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Home > Spirituality > Relationships as a Sacred Journey

The Difference Between Self-centeredness and Selfishness

By Joyce and Barry Vissell

From the "Divine Selfishness" article on their website, reprinted with permission.

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One of the great paradoxes in life as well as relationship is the concept of loving oneself and the concept of selfishness. There has always been great confusion in reconciling these two seemingly very different concepts.

There is no real relationship without loving oneself. Without the love of one's own self, self-love, we are not magically able to give what we don't have to another. Nor are we able to receive it from another. As deeply as we can love our self, that's how deeply we can enter into relationship with another. To truly love our self we have to be Self-centered - centered upon our highest Self, the God-Self, the light of Spirit within us. This contrasts sharply with self-centeredness, or selfishness, the preoccupation with our human personality and desires. Divine Selfishness, our highest Self-centeredness, allows more love to be available in our relationships with others. When we are centered upon the highest within ourselves, we can see the highest within our beloved. Human selfishness, on the other hand, takes us away from love. When we are centered upon our human desires, we live out of fear and try to get as much as we can from those we relate with, rather than wanting to give all we can.

The trick is to know the difference between divine Selfishness and human selfishness. It's not always obvious. Charles, one of our clients, felt a deep need to be alone, to take time apart from his partner, Connie. It seemed clear to him that this was a need of his soul, and was a manifestation of his love for himself—in other words, divine Selfishness. Connie, however, was in pain. In describing the events leading up to Charles' decision, it became clear that Charles was avoiding the expression of his own pain and anger. Connie was the only one expressing these "darker" emotions, and was longing to be met in these feelings by her partner. Instead, he was choosing to leave. While assuring himself he was leaving for "spiritual" reasons, he was ignoring (whether consciously or unconsciously) his fear of facing his own emotions.

Steven, on the other hand, also felt the need for time apart from Janice. He felt the relationship was becoming abusive and hurtful. Unlike Charles, he didn't repress his sadness, frustration and anger. Yet he felt hopeless and helpless to bring love into the relationship. He realized he had entered into the relationship for the wrong reason. He felt he was the only one who could take care of Janice, and forced himself to marry her for this reason. This of course backfired. Now he was feeling guilty about his own mistake, and this kept him in an unhealthy relationship. Counseling had failed to help them because he was failing to look at his lack of desire to really be with Janice. He learned that he wasn't being Self-centered enough. He was afraid of being selfish and hurting Janice. Yet by not being Selfish enough, he was hurting them both even more. When he was finally able to leave the relationship, both prospered by the opportunity to nurture their own souls—divine Selfishness.

Obviously, the choice between human selfishness and divine Selfishness is not about leaving or not leaving a relationship. More important are the day-to-day opportunities in the course of relationship. It is really the choice of living from the heart or living from fear. And how do you live from fear? Saying "yes" when your heart wants to say "no." Saying "no" when your heart wants to say "yes." By not listening to your heart (i.e., what is best for your soul), you compromise your truth, and cause suffering in the relationship. You may be afraid of hurting your friend. You may be afraid of losing their love and friendship. Whatever it is you are afraid of, it is still fear that is ruling you, rather than love.

We know a man who freely spends money on his wife, but seldom spends money on anything meaningful for himself. This, he reasons, is avoiding selfishness. On the contrary, this is a symptom of lack of love for self. He thinks he is being generous but, without first being generous with himself, he cannot truly be generous with another. His very fear of selfishness is causing him to be selfish. Remember, fear is the root of human selfishness. Love is the root of divine Selfishness.

Therefore, in every decision that needs to be made, ask what love would have you do. If the decision is right for your soul, then it will be right for the relationship, too. If you are loving and honoring your own heart, then you can't help but do the same for another. If you are being divinely Selfish, you will be helping everyone around you.

© Copyright The Shared Heart Foundation, Reprinted with permission To the top of page

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