Differentiating Selfishness from Self-care: A Journey of Self-Discovery

I have been back and forth trying to decide whether or not I should post this article and I have decided to do it. Up until now, I have been an extremely self-conscious person- always caring for myself unconditionally. I think it is crucially important to be so self-aware that you don’t need stress about the worrying thought of being seen as selfish or self-centered. 

A very good friend of mine recently reassured me with some life changing advice, he said: When was the last time you did something which benefitted yourself disregarding others?

I had no clue what to say. What do you mean? I told him I genuinely cannot remember an instance in which I disregarded somebody else’s feelings over my own… And then he followed up with: When was the last time you put somebody else’s feelings above your own? Being hit with the words was like a kick in the teeth- in a good way. I thought to myself- loads of times!

The amount of times I had put another’s feelings above my own, well, it’s too much to count. And that’s what part of being a feminist, to me is. Knowing where you stand, and what the difference is between being selfish in a good way, and being self-centered… I’ll tell you how I began this discovery.

As a child, I was very anxious. I had (what I now were) panic attacks multiple times every day; I didn’t know my worth or where the hell I stood. Teachers towered above me, and old people yelled at me, and it built up inside me to create the person I am today. Up until the age of, I’d say, 16, I never would have put myself on the same pedestal as many people that I know. This is when I realised that my rights were there and that they belonged to me. Being a human comes with rights and responsibilities- and I have the right as a human to access those just as much as anybody else does. 

The right to stand up for myself as a human. The right to say NO and not feel obliged to explain why. The right to wear what the hell I want. The right to be sexually liberated. The right to identify anywhere along the gender spectrum. The right to protect myself. The right to non-harmful free speech. The list goes on!

You, as a person, reserve rights. You may be twelve, you might be fifty, you might be eighty- and the one thing that will never change is that as a human being on planet earth, you will always have your rights. Rights make us human.

And yet some don’t have them. So next time somebody asks you to lend them money and you don’t have it, kindly tell them no. The next time a person asks you to dinner and you aren’t interested, say no. Don’t go to ‘get a free dinner’, don’t go to ‘make them happy’ or ‘to get that promotion’- do what’s in your best interest. Don’t stay trapped in a relationship you don’t want. Don’t do it- you retain the right to be comfortable.

Glory bound: King and his wife, Coretta, lead the marchers on Jefferson Davis Highway en route to Montgomery, Alabama. 1965

The sad thing is, most people don’t realise their worth…

You live your life doing what you’re told, or if you’re lucky what you’re ‘advised’ by everybody. You do what you ‘think’ you want, because you’ve only ever been presented with a binary of options: be a doctor, be a nurse, be a boy, be a girl, be an astronaut, be a scientist- but when do we choose? In 2016, just 57 percent world’s working-age women are in the labor force, compared to 70 percent of working-age men. Why? Gender stereotypes.

Britain’s recent jobs record has been remarkable. The economy is chugging along but the last time the unemployment rate was as low as it is today was in the winter of 1974-75. Harold Wilson was prime minister, Derby County were on course to win the old first division, David Bowie was about to release Young Americans. Times were ‘good’- but why are so many adults unemployed? Maybe their generation wasn’t so good at the whole ‘be yourself’ thing?

That’s not what I’m talking about today. We’re talking about rights, self-worth and self-love. Mixed into this, I have wanted to instil into you: It’s okay to say no!

The difference between selfishness and self care is staggering, and it’s okay to be confused about it. Self love is loving yourself, others, and being content in your body. Being content identifying as your gender. Being sexually and religiously liberated. Feeling confident and comfortable in yourself to say yes and no to things.

Some things come alongside self-love, too, that you wouldn’t expect. For example, my telephone skills are now phenomenal, I find myself accepting compliments all the time rather than denying them, I don’t allow clients to exploit me for my work, I stand up for myself when men make crude remarks towards me. I say no for lots more than I used to, and I don’t feel pressured to do anything. This has taken time, and the confidence has come from my journey as a young liberal feminist. And I love it, and I love me.

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