All my life I have been accused of being self-centered . When I finally had a child at age 38, someone said, “Good, now you can think of someone else besides yourself!” Ouch.
Introverts get a bum rap sometimes (I have been one since I was five when I purposely gave up talking until my grandmother Nana mentioned something to my mother about me being “slow”). If we are not accused of being unfriendly, snobbish or aloof, we are considered self-centered, self-absorbed, just plain selfish, and in my family, mentally impaired. In any case, what I want to know is: Is it possible to be selfish with our own lives?
To get some perspective I contacted my cousin Jeanne, a Certified Mental Health Therapist.
“In all my years of practicing, I never once saw anyone who treated themselves TOO kindly…the opposite was always the case, creating unhappiness that generally brought them into therapy.”
“An examined life is the way to go,” she says. I’m with ya there Cuz, in mind, body and spirit.
Here is a handy tool to use to check your level of self-centeredness. According to Jeanne “Self-absorption should be considered on a continuum…some is necessary and helpful to know and accept yourself, and too much is obnoxious, like being insensitive to the needs of others and caring only to satisfy your own needs. However, the better you understand yourself and your motivations, the kinder and more caring you can be…and the freer you are.”
Ahhhhh. Our motivations. Whew. I squeaked past the undesirable end of the self-absorption continuum to the socially acceptable part due to my motivations. After all, it’s hard to be a stay-at-home Mom by choice and not be considerate of others. It is a job requirement complete with its own default mode so you can actually enjoy motherhood and not be overcome by screaming children and the fumes from their laundry piles. It is all built-in when we downloaded the decision.
But, to be honest, even before I got married I tended to be on the high end of the continuum. It’s true. I was a good daughter, employee, and friend, who always went out of her way to help someone out with a loan, a ride, or a listening ear over lunch. Wasn’t that me in college who drove halfway across Michigan to pick up an old boyfriend who somehow thought that $2 worth of gas would get him from St. John to Mt. Pleasant without running out of gas? Wasn’t that me who drove across the country with a sister so she wouldn’t have to drive it alone like I did? I am positive that was me sticking my thumb out to hitch a ride when her Gremlin broke down in the desert.
I know how I come off to others. As a writer, being considered self-centered comes with the territory. For example, in 1972 I started writing because I could sense, historically, it was an emotional time. It affected even me, a twelve-year old kid in a small town in Michigan. Admittedly, I also thought the personal information would come in handy later when I made the dramatic movie of my life, but initially I wanted to remember every thought that rambled through my mind. It was important research, so it all went into spiral notebooks from K-Mart. Who did I sit next to at lunch? What useless item was I sewing in Home-Ec class? Why did I get a C minus on my math test? Could John Denver be any cuter?
But all this wasn’t just to document my life, like any old self-centered, self-absorbed person would do. There had to be more to it. I wanted to remember how I felt . I wanted to remember my excitement when a boy bought me a silver spoon ring but was too shy to give it to me, so he gave it to my girlfriend to hand off to me in the school hallway. I wanted to remember the exact swear words that buzzed in my head when I was later betrayed by that same girlfriend over that same boy. And for some reason, I never wanted to forget how lonely it was to go to a junior high school dance wearing my new purple hot pants and not get asked to dance once. To an introverted ugly duckling, that stuff is huge. Feelings are huge. That was my motivation then. So where does all that fall on Jeanne’s Continuum of Self-Absorption? And for that matter, where does every memoir ever written fall on the continuum?
At least instead of blathering out loud like I do now, I wrote my way through school. My notebooks hold two decades of triumphs and tragedies and how they framed my human experience. I examined my life then and I still do. If that is self-centered, so be it. We are all just blobs of self-centered emotions that we try to wrestle into balance on a daily, if not hourly basis. Check your Facebook page and see.