I can very much identify as a person who has attempted for most of her life to be a good guy (even though I am a woman), that is why coming across Andrea Mathew’s book Letting Go of Good : Dispel the Myth of Goodness to find Your Genuine Self was such a helpful ‘find’ to come across in my local library. I have shared some excerpts from it before and I have a post banked up to share on how I always identified as a ‘bad’ self when I seemed to fall short of ideals promoted by my emotionally repressive family and Catholic education.
I remember a while back when I was in recovery and starting to attempt to be myself and not automatically go along with what my family and sister wanted. She said to me after being extremely demanding and aggressive “you always were such a selfish child, throwing tantrums”. I probably did vocally express myself when something triggering was going down that said I could have done with a lot more of an authentic Self growing up. If I had it I may not have had to mask a lot behind alcohol and drugs for so many years and had such a struggle in later years to take care of myself.
Anyway I was just reading the chapter in Mathews book on how the good guy amongst us have a terror of being called selfish, which is a shame and doesn’t end up serving us well in life. So when Mathews poses the question ‘What Does It Really Mean to be Selfish?‘ this is her answer.
Actually, the term selfish serves no real purpose other than to manipulate others. It isn’t selfish to think about the Self – for how else will one become acquainted with the Self if one doesn’t think about it? Your feelings for and about the Self are not selfish – one of the healthiest things we can do is fall in love with the Self so that we love its company, cherish its essence, and desire to be in its presence all the time. It isn’t selfish to do things for the Self – the Self needs us to do those things, otherwise we are disconnected from it. To act purely out of the Self is how we live an authentic life.
So then are those manipulators (those who tell us…. You know I need this! How can you say you love me if..? If you don’t help me, I’ll… You are the ONLY one who cares….. You are the most self centred person I know – said the first time you refuse to enable an addiction or something of like nature, after you have given years of time, energy and love) selfish? No. They are trying to survive by using the identity out of which they were taught to live…..
What about narcissists? Aren’t they selfish? In a word, No but they sure can put on a good act. The truth is that true narcissists have a personality disorder. That doesn’t mean we should feel sorry for them. But it does mean that they have wrapped their identity up so much in distortion and unreality that they live in that distortion and unreality as if it were the only truth. The best thing a good guy can do is avoid them.
But good guys have a hard time doing that, because they are not very good at discernment. Discernment would mean that they would have to see and take responsiblity for their own end of these manipulative encounters. That would mean that they would have to start being more authentic.. taking the risks that are a natural journey to authenticity will finally allow them peace.
According to Mathews, those risks include letting go of a number of myths good guys can live by that end up only hurting them and stealing power. These include :
- Thinking it’s not okay to judge others (despite evidence to the contrary those others may be mean, abusive or damaging).
- Thinking fall in love is immediately equated with giving over trust or hoping for trust before evidence that such trust is warranted or earned has been given.
- Believing it’s always a good thing to feel guilty when often guilt is unwarranted if we are following our own necessary authentic moral code that may go against social mores which restrict or limit that authenticity.
- Believing we are responsible for the way others feel when we are just being ourselves and behaving with authenticity out of no desire to hurt or harm.
- Being overly loyal, when such loyalty is not always warranted.
- Believing that to be good we must make sacrifices and always do our duty.
- Believing in unconditional love when such a belief may be harmful to our Self or other’s Selves (e.g. enabling an addiction when it is clear it is destroying another person)
- Believing one must always forgive regardless of how terrible the hurt or how absence the lack of remorse shown by the other party.
- Believing one must always smile and ‘be positive’, even when we are not feeling either happy or positive.
- Always trying to be the bigger person. As Mathews explains the person who is always trying to be the bigger person does not actually belong to themselves.
The good guy who is always trying to be the bigger person is very afraid that if he takes ownership of his own life, he will feel terribly guilty. He will feel guilty because he does not belong to himself, and he is therefore betraying those to whom he belongs. So he will hide his deepest essence – which, is the primary gift he has to give the world – because he cannot allow himself to really own it. When he pretends to be the bigger person, it is to allow his life to be owned yet again by someone other than himself. This is a tragic and empty way to life… it is very possible to take ownership of our lives.
Getting out from under some of these myths can help us who struggle as good guys or emotional caretakers to start pulling back from some internalized proscriptions that do not serve us well. They can help us begin to dispel the illusion that it is selfish to honour, protect and take care of ourselves.