LIFE SKILLS (WHAT I WISH THEY’D TAUGHT ME IN SCHOOL) – Part 5: Selfishness isn’t a dirty word

by , on
28th July 2017

Last year that was a big thing about the Danish word hygge which describes a particular kind of comfort.  The Interweb was awash with pictures of roaring fires, scented candles and squishy sofas. Normally sensible folk ran amok in John Lewis buying cashmere throws and knitted cushions, trying to recreate their own little sense of hygge at home.

Unfortunately, there isn’t such a term for a particular type of selfishness and consequently our associations with the term are generally negative.  When I looked for some interesting memes to accompany this article (about selfishness not being a bad thing necessarily) there were none to be found. Quite. Literally. None.  Fortunately, I love a challenge and I did find one that expressed perfectly what I am trying to say here:

There is a very good reason why they tell you to fit the oxygen mask to yourself first, isn’t there?  In the event of a problem, it means that in looking after yourself first, you are able to help others. However, other than being 30,000 feet up in the air or in the middle of the ocean; in daily life a lot of us grapple with this concept.

As women; I think we particularly struggle with the idea of looking after ourselves before others; especially as parents. How many times have you heard a frustrated female say “he’s just so selfish” about a partner or spouse? Maybe this difference between the sexes (in the sense of putting oneself first) harks way back to when men went out hunting and women were left looking after the family.  In order to make sure he brought back food for his tribe, I am quite certain that the accomplished hunter took care of himself (in terms of being fed, rested and watered) before he did anything else. Which actually makes perfect sense: particularly at a time when the roles between the sexes are becoming increasingly blurred.  With more and more women now the major breadwinner or going it alone entirely; isn’t it about time we let a little of that prehistoric psyche win through?

But the benefits of being selfish, reach far beyond our ability to put food on the table.  Looking after yourself first will also enable you to show up in a friendship, job or relationship as the best version of yourself you can possibly be.  If you are emotionally and physically drained because you are constantly putting everyone’s needs before yourself; sooner or later you will be running on fumes and have nothing left to give.

So maybe being selfish isn’t such a bad thing after all, but if you just can’t bring yourself to think of it that way, then call it self-hygge.



by , on
20th July 2017

Number Four: Forgiveness.

This is a divisive one I reckon and far, far easier said than done.  I know plenty of people who (wronged by another) would NEVER forgive.  And don’t we see people who forgive as being a bit of a sap, right? There’s almost a badge of honour that goes with the attitude of “once you’ve wronged me, I’ll drop you like a bad habit”……..but the problem with this mentality is – very often – it’s coupled with a lasting deep resentment and bitterness.

It was almost a decade ago that I started really looking deep inside as to why I was feeling so unhappy and uncomfortable with my life and my experience of it.  Along with many other behaviours I needed to modify, my ability to forgive was definitely “up there” as needing work.

The art of forgiveness is multi-layered and isn’t just about letting someone off the hook who screwed you over.  Generally speaking,  when someone hurts you it’s perfectly natural to beat yourself up about the fact you let it happen in the first place. So, most importantly,  it’s also about the ability to forgive yourself too. I have a very analytical brain, so if something fails or goes wrong I have this destructive tendency to go up, down and round it a thousand times, trying to work out what on earth I could have done differently.  In doing so, every time I replay a scenario, I end up physically living through the whole shitty experience all over again.

In the end, it all boils down to this.  It’s in the past and you can’t change it. What you can do is change your experience of it.  Sure, if your partner has cheated on you and the relationship has ended, you are going to go through a period of hating the world, full stop.  That’s just natural. But sooner or later, the only person your hatred serves to destroy, is you.   It will quite literally eat you up inside. I personally know a couple of women who YEARS down the line just cannot speak about their ex-husband without a stream of vitriol and you know what; it’s just really sad that they’re still stuck in that place.

I had the most awful year in 2016.  A big business deal I’d put a great deal of time, money and effort into went wrong (through no fault of my own) and I was devastated, not to mention stressed out big time over the financial aspect of things.  Then, someone who I considered to be one of my closest friends, pretty much pushed our friendship under the bus. Blindsided,  I literally sat in my office for about three days straight, just sobbing.  I was so heart-broken.   Not long after this, my two-year romantic relationship tanked.   To round things off just nicely, I’d undertaken a major house move and the property I had relocated to turned out to be a nightmare.  I was going through a marathon of total crap, completely on my own and I was feeling more than a tad sorry for myself.  I cannot tell you how many times I replayed situations in my head, only to feel my heart rate rise and my whole body stiffen.  That’s the problem with being pissed off: it’s exhausting.

Although it happened in stages (some easier than others), I had to take the decision to allow myself to be angry for a time but then to (as I call it) “put things in the vault” and forgive all concerned.  There can be a myriad of reasons and circumstances as to why someone wrongs you and very often it’s not because they’re psychologically flawed or a monster.  Quite often it’s because they are having a tough time themselves or are just plain unhappy and haven’t figured out why.  When you hate the world it’s easy to  lash or and say (and do) things that normally you’d find reprehensible.  So, you need to recognise when you’re in this mindset, otherwise you’ll end up being the one doing the damage to those closest to you.  So as hard as it might be, try to be kind.

And by the way being kind, does not make you a sap.  It sets you free ultimately.  Is my relationship with the people who hurt me the same as it was before?  Do I just casually skip along, like it never happened? Of course not.  When something makes a friendship shift on a seismic level, it can never exist the way it did before.  This may mean ultimately, that you decide to walk away from the person concerned and that’s your decision.  Just do it with grace and not with the extended remix version of “I can’t believe this happened to me” on repeat.

Now a caveat. On the flip side of all of this, there are some people out there who will take advantage of you, just because they can. Or maybe they live a parasitic lifestyle or have a habit to feed.  Basically the addicts, narcissists and sociopaths of this world. They are not your problem or project and it is not your job to save these people. Never – and I mean NEVER – beat yourself up about why you didn’t spot this or spot that.  These particular characters are supremely skilled in getting under your radar – they’ve practised it on others many times.  For them, it’s survival of the fittest and you are just a supply source.  They don’t need your forgiveness and they certainly don’t deserve your time.  Sooner or later karma will be their medicine. In this scenario, the only person you need to be kind to is you. So feel free to drop these people like a bad habit.  You have my permission to put them in the vault and throw away the freakin’ key. Then go back to being fabulous and try not to give them a second thought.