Is it selfish?

People like to call you selfish when you aren’t doing what they want. It causes a conundrum. You need to think of yourself, to take care of yourself, but when does doing so cross the line into selfishness? When do you get to put yourself first? It’s a question I’ve been struggling with.

I’m getting a breast biopsy this week. It comes after an initial three rounds of testing – two mammograms and an ultrasound – and I initially kept the testing quiet from all save my best friend. Why? Because that’s the way I wanted it.

I probably don’t have cancer (I wrote about that recently) but there is a slim chance. I think about that slim chance a lot – hard not to, really. I think about what it might mean, what happens next. I think about what I want.

Historically, I tend to spend a great deal of time and energy on other people. I worry about what they’re thinking. I agonize over the behavioural choices they’re making. I struggle to accept and understand that some things are not in my control. When you’re dealing with other people’s emotions, this can be very stressful.

I didn’t want to share. I wanted to keep it on the down-low. I didn’t want I knew would come when I did let people in on my situation. I let people into the loop finally because once you’ve reached the biopsy stage, those in your circle should probably be made aware. But it was a challenge. They responded as I predicted, in ways I didn’t want.

I didn’t want statistics and probabilities. I didn’t want to hear from people not getting biopsies about how it was no big deal. I didn’t want to hear about how this was an “us” thing; I didn’t want any “go team” speeches. This isn’t an “us” thing. I appreciate the concern and the sympathy, but the optimistic cheers and earnest conversations about how it’s likely nothing but if it’s something we’ll fight it together irk. We won’t be in it together. We sort of will, and I get what they’re saying, I understand the motivation but ultimately, this is not a “we” thing. If the nothing turns out to be something, only one of us will be getting a mastectomy. Only one of us will get radiation. Only one of us will be facing chemotherapy.

I feel dramatic thinking it. I feel dramatic taking a stand. Because it’s probably nothing so why do I have to be dogmatic about how I want things to go down?

It’s not that I don’t want the support. It comes down to a matter of ownership. Who owns me? Who owns us? I’ve found that other people like to think they do. Other people think that because they are emotionally involved, it’s about them. It’s about their needs and what they want.

Part of it is training. I’ve trained people to treat me this way. I’ve avoided standing up for my needs; I’ve avoided making waves. I let other people take over because often, It doesn’t matter to me enough to fight. Often, I decide to put other people’s needs first because doing so doesn’t cause me harm.

Part of it is the eating disorder and mental illness diagnoses. People think, on some level, that I’m incompetent. That I need more help than I do. So, they try and take over. Again, I’m partially at fault. If it’s no big deal, I often let them. The conflict is not worth it to me – the end result is not important enough to fight about. Unfortunately, it has led me here; my circle assumes that I will always let them take over and make it about us, which really is about them, instead of about me.

I think perhaps a decision over the selfishness of an action comes down to an analysis of harm. Would acquiescing to someone else’s wishes cause harm? Would not acquiescing cause it? Is the situation neutral? Would giving in cause you harm? What scenario will lead to the most harm; and what, the least?

Is compromise possible? People talk about compromise like it’s the Holy Grail, like there should always be a way to make it win-win. That’s ideal but also idealistic. Sometime a decision has to go one way or the other.

I do not want anyone to go with me to the results appointment. I am getting a ride to the biopsy. That is mostly necessity. Apparently, driving will be a bit challenging for a few days afterward. So, needs must. I’m regretting that decision somewhat, however. My mother is taking me and it was a challenge getting her to agree not to push her way into the procedure. And, because she is taking me to this, she feels she is entitled to be part of the big reveal. I don’t want that. I don’t want anyone. I want to do it myself.

Hence, the charge of selfishness.

My mother tells me it’s not about me. She tells me other people are involved. She tells me I’m being selfish. She tells me she’s my mother and what would I do if it was my son?

Direct hit. I would be hurt, of course, and scared, if I found out my son was in this situation. I would also be surprised, because, we’re talking about possible breast cancer and that’s not really something he’ll suffer from. I hope I would hold true to my commitment to respect his boundaries. Because accusations of selfishness aside, my mother’s persistence in the face of the expression of my needs is a big boundary violation. That’s the problem with keeping them weak and malleable.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot since she levelled the charge. I’ve decided the accusation of selfishness is unwarranted.

Choosing yourself doesn’t automatically make you selfish.

This is about me. It’s about my life. It’s probably nothing. The odds are against it being cancer. Even at the biopsy stage, where I’m at, there’s only a 40% chance of malignancy. But if it’s something, what happens next is up to me. This is not a group decision because there are no group consequences.

I don’t want anyone there because I don’t want to worry about what they’re feeling. I don’t want to feel like I have to comfort them or deal with their emotions. I don’t want to be pushed aside as they start to ask questions, and I don’t want to have to push back to get them to back off and let me be in charge of my own life.

I don’t think I’m being selfish. But I could be wrong. This could be utterly selfish and uncaring. That’s also okay.

You don’t always have to give in to what someone else wants, even if the consequences of your choice might be slightly negative. But if the accusation of being selfish arises because you aren’t giving way when someone else’s demands conflict with your needs, then it’s probably a good one to let go.

Have you ever been accused of selfishness?

10 thoughts on “Is it selfish?

  1. I don’t think you’re being selfish. Quite frankly I think your mother is. I completely get that you don’t want to be Comforting your mum, rather than experiencing your own emotions if the results are not good.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. There are words that people throw around that often get people flustered and losing their self-confidence, making them react in a way they wouldn’t normally. “Fat” is one example. “Over-reacting” is another. “Selfish” is another. People use them to manipulate and take your power away. A passive-aggressive strategy.

    I’ve been very close to your situation, though not a cancer scare. My mom is a nurse. She is a wonderful person and we have a great relationship most of the time. Sometimes, though, she tries to cross my boundaries. For example, she feels she has the right to know all medical information about her five grown children and often knows how to get it without our consent. (She does not feel we have this same right to her medical information, which amuses me).

    She drove me to my first colonoscopy. When I fill out medical forms I am very careful to state no one besides me has access to that information. Somehow, though, she was there when they told me the results. I was unable to do anything about it at that time, though was fully aware it was happening and was angry. I didn’t want to create a scene. Next time….when she drove me again….I made sure all involved knew if it happened again I would consider it a HIPAA violation. That stopped it.

    You have the right to privacy. Those who love you do not have the right to decide where your boundaries sit and they don’t have to match theirs. Your mom can decide whether you can know her private health information, but she can’t make that decision for you. I would (probably) tell my family if anything major came up, but would prefer to do it in my own time, after I think it all through for myself. I am not keeping something that belongs to them….it is mine and my choice to share.

    I also won’t call after I drive home from somewhere.I’ve been told I’m selfish about this, too. My family finally got over it. I don’t want to feel the need to make phone calls after I drive…or feel guilt if I forget. Truth is, what can they do. And how often do people check on you if you forget to call. So I did a formal absolution of all of them having any responsibility if I crash and go undiscovered for days. I just laugh when anyone says “Call me when you get home.” It’s not going to happen. Unless I forgot something.

    What’s selfish and what’s self-care? It’s debatable, but I figure I can define it for myself….and it doesn’t have to match the definition of others.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is lovely. Thanks for writing it. “Selfish” is tricky, hits our soft spots, makes us question ourselves. You raised some good points, especially about the release of information.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s also interesting that you identified it as passive-aggressive. I missed that, and yet it is a behaviour my mother excels at. Kind of a family quirk, actually, a behaviour that’s been passed down. I try very hard to eschew it.


  3. ugh- my mom used to call me selfish often and from a young age. that word is a heavy word for me. i finally realized that i am not selfish at all. on the contrary. however, it was a term she used whenever i was not putting her ahead of me. health issues are tricky. i get both sides of it but more from a grieving perspective, a loss and aftermath standpoint. ultimately, we all should do what we feel is right for us. if others don’t like it or agree it’s not our business. right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a heavy word, especially for people pleasers. The accusation sends me into a spin. Thanks for the reminder though; it’s an important one. Other people’s thoughts and feelings are not my business.

      Liked by 2 people

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