Someone called me selfish the other day. A person in my own family.
This person said that I 'only cared about myself', and it hurt me. It hurt me because this is a person I have loved my whole life, but have never really seen for who they actually are - more who I wanted them to be, the hero I held them up as on the pedestal of love I had in my heart for them. It hurt because this person doesn't know the hours I worry for their mental health, their happiness, their health. They don't know how I lie in bed awake at night thinking about them, wondering what I could or should do to help them. They don't know how I've tried to stop loving them because of how toxic they are to me but how I just can't because since I was a little girl this person has been someone I've always wanted to love me back in ways they just can't. So, it hurt.
But here's the thing; I need to be more selfish with that person, and a lot more selfish with a lot of people in my life.
I am a recovering codependent and a chronic people pleaser. As a person with ADHD I have always struggled with black-and-white thinking and what Dr. Edward Ned Hallowell has termed 'justice sensitivity' or Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria. I think justice sensitivity extends past the personal, at least in myself, as a need to always know right from wrong. I have always wanted to exist in a world where there was an objective 'right' and an objective 'wrong' so that I could exist on the side of right. I have always been terrified of being wrong - perhaps it's the result of a lifetime of careless mistakes, misunderstandings of social cues, and all the other mental and emotional baggage that goes along with being neurodiverse. Studies show that kids with ADHD will hear on average 20,000 more negative comments in their lifetime than non-ADHD kids.
At any rate, I used to get my kicks doing nice things for others. It didn't matter how much energy, money or time I had - the needs of others always trumped my own personal well-being and projects. I got a thrill (or a dopamine high) from being able to 'help' another, even when this help overstepped boundaries or was frankly inappropriately crossing the lines into the world of micromanaging or meddling. I wouldn't say i'm completely in the free or clear of that - it's hard to unlearn a lifetime of codependent behaviours - but i'm working on recognizing where others end and where I begin, where my help is healthy and where it's a negative coping strategy for my own lack of self-esteem.
This is a call-out to everyone in 2020, ADHD and non-ADHD alike; be more selfish in 2020, but be less self-centered.
We live in a scary world. It's only January 3rd and President Trump has caused major political instability by ordering the deaths of leaders in the middle east. Meanwhile, small children are still being separated from their parents at the southern border and traumatized for life for the crime of being poor and desperate. Some of these children will die and have died. Some of them will never recover from the emotional trauma of this event. Wildfire rage across Australia, killing thousands of animals. Hate crimes and racism are on the rise. Children are starving to death in Yemen. It's a scary world out there.
When you are a person who is codependent or you suffer from poor self-esteem, being a puppet on a string for the toxic people around you can take up a lot of your energy. In fact, it can take up all your energy. That energy could be better used saving our crap-bucket of a planet. We are in the red zone; we no longer have the luxury of ignoring what's going on around us.
I have spent my entire adult life living in fear of the present and the future. I chose to bring a child into this world because I truly believe that engaged and responsible child-rearing can be a part of the process of change, but it is scary to imagine what my daughter's future will be like. I don't have time to worry about how people who are frankly, just as unhealthy or more emotionally unhealthy than me, think about me. I'm too busy getting busy saving our world.
Be more selfish. Give less time to people who are committed to misunderstanding you, to people who expect you to make them happy when they don't take responsibility for their own happiness, to people who can and should stand on their own two feet. Give less emotional real estate to people who deal in guilt, emotional manipulation and unhealthy communication. I am not saying you should not love these people; just that you should use better boundaries with them to protect your time and energy. Be selfish - say no. Don't act out of guilt or obligation. Get your needs met. Live the life you want to live. Be the way you want to be. Prioritize real self-care; get on top of your admin shit, your financial shit, your health shit. Put YOU first.
And then take all that emotional, spiritual, psychic, mental and physical energy that you've gifted yourself with and invest it back in making our world a better place on every level - as a global citizen through donating, writing letters to your elected representatives, going to protests or moving to a plant-based diet. As a local citizen by volunteering, campaigning for politicians you believe in, spending money ethically, helping those in your community. And as a human - by having compassion in your daily dealings with others, whether it's the person behind a counter or the person who hurt you by calling you selfish. There's a difference between having compassion for someone when they truly need you and letting that person walk all over you, and the more medicine you have for yourself the more you'll have for others.
There are so many important causes to care about, so many ways to help. And yet so many of us are self-centered; we don't think about the world at large if it doesn't directly affect us. It is easy, especially with ADHD, to forget that many people out there are suffering. It is easy to get mired in drama, personal conflict, personal issues. At the end of the day, when you look back on where you invested your time and energy, you'll never regret working to make your world a better, kinder, more compassionate place. And I truly believe for many of us that starts with being more 'selfish' - with our time, our energy and our love.
How much time do you commit weekly to making your world a better place vs. scrolling on your phone? how much money do you commit monthly to those in need vs. buying yourself things you don't really need? You can do more.
If the person I love, who I wrote about at the beginning of this article ever needs me - I'll be there. I'll be there, but with boundaries. I won't open my heart to being hurt and it will take me a long time to trust them again if the situation ever changes in a way where it seems like closeness is possible. But regardless of this, I won't stop being the kind of person that would help another in need, because that's about me and my integrity. I no longer need this person's validation nor does it matter if THEY think I'm selfish, because I know who I am and what I stand for.