Is fear of being seen as “selfish” keeping you from a healthy relationship?
Often times we know exactly what we want, but we are very afraid. We’re afraid of being rejected, of being criticized, or of being alone.
The worst part about this is that we are right.
I may very well not get what I want. If I ask for something, I might be rejected, criticized, or find myself alone. Asking is risky.
“Pretty please can you not speak to me that way?”
“If you don’t mind, can you find it in your heart to make plans with me rather than call me at the last minute when nothing better comes up?”
But what can you do instead of asking? Make a demand? A command? A requirement? Maybe. I prefer to think of it as having healthy boundaries.
Healthy boundaries are not selfish, they are actually good for everyone.
Healthy boundaries not only require that you treat yourself well, but they challenge others to decide whether or not they want to be selfish. They give others a chance to do better.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you want to eat at a particular restaurant, but your partner wants to go to his favorite place again. You like that place too, but you want something different. When you ask, he says no, he doesn’t want to go to a new place.
What do you do?
If you don’t see yourself in this scenario, or it doesn’t pose any problem, you can stop reading. You probably have healthy boundaries.
But if you would be tempted to just go along with him, even while complaining or feeling resentful, because you don’t want to be “selfish” — I’m talking to YOU.
This is where we might start to manipulate ourselves into a poor relationship by deciding it would be “selfish” to stay home, or to say you don’t want to go unless you can try the new place. Let me challenge you here: What is selfish about saying “no thanks.”? Are you a bad person for taking a pass on a restaurant you’re tired of? If you bow out, are you a diva? Are you a demanding b-word if you say “I don’t feel like going with you, partly because you don’t seem to care what I want.”?
Deep down you know this is not selfish.
Your resentment alone tells you that. You wouldn’t resent him if you thought everything was peachy. So why do you tell yourself it would be selfish?
Because you’re afraid. What if he accuses me of being self-centered? Or, what if he likes me less? How do I know he won’t Leave? What if he takes someone else? Fear is a huge motivator in this life. Behind so many self-destructive habits lies this painful emotion. We will make all kinds of excuses and tell ourselves white lies in order to keep fear at bay. But for what?
Good relationships can only be built from good ingredients, and one of them is self-respect.
Self-respect is the opposite of selfISH, because it actually honors everyone involved.
If you were to stay home and let him go to his favorite restaurant alone or with someone else, you would be honoring yourself by saying no to what you don’t want. You would be honoring your partner by not encouraging his selfishness. Also, you would be giving him a chance to notice that you are a separate person, with your own tastes and opinions. By being honest, and by not allowing resentment to seep into the relationship, you would be honoring your partner. You would be giving him an opportunity to stretch himself out of his comfort zone in order to nurture your connection. Finally, you would be giving both of you a chance for this to be a healthy relationship. And just maybe, he will recognize this and say “Okay, sorry, let’s pick the other place.”
But if he chooses not to give, not to be flexible, not to care, then don’t you think you should know that right now?
The truth is, sometimes we think we are “nice,” when what we really are is “chicken.”
Margie Wheelhouse is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Springfield, Illinois. She helps couples build great relationships and repair broken ones.