealthy way, is the true cause of the suffering we create for ourselves and for others.
Once we love ourselves unconditionally, loving another becomes an act of self love. In other words, as we love and heal the pain in our heart, the defensive walls that make up our identity, ego or false separate self naturally come down, opening our perception to a true felt experience of our oneness with all life. The more we feel and understand this spiritual truth, the clearer it becomes that when we do love ourselves in healthy ways we're actually loving everyone and everything.
Similarly, when we love others we are indeed loving ourselves, yet most of us unconsciously focus on others as a means of avoiding 1) our own pain, 2) the things we do not love about ourselves and 3) the ways in which we currently do not honour ourselves. This renders our love of others conditional, unconscious and manipulative, rather than healthy, pure and unconditional.
With this in mind, practically speaking, the fear within us is the greatest obstacle to turning our unhealthy selfishness into the type of healthy selfishness that first benefits us and then later benefits everyone we know and meet. Fear of hurting others, fear of being judged, fear of being rejected, fear of losing love, fear of losing support, fear of losing a partner, spouse or friend, and fear of being alone are some of the most common ways we justify our self destructive tendencies.
Our Deepest Pain
In my experience, however, if we go a layer deeper I believe the ultimate fear underlying all of this fear is the recognition of how much pain we have caused ourselves over the course of our lives by betraying ourselves for the love, approval, and acceptance of other people. Feeling this pain in our heart that we ourselves allowed and created, by not caring for ourselves more is the primary factor that holds us back.
It's important to express that healthy selfishness does not mean we become cold, insensitive, rude or alone. Being selfish in a healthy way does not mean we disregard other people's feelings and needs. It simply means we do not disregard ourselves to please others or to support others at our own expense. It means we take care of our body and value our needs, desires, feelings and dreams.
Contrary to what most people think, as we learn to be selfish in healthy ways we actually become more compassionate and understanding. Rather than expecting others to meet our needs or please us all the time, we realise that other people have their own feelings, needs, desires and dreams that must be attended to each day for that person to be healthy and happy as well.
It is not wrong to want to be healthy and happy. It is not wrong to want to feel valued, appreciated and respected. It is not wrong to be the best person you can be. It is not wrong to live your life to the fullest. Rather it is healthy to be selfish in this way. We were not born to suffer and it's ok to love yourself. It's ok to selfishly pursue activities, experiences, relationships and a career that brings you joy and makes you feel well.
If we settle for less than we are capable of or for less goodness than we know is possible in life, then we will just be full of resentment, depression and disease and this is not good for anyone. Believing we are selfless, but ending up sick and miserable does not serve the world.
Blake D. Bauer is the best selling author of You Were Not Born To Suffer He is hosting a weekend retreat in Perth on November 8 and 9.
Blake D Bauer is the author of You Were Not Born to Suffer