3 Ways Life Can Trick You Into Being Selfish
The following is a guest post from Katharine Di Cerbo.
Sometimes, it’s tempting to say “screw it,” isn’t it?
Why be a “good” person when barely anyone appreciates it?
Why make an effort to care for others emotionally when so many people disappear as soon as they are no longer need you?
However, research reminds us time and again that being emotionally generous is not just “the right thing to do” but actually it’s also self-serving as well– even though sometimes it really doesn’t feel like it.
Kind and generous people live longer, are happier, have more friends… I could keep going, really.
But I won’t because instead I want to give you a list of ways life misleads you into feeling like being selfish is the only way to avoid pain.
Be on the look out for these insidious traps
You’re Afraid You’ll “Catch” Someone Else’s Bad Mood
Empathy means wearing someone else’s feelings. And if those feelings are bad feelings, well, you’ll feel bad, too.
And who wants that, especially when you are worn down from your own crap?
It’s easy to feel like even one more drop of bad feelings will be the drop that overloads the dam holding your life together and brings you crashing down into depression.
But here is a secret for you: If you wear the bad feelings, if you push through the discomfort, if you really “go there” with someone else going through a bad time, there’ll be a reward for both of you on the other side.
After you’re done rolling around together in a mud pit of negative energy, you’ll pause and realize that you’re actually rolling around with a friend.
It may not be down a grassy knoll on a sunny day, but you’ll have your arms around each other.
Isn’t that better than being on a sterile little island all alone?
You Feel Like a Failure When No One Takes Your Advice
Have you ever really tried to help someone you cared about only for them to turn around and completely disregard your advice?
“Pff who has time for these self-destructive idiots?” – You after someone ignores your sage advice.
But deep down, you didn’t feel indifferent and superior – you felt like a failure; your wisdom and your time seemed like it meant nothing to your friend, and that hurt.
Why would you keep extending yourself to people when no one appreciates it?
Here’s the thing: People with problems really truly do not want your advice. They are not ready for it. First, they need your support, lot’s of it.
They need you to nod your head sympathetically while they ramble on nonsensically for a rather long stretch of time. This helps them process their feelings and access their own problem solving skills.
“But anyone can merely listen! I can’t prove how awesome and wise I am by just sitting there making attendant little grunts!” – You when you think about trading your fantasy role as consigliore for simple listener.
But that’s where you’re mistaken: Skilled listening is one the most difficult interpersonal skills to master.
(I’ve prepared a special free guide to mastering the craft of listening. You can download it here).
When you switch from giving advice to listening, you’ll not only be giving your friends exactly what they need, you’ll also be donning a new skill that surpasses your sage wisdom in significance by far.
You’re Tired of Being Tossed Aside When Someone Higher Status Comes Along
Have you ever felt like a “starter” friend to a new work colleague or fellow student until they worked their way in with the hip crowd?
Or maybe an acquaintance started wanting to spend more time with you during a rough patch only to leave you in the dust once they got back on their feet.
If you feel like you’re the only genuine, loyal person around, you might be right.
Sometimes it can feel like there is a serious shortage of quality people in this world – especially in environments where we don’t choose who we spend time with, like work or school.
So now you’re bitter and withdrawn, unfollowing people in droves on Facebook (un-friending would be way too obvious!)
But deep down you know you’re the only one hurting over that fact.
The truth is, people value different things.
Some people value status and showing off, and if you opt-out of playing that game, it’s only natural that the hard-core players won’t feel a lasting connection with you.
But if you shut down the things you DO value, like kindness and generosity, then not only will you feel undervalued by others, but you’ll be betraying yourself, too.
Keep on putting your kindness into the world if that’s what puts meaning in your life. If you persist even when you feel crapped on, you will start to find and collect like-minded souls over time.
Others don’t always appreciate emotional generosity, but it will always pay off for you in the aggregate.
You will not live to regret it if you:
a) learn how to be as effective in giving as possible
b) persist with an open heart even when it feels scary.
I would love to get your take in the comments, and please feel free to agree or disagree!
Katharine Di Cerbo left psychology research to start helping misunderstood souls enjoy more emotional connection. Download her FREE LISTENING CRAFT GUIDE to learn about how skillful listening can help you do just that.