Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
This is entirely based on my personal observations. If there is a psychological theory similar to this I wouldn’t be surprised but I am not aware of it. This comes not from dedicated scientific research but, what I feel. The terminology is mine and there is probably more accurate terms out there for what I describe, but these work for me.
Society looks at selfishness as a bad thing, at least in theory. In reality everyone practices it to some degree. Once I stood blank faced in shock when someone told me that the world’s problem tended to be caused a by lack of selfishness. I knew enough of the woman saying this back story, that I felt what she was trying to tell me was, that her personal demons were often caused by giving to much of herself to others, who used and abused her.
I admit many of my own problems have been caused because I put the desires of others before my own well being. But, is that our only choice, being a selfish brat and door mat. I was thinking about this and have broken the idea of self into six different categories.
1) Sense of self. This is the recognition, that I am diffent from my surroundings. It is the cognitive knowledge where I end and the universe begins. This happens on a physical, mental, philosophical and religious level. For most of us this begins as an infant. You see it in a baby’s eyes as it looks in wonder when it realizes that its hand is different from the air it moves in.
2) Self identity. This is close to, but separate from sense of self. This is what a person sees as unique and different about themselves. To some extend these beliefs and perceptions may be shared with others, but each individual sees things and internalizes things differently, at least to some degree.. This is kind of like a psychological fingerprint. It may be close in some individuals but never exact. Often a person identifies with these factors so deeply and passionately, that slights question or insult on them, responds a defensive posturing or all out attack.
3) Self esteem. Just as self identity rises out of our sense of self, self esteem grows form self identity. It is the things that we see in ourselves as good and special. It gives us the courage of our convection and strength to weather attacks made on us. When the woman I spoke of earlier said the world’s problems were caused by lack of selfishness. I think she meant, but lacked the words to say, that many problems are caused by lack of self esteem, or maybe she meant the next category..
4) Enlighten self interest. Growing up the term ’look out for number one’ confused me. Especially when it was give as words of practical advice. Were people encouraging me to become selfish? But it is true; many times you can benefit others only if you take care of yourself. Personal physical and emotional need must be met, or you can be a value to the community. One can not put others before there needs, all the time just because the request come form out side oneself. It leads to have nothing for yourself to maintain your physical and mental health. Enlighten self interest allows one to grow and with that growth, the ability to help others.
5) Self centered. This is putting oneself before others. Not to intentionally hurt others but because the needs and feeling of others just don’t come in to the equation. On occasion others may benefit from this self center world view. Many have commented that a selfish lover (at least physically) concentrates on his pleasure, and that often leads to the pleasure of his partner, if for no other reason than to increase his own pleasure.. But the person’s goal is pleasure of himself and the partner’s needs and desires are a secondary result.
6) Selfishness. This is the lowest and basest of all the views of self. To the self centered, others just aren’t figured into the calculation for their actions. They are oblivious to the damage their actions may do. To the selfish, they see and understand that an action will have a negative effect on others, which if looked at objectively would outweigh any benefits. But they still choose the action because the benefits go to them and negative aspects go to others.
As I grow older I realize that things are more complicated than I predicted or wanted them to be when I was younger. I realize that what I took as a simple concept such as selfishness always equals bad, is not the way things really work, and self denial just for self denial’s sake is not the road to happiness.