Selfishness: Why it is healthy to acknowledge and express our needs
My journey in accepting my needs
“Don’t be selfish!” we would have heard this statement at some point of time in our life. We are taught since a young age to share, be kind and considerate to others. It’s part of our education to live in a society. Sometimes this conditioning to be selfless can prove very detrimental for our well-being. Let me explain.
One of the biggest problems I have faced in my life is not about being empathetic to others, but being empathetic to myself. During a conflict, I would often give the benefit of doubt to others, not to myself. It did not help my cause that I had deep interest in spirituality. It further emphasized the need to be loving, caring and giving.
More often than not, in my need to be loving, caring and giving (LCG) I would find it difficult to acknowledge my needs. It would tie my mind in knots. Intuitively I would feel that something in the relationship is not quite right, not quite fair, but in my need to be LCG, I would find it difficult to acknowledge and express my needs.
Selfishness is the most common human condition. Even a person choosing to serve humanity selflessly is doing so because it makes him ‘feel good’. If it wasn’t for the good feeling it is unlikely she would be doing it. Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not we are all attached to ‘feeling good’. The only difference is, different things, make different people feel good, at different times.
Then why are we so averse to acknowledge our selfishness?
“I am not doing it for myself but for the organization.”
“If others are happy then I am happy.”
“My soul desires.”
“God wants me to.”
These are some statements I have heard from people. Whenever I hear something like this, it feels inauthentic. Lacking in simple honesty. If the people who make such statements are confronted with their selfishness, they tend to react violently to defend themselves. And attack the person who dares show them that they are human, with human needs.
Do we ever judge ourselves as selfish for eating food when hungry? Or going to the toilet to relieve ourself? Or sleeping at night when we are tired? Why do we find it easier to accept and acknowledge the needs of the body, but not the mind?
What are the needs of the mind?
To be respected. To be loved. To be admired. To feel safe. To be understood. To be recognized. To express creatively. To actualize full potential. If I were to go by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs we tend to overlook our emotional needs. And even if we acknowledge them privately, we definitely do not talk about them to others. The reason for this is obvious.
Acknowledging and sharing our emotional needs makes us vulnerable. It gets us in touch with our humanity. We all aspire to be the best version of ourself. And that best version of ourself is not needy. That person is loving, caring and giving. She is fulfilled. Not seeking anything from anyone. But is this notion of ourself hinged in reality or a fantasy of our ego? A projection of our desire to be super human.
Often people who do not acknowledge their needs are in a state of denial and delusion. They start believing themselves to be superior to others. Often such people are heads of institutions. Hence no one dares to give them critical feedback, and if someone does he is immediately banished from the organization. At all cost the ego of the person at the top is protected.
Another set of people who deny their needs are people with deep spiritual inclination. Who aspire to transcend their ego and merge with supreme Consciousness. I have a close understanding of this mindset since I have experienced this as part of my spiritual journey. Such people find it difficult not only to acknowledge their needs, but also their negative emotions. These emotions are often suppressed or displaced onto an external entity such as God, Divinity or Angels.
I recently read about a mental illness called the Self Disorder. Persons suffering from this illness lose their sense of identity. They merge their identity with whatever they perceive. This depersonalization of experience is coupled with an increased apathy towards the world. At the same time the person feels they are superior to others.
I would not say most people who deny their needs are suffering from mental illness. Even though the mind, made of its conflicting thoughts, neurosis and mental strategies is an illness in its own right. It’s only a matter of degree.
“It gives me joy when my efforts are recognized.”
“I want to be loved.”
“What you said made me angry.”
“My past experience makes me fearful.”
What is wrong with the above statements? Why do we rarely get to hear them? Why do we shy away from expressing what we want and how we feel?
In our need to be selfless, we turn our face away from our humanity. In doing so we become hypocrites. It is an unconscious process. More often than not, the person is unaware of what they are doing, until life circumstances force him to examine himself more closely. And that is often a painful process.
I believe every human has the potential to realize their True Self. Consciousness. Awareness. Or whatever name one may call it. I believe that Jesus, Buddha and Krishna had attained that realization. A dimension of existence, where we are no longer bound by our desires and fears. However until we attain that state, or it is bestowed on us, I believe it is healthy to acknowledge and express our needs.
An unexpressed need or emotion is like a hook. It entangles us more and more. Expression liberates us from the burden to hide our needs. It also creates transparency and trust in relationships.