Selfish: Having concern with meeting only one’s own needs, often at the expense of others. <Taking the last donut without asking if the hungry kitty wanted it was a selfish act.> Selfishness may lead to frustration and displeasure in others.
Selfless: Having concern only for the needs of others. <Though he was starving, he was selfless in giving the last donut to his lovely kitty.> Selflessness may lead to resentment toward others and depression.
Self-full: Having concern both for one’s own needs and those of other’s. <Exercising his desire to be self-full (after noting that both he and kitty were famished), he split the last donut in two and allowed kitty her choice of halves.> Self-fullness may lead to world peace!
Exercising our Personal Power
Each of us is endowed with a deep reservoir of power! In each moment, we choose how to direct our capacity to influence the world around us. These choices affect how other people respond to us in that moment and in the future, they determine our effectiveness, and they impact our health!
When I have single-minded focus on meeting my own needs (selfishness) — often when I am seeing the world as a scarce place — I am likely to behave in ways that don’t meet other’s needs. When I recognize that another person has “single-minded” focus on what they need in the moment, I am likely to become defensive because I want to meet my need for autonomy. Seeing selfishness in others tends to lessen our willing to be in connection with them for fear that we will experience hurt. A natural response to this fear is avoidance.
When I choose to behave in a selfless manner by meeting other’s needs without considering my own, I am likely to build resentment toward the other person. Carrie Fisher, of Star Wars fame, defines resentment as “drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Marshall Rosenberg puts it this way: “Don’t do anything for someone if it doesn’t meet your own needs.” In my “people pleasing” years (I have worked to cut them down to “minutes”), I endeavored to meet everyone’s needs but my own. The depression that resulted was nearly life-threatening!
My practice of Nonviolent Communication has given me greater clarity on how I want to use my personal power. I believe that I can only get my needs met if I am conscious of what those around me are needing and I seek out strategies that meet everyone’s needs. I want to be “self-full”! Self-fullness crafts harmony from the hard stone of differences and allows me to be in the “flow” of life. When I am in a place of connection with both what I want and what other’s want, I am walking toward a place of peace. I am truly Communicating with Heart!
Three Steps to Self-full Living
Like any approach to living that departs from our socialization, self-fullness requires awareness and effort. The following are three steps that, if practiced, may lead to self-full living. These steps assume a situation where you interact with another person (a similar process can happen internally):
- Self-Empathy – Becoming aware of your feelings and the needs causing them is the first step toward self-full living. By taking time to look inside and ask, “What am I a feeling and needing?”, we get clear on how we are in the moment. We recognize what needs are met and what needs are not met. This process empowers us to consider a request to create the world we want.
- Empathy for the “Other”- Once I acknowledge what I’m needing in the moment, I am able to explore what’s happening with the other person. To empathize with them, I clear my mind and attend to what is going on with them. I might use these words to guess what they are experiencing: “Are you feeling [upset/sad/frustrated/…] because you are needing [support/autonomy/peace/…]?” This question begins a dialogue of connection.
- Dialoguing for Win/Win Solutions – The stage is set for a dance toward mutually-satisfying solutions. It will likely involve turn-taking as each party expresses themselves (honesty) and hears the other (empathy). When both parties have their needs “heard”, a process of brainstorming solutions begins. Marshall likes to say that once we are connected as a need-level, “nature puts solutions in our minds”. The last step is choosing which solution is the best fit and living it!
Support for the Journey
Though I’ve presented a path to self-full living in three easy steps, following these steps is difficult because models of “selfishness” and “selflessness” are everywhere in our culture. The advertising industry, as one example, spends billions of dollars convincing us to use our personal and financial resources on ourselves.
A self-full life requires new skills which come with dedicated practice and support. In my experience, when someone is in touch with a vision of a self-full world where all people care for others as much as themselves, these skills are a joy to learn.
If you are interested in gaining the consciousness and skills to life self-fully, I invite you to attend my FREE Communicating with Heart Introductions (one is scheduled for June 2) or, if you have a basic understanding of NVC, I’d enjoy your presence in my Foundations Course happening June 11, 18, and 25. If you are not in the San Diego area, or if you prefer one-on-one learning, I offer life coaching sessions in person and by phone.
Let’s skip down the path of life hand-in-hand and heart-and-heart towards a tomorrow where everyone Communicates with Heart!