She is so self-less!, we say in awe, mouth open, full of appreciation.
She is so self-less caring for her elderly parents, having given up her sports classes, phone calls with friends, her job – or still doing it half-time to pay the rent –, let alone her life, her regular hours of eating and sleeping. She is functioning. Of course, she suffers; of course, she is stressed; of course, it is hard and difficult. We understand, at least, we assume we do. Yet, in the end, there is one thing she can be proud of: she is self-less. She can wear this heroic batch presented to her by the bystanders with honour.
She, however, does not even care about what she is wearing anymore. Whatever she puts on will be dirty within minutes feeding her parents, helping them doing their toilet. She does not give a shit about the batch. But she also thinks, I need to be self-less, I owe this, it is my duty – actually nowadays she does not think at all, but just keeps functioning.
Or: she proudly wears the batch. This is me. My Self is self-less. And hell yes, I show you how I make it all happen. I do magic and make it seem like it is no work, no effort at all. But do not look too closely or you will see fear and rage, tears of anger and exhaustion. Just like the mum of three, doing voluntary work, committing to the sports clubs of her kids, doing the baking for the fundraiser. Her husband works, they live in a house. Well, yeah, she better be self-less to complete the picture. What should she be upset about? Her role is playing the no-Self role. It blends in perfectly with the scenery.
She is so self-less!, we say pointing at those we admire for their strength, their will, their commitment, their determination, their hope, their vision of creating a life – their silence concerning their own needs and feelings.
How can one be without a Self, self-less, if we attribute them with the stated characteristics?
When did we start celebrating and morally upholding the idea that a human being who is without a Self, self-less, was high standard and a status to be achieved?
I definitely fell for that trap! I equated self-less with a higher moral standard, which reads something like: I swear to put everyone else before myself, in fact, I abandon my dreams and visions to fulfil the lives of others. My Self is not interesting – smart – beautiful – thin – exciting – (fill in the gap) enough anyway, so I declare to put it aside and honour the life of others.
First of all, this is horrendously pretentious. I know that, knew it all along. Even worse, my ambition “to help” did not even come from a true, honest, beautiful place! It was not born in love for life, but it came to life in the absence of love for my own life!
Still, being seen as and being called self-less was a box I gratefully wanted to jump into. We all put people into boxes, even ourselves. And as the boxes I had chosen for my Self had evil names on it, I felt most comfortable with self-less. This seemed – miraculously – to have some sort of sparkles and glitter attached to it. I truly bought into the sparkles and glitter! How can helping others, placing the needs of others before your own be not seen as heroic?
Now, I know why it fascinates us so much. Without Self, self-less. People cheer and celebrate. Because the majority runs around trying to do exactly that: avoiding one’s Self, forgetting about it, denying it. We cannot cope with our Selves. Of course, self-less people seem heroic, because they have reached the goal. Do not let it come up to the surface, suppress the inner voice, ignore the bodily signs to be still and listen. Just pretend to be Self-less.
And then, in a triumphant coup of the ego, we attach a different notion to the term self-less. Instead of taking it literally, which sounds disturbing – what, she has no Self!? Then who is she? –, we connect it to a positive characteristic that allows us to proudly proclaim and claim “I am Self-less”. It is the ego’s masterpiece that self-less reads: I am not egoistic, but I love everyone else more, place their needs before mine and thus, sacrifice my Self for a morally good cause.
We created martyrdom to hide that we are too afraid to look at our Selves. We created martyrdom to actually even get a reward to not look too closely at our Selves. We created a fairy-tale in which the sad, angry, abandoned girl does not play a role. Instead, she is locked up in the tower or dungeon while the evil step-sister is being celebrated by the people of the kingdom to let the little girl starve.
And then we wonder why, in a moment of quiet, we have the itching and twitching in our bodies which develops in an uncomfortable pain. We begin to ask ourselves why these feelings of discontentment, anger, sadness or even nothingness catch up with us. And as we are already self-less and thus, already doing our best to bring the good to others, we begin to wonder if there is something wrong with us?! But it cannot be. Because we cannot feel bad – sad – small – unloved – (fill in the gap) when we are helping others. We cannot voice: Something is wrong, I do not like what I am doing. Because we would admit: I cannot serve them anymore. I need service.
This is the moment shame comes rushing in and makes itself quite comfortable on a big coach in our stomach. As shame comes in, we try to cover it up, try even harder to deny those feelings. Surely, something is wrong with me. I should be grateful serving others. I am a bad person.
No, you are not. It is the rehearsed narrative which backfires. As your Self, that always has been there, tries to make its way towards the light we cannot classify these feelings, let alone sit with them and feel them. We have been trained that a loving person is someone who loves everyone, except one’s Self. Your sadness, rage, uneasiness, restlessness, disappointment has always been yours. That is not wrong. It only is what it is. And maybe it is a good idea to pause martyrdom for while to answer the question: who is being sacrificed? Who is that person? Who is that Self I proclaim to have less of?
Do not get me wrong. It is absolute true beauty to be able to serve others, to think of others, to love others. As long as it comes from a place of true love and value for all life, including your own. To put the needs of others first does not equal to abandon your own! Maybe you feel that your basic needs are being met so now it is time to roll up your sleeves and get active to achieve the same for others. But do not use the “helpless, fearful, small” others as an excuse to feel better about yourself. That is neither empathy nor compassion. That is pity. And here is the news: most people do not want to be pitied. They accept your hand when you feel with them. In order to do that, you need to feel! It all! Even the sad, angry abandoned part. This is the moment the locked up girls comes into play and enters the stage.
She is caring for her elderly parents, having given up her sports classes, phone calls with friends, her job – or still doing it half-time to pay the rent –, let alone her life, her regular hours of eating and sleeping. She is functioning. Of course, she suffers; of course, she is stressed; of course, it is hard and difficult. We understand, at least we assume we do. Yet, in the end, there is one thing she can be proud of. She is full of her Self. She knows her Self. She knows how to scream, to cry, to rage, to doubt, to ask for help.
She is so full of Self!, we say in awe, mouth open, full of appreciation.