Were you taught, like I was, that placing your needs before those of others is selfish, unkind, or unloving?
Did you learn that being a devoted daughter, partner, mother, wife, or caregiver – while shouldering all the emotional labor – was the most honorable work of all?
Were you conditioned to believe your worth lies in your self-sacrifice and commitment to care for others?
It sounds harsh, but this overblown belief has persisted throughout the ages – especially in women and around motherhood. It can leave us feeling unseen, drained, and devoid of the self-knowledge we need to grow and evolve.
Which is what happened to me. By the time I reached my mid-40s, I felt depleted, unhappy, and stuck, with no clue what would make me feel better.
It was crazy-making because my life looked good on the outside, the way I thought it was supposed to look.
One fine day, I realized my relentless pursuit of everyone else’s approval had hindered my loyalty to myself and stunted my growth.
It took many years of practice, but I finally found my way to where I am now – someone who still cares for others but is loyal to herself first.
If you’re not quite there yet, this might help.
We often understand others but overlook our own sources of joy and what brings us to life. Even if we recognize our sources of happiness, how often do we prioritize them?
Dedicate some quiet time for reflection and ask yourself, “Who am I today, and what do I want for my life now?”
My self-loyalty led me to embrace my sensitive, introverted nature and free myself from seeking approval through overly extroverted behavior.
Today I decline social invitations that would drain my energy. And I refrain from self-criticism for honoring myself. We miss the point if we take steps to care for ourselves but then berate or judge ourselves as lazy, selfish, or “weird.”
For many of us, loving ourselves is a challenge. We often display harsher attitudes toward ourselves than we would ever exhibit toward others.
Take a moment to observe the way you speak to yourself. Do you offer encouragement and congratulations, or do you criticize and admonish?
Being loyal to yourself entails treating yourself with tenderness, kindness, forgiveness, and generosity. It means recognizing and acknowledging your strengths rather than focusing on perceived shortcomings.
Treat yourself like you would treat a good friend.
We’re often sensitive to others’ feelings while disregarding or downplaying our own. Honoring our emotions doesn’t imply acting on them inappropriately or indulging in self-pity.
Instead, it means acknowledging our feelings and affording them the same significance we give to those of others. Prioritizing your feelings over incessantly trying to decipher those of others is liberating.
People are drawn to those who are open and forthright. Such individuals create an atmosphere of trust without hidden agendas.
Sometimes when we yearn to be “selfish,” it means we have been highly selfless for too long.
In the book Untamed, best-selling author Glennon Doyle writes, “Selfless women make for an efficient society but not a beautiful, true, or just one. When women lose themselves, the world loses its way.”
Since I stopped worrying so much about others’ expectations and started following my own desires more, life is full of creative and joyful energy.
I’ve noticed other outcomes as well.
If you follow the above and stay true to yourself, here is what you will gain.
We can reveal our true selves when we’re less concerned with how others perceive us. Not everyone will like us when we’re living as our authentic selves, but those who do will love and accept us for who we are instead of the mask we wear to please others.
And truth be told, this authentic version of us is far more captivating.
We forfeit so much when we exchange authenticity for societal approval. Our spontaneity and enthusiasm for life are stifled, and we lose faith in our own judgment and taste. In the process, we risk losing ourselves permanently.
The authentic self we present to the world resonates with the authentic selves of those around us. Real connections with people who embrace their true selves bring depth and meaning to our lives.
The way we treat ourselves teaches others how to treat us. When we demonstrate self-loyalty by knowing, liking, and honoring who we are – and by showing up authentically – we become better at loving others.
In the words of one of my favorite authors, Brené Brown, “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are. It requires you to be who you are.”
So, always ask yourself: Is this truly what I desire? How do I genuinely feel in this situation?
There may still be occasions when you choose to focus on the needs of a loved one. But it will be a conscious, loving decision, not an obligatory, mindless routine or a manipulative tactic.
Grounded in your true self, you will make better decisions guided by your authentic nature, bringing you greater happiness and inner peace.
This will have a positive ripple effect on everyone around you. And in my opinion, that’s the opposite of being selfish.
Have you ever felt selfish for wanting something more for yourself? Have your ideas about that changed now that you’re older? Have you allowed selflessness to curtail your self-knowledge and personal growth, or has your experience been different? What advice would you give to younger women about self-loyalty?