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Sacrifice or selfishness?

doormat image by Jan DeBont for Sanctuary Christian Counseling in Shippensburg PA

None of us wants to be selfish. Well, most of us most of the time anyway. And that’s a good thing for our life together.

The problem is, when I’m talking to clients about self-care—simple things like taking time for themselves, doing something they want to do, or even just expressing a want or a need—I hear, “But isn’t that selfish?”

We all know selfish people, those whose universe centers on them and stops at the end of their nose. (Sometimes it’s a character flaw, sometimes it’s a more complex problem involving trauma or a mental illness.) And let’s face it, our culture encourages a me first, selfish attitude which really hasn’t gotten us far.

But when we constantly put others wants and needs ahead of our own, reducing ourselves to nothing, we can be just as unhealthy and shortsighted as the other end of the spectrum. Think of it this way…

You can’t sacrifice something you don’t have.

I tell clients all the time that you have to have a self to sacrifice – an awareness of your needs, desires, values, AND the awareness that they are valid—before you can sacrifice your self.

Your wants, needs, desires, and values are valuable and valid. You may give them up in service of a higher good, but they are your right as a human being. They may conflict with someone else’s whose needs are also valuable to you, and then you may sacrifice or compromise. But yours need not be obliterated. Nor should they be.

How do you know if you are denying yourself too much? Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is the sacrifice making me bitter or resentful?

  • Does the sacrifice do violence to my deeply held beliefs and values?

  • Does the other person(s) value the sacrifice? (Kids may not, but that’s different, unless they’re adults.)

  • Can you say no sometimes?

  • Is your health being affected? Our bodies often tell us what our minds don’t want to acknowledge.

You can probably think of others.

We are created to be in relationship, but being in relationship does not mean being a doormat to stay there. A healthy relationship of any kind involves knowing and honoring our own selves and the other’s selves in all our messy, wonderful humanness.

I think most of us in the therapy field truly enjoy helping persons wrestle through ideas like these and how they play out in relationships. If this is you, give us a call, shoot an email. We’d love to talk to you.

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