From the moment we are old enough to curl our hands and snatch toys from our fellow crèche dwellers, we are told not to be selfish. “No one likes a Selfish Sally,” “Put others first,” “Don’t be so greedy”—and so goes the stream of reprimands. It’s no wonder that we are all so concerned with being perceived as selfish, that we now feel terrible for ever having the audacity of putting ourselves first. We may win friends with our selflessness, but what damage is this causing to our own second-standardised spirits?
I didn’t realise how much of a people-pleaser I actually was until my cancer journey forced me to take inventory of where my life was out of balance. As any empowered cancer patient does, I sought out people who could help me shine a light on the issues that were subconsciously manifesting my dis-ease. What I discovered is that I have had a penchant for giving so much of myself away without taking the time to nurture and nourish myself properly. Growing up as a pretty spoilt (but not a spoilt brat!) only child, I was always very conscious that I could be perceived as being selfish and I was desperate not to be thought of in this way. Being called selfish when I was younger cut me deep. So subconsciously, it turns out, I would strive to be selfless.
My condition showed up in my left hand and arm, which if you’re also a fan of Louise Hay you will know that the left side of the body is the “feminine” side, and the left hand and arm are linked to “giving.”I’ve discovered that cancer may have manifested in this area to send me a message to stop giving so much of myself away, and to start taking or giving myself what I need. My only treatment option in the eyes of conventional medicine was to have my arm amputated. It was kind of like my body was giving me a very simple ultimatum—stop giving so much of yourself away, or you will lose your arm and physically won’t be able to continue giving.
Be selective with your yeses
But enough about me. Do you practice discernment when it comes to saying yes to people? When we constantly give to people, without receiving anything in return, our bodies get the message that they are second rate and not good enough. This is why it is so important to honour ourselves first.
Being selfish is not always a bad thing. Sure, other problems will arise if we say no to everyone all of the time, but this is where selectivity comes in. If you listen carefully, your body will tell you if you are dishonouring yourself by saying yes to someone or something when you really don’t want to. Your “gut feeling” or intuition will poke you in the tummy and let you know. You know what feeling I’m talking about. Some times it genuinely feels good to say yes, but the trick is to make sure that you never give more to other people than you give to yourself.
How to say no without getting “the guilts”
Our health and happiness should always come first. Because when our cups are overflowing we have more good stuff to offer others. By giving to ourselves first, we are honouring the fact that we are here in the Universe to serve a purpose that will ultimately create a ripple effect and serve those around us.
This concept is generally pretty easy to grasp. Putting it into practice, and actually saying no to people without feeling guilty, is the hard part.
To heal my body from cancer, I undertook two years of Gerson Therapy—a healing modality that requires me to pour all of my energy into nurturing myself. Everything I do is directed at healing my body, mind, and spirit. Naturally, this started to rewire old habits and I am much more aware of my need to be selfish. However I still have a little way to go. I still have trouble saying no to people and I still hate letting people down in any way. In some ways, I am still a bit of a pushover. But I’m working on it. Whenever I want to say no to someone, I complete this exercise:
1. Write a list of ten benefits the person will receive by saying no to them. By doing this, our brains start to understand that saying no is actually beneficial to both parties.
2. Write a list of one ten drawbacks the person will experience from saying yes to them when you feel too guilty to say no. For example, continually saying yes to someone may impinge on their growth because it enables them to remain dependent on you and not take responsibility for themselves.
At first I thought it would be impossible to list ten benefits and drawbacks, and I really couldn’t see how saying no to someone would benefit them. But after I spent time thinking about it I realised that saying no and being selfish can be of service to both ourselves and others.
Saying no to others and yes to ourselves is one of the most important steps to healing because it gives our bodies a direct message that they do matter, that they are good enough—and that they are loved.
Jess Ainscough is a writer, holistic health coach, and the creator of the health and wellness website, The Wellness Warrior. Via her e-books, daily blog posts, and videos, Jess’s goal is to empower people to take control of their health and show that the quality of our lives is directly linked to how we treat our body and mind.
* Photo by gaptone