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?