Three Steps to Self-full Living!

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Jan Petrovsky

Jan Petrovsky’s avatar

If the advertising industry could make money convincing people to spend their hard-earned money on OTHERS, it would! Advertisers need to eat too….


It sounds like you are interested in the well-being of advertisers. I share that desire and I think many people in that field would sleep better at night knowing that they were contributing to world peace instead of rampant consumerism.


Jan Petrovsky

Jan Petrovsky’s avatar

Touche! But advertising is just a job. And why should purchasing stuff per se be inimical to the interests of world peace? The use of the phrase “rampant consumerism’ seems to be indicative of a state of mind that is already made up about the moral state of advertisers–hey, that just might be judgmental! I think an excellent case could be made that the proliferation of affordable products throughout the world has done a great deal to alleviate poverty. Surely, all things being equal, making people who were formerly materially miserable a little less miserable, is a good thing.

All things, however, are not equal. But it’s not consumerism, nor advertising, that makes them so. Nevertheless, if consumerism is a Marxist term standing in for that bad-old-vice called GREED (hardly invented by advertisers nor by consumers), and, IF advertising coupled with a spiritually unprincipled attitude of consumption fosters greed, you might have a case against advertisers….and they might sleep better doing something else.

BUT let’s not pretend that a perfect economic system waits around the corner for the moment when all feeling-hearts suddenly unite in loving bliss! HOGWASH, my dear Dave. Greed can only be gotten rid of through more virtue. Figuring out how to foster more of the latter is the only way you are going to get rid of some of the former. May I suggest your heart meditate on the possibilities….by asking first, what is virtue, and, how it ordinarily can be gotten, if at all. Socrates, for instance, had something to say about that….

Jan (that’s YAHN, btw…)


It sounds like you’re wanting a more balanced approach toward the impact of advertising and “consumption” on our globe. Is that right?

I also hear your desire for greater virtue in the world as a means to move toward my concept of “self-fullness” (I’m guessing that for you “greed” equates to “selfish” living). Does that fit?

For me, greed is one reflection of a way of being that doesn’t take into account how much we all share with one another. It’s a product of separation rather than connection. My meditations are based on oneness — awareness of all that holds us together as humans — and a desire to create solutions that honor that oneness. How does that fit with your definition of “virtue”?