Overcoming Selfishness

Realizing that you are selfish is hard to swallow.
It hurts. And you feel crummy. And you want to run away from the guilt by placing the blame on someone else. At least, that’s what I was doing.

Yesterday I had a phone conversation with my Mom. She was catching me up on the happenings of my hometown when she said something that bugged me. I felt like people were taking advantage of her kindness. In my naïve wisdom, I told my Mom that she didn’t have to be so generous all the time. Her response was wise: “But it’s the right thing to do.”

The conversation continued, but something was stirred up inside of me. I felt bad. Minutes after our phone conversation ended, I called my Mom back up and apologized to her. I said I was sorry I hadn’t been kind spirited about the situation back home. I told her I would try to be more kind.
But even then, I still felt uneasy. Literally, for hours, I was bugged. When something is on my mind, I talk about it with my amazing husband because he is an excellent listener, and after seven years of being married to a counselor, he’s learned many of my therapy techniques. I told him about the situation in my hometown. I complained about patterns from the past. I expressed how I felt unappreciated, how I felt ignored, or how I was the victim at different points in time. I squarely placed the blame on this other person, who was innocent of any intended pain.

I was blaming the other person, all the while acknowledging that I should be nicer – but it’s not my fault. I was rationalizing how I should be more generous (like my amazing Mom) but it’s the other person’s fault. Can you see the error in my thinking?

I was leading myself down a path of justification that wasn’t making me feel better, and finally, about 9:30pm, I understood. The blame lay with me, inside me. The conversation with my Mom had made me aware of a weakness of mine – selfishness. And instead of facing the ugly truth, which was that I had a selfish thought, I swept my shame under the rug of blame. By blaming someone else, I could unconsciously get off scott-free. (Except my counseling training has made me acutely aware of those destructive patterns.)

I was upset with myself, because I want to be a better person. I should be a better person.
Carl Jung describes this phenomenon as a psychological “shadow.” Traits like we dislike about ourselves are easily found in other people. We pinpoint their weaknesses in order to hide our own similar weakness. I battle against selfishness. I know I’ve made progress, but I obviously still have some work to do, as I learned yesterday. I also realize that as I strive to overcome my weakness, I have to be careful that I don’t judge others too quickly or harshly. As I am acutely aware of selfishness in my life, I am also quicker to recognize it in others. Because I am trying so hard to not be selfish, it really bothers me when other people act selfishly.

Love conquers our human weakness.

Serving other people, instead of blaming them for the discomfort caused by becoming aware of weakness, provides healing. Not lip service; not saying “I should be nicer.” But actually being nicer. Actually serving the people that I need to love better. The thorn in my side of a selfish tendency will only diminish as I really try to love other people. Jesus Christ was on to something when he taught to bless your enemies and pray for those who use you. Serving them will foster a feeling of love. Love is powerful enough to overcome selfishness.

I am a work in progress. I will keep trying to do better.
You are also a work in progress, and you can be a little bit better each day.

Be patient with the people in your life who are trying to overcome their weaknesses. Love them.

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