When is “Selfish” Healthy?

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Reviewed Feb 2017

Within the last couple of months, I heard Cheryl Richardson talk about her new book, The Art of Extreme Self-Care.  I was particularly captivated by one sentence that she uttered, which was, ‘let me disappoint you.’ This actually is the chapter title in her book.  And then she told a story about being very, very sensitive and having people come up to tell her how she should change things and so on.

            And she’s learned how to just stop them before they even come up to her.  And she said, you will never be able to become as healthy, as attractive, as prosperous as you could be as long as you’re trying to please everyone.  So this mantra, let me disappoint you, has become very permission-giving, not only for me but for my entire family.

            And here’s the good news.  You do not need to be the person who takes care of someone else’s life because each of us has a higher power and each of us is able to get our needs met.  In the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, he points out that when we can articulate our genuine emotions such as I feel sad when you do X and I would love it if you could say hello to me when I come in in the morning, you know, ‘I feel sad when I’m not greeted by you, so can you meet my need to be greeted by saying hello to me?’ That person may not be able to meet your need but the fact that you’ve articulated the need means that the universe will send you what you need. And I’ve found this happens every single time.

            So don’t worry so much about being selfish and not meeting someone’s need. ‘Would you please drive my child to school today when you have something else planned?’ And you can say, ‘I would love to meet your need. It makes my heart sing to say yes to you and today I simply can’t.’

            I want you to practice something.  When someone asks you to do something, okay, here’s what you’re going to do.  You’re going to say, ‘let me get back to you, let me think about this for a moment.’ Give yourself some time before you do the knee-jerk yes and then go home and say, oh, God, I didn’t realize that I had cookies to bake and then I had this to do and I told so-and-so I’d go and help her move and all the rest.

            I remember years ago, Bernie Siegel in a group of cancer patients asked people to raise their hand if they would go and help a person move when they already had something wonderful planned for that day and if they would cancel their pleasurable plans to go and help a friend move. And then he asked people to raise their hands, those who would cancel their plans for a pleasurable day. And several people raised their hands. And he said, ‘you are the ones whose immune system is apt to be depleted and you are not going to do as well with your treatment.’ I will never forget it. Bernie was a real pioneer.

            So, it’s selfish, but the word selfish needs to be redeemed. And sometimes, many times, it is completely healthy to be selfish. When your kids are tiny, you can’t. You’ve got to sacrifice your life for them. You won’t be taking a bath alone until they’re about 10. That’s just the way it is. But after they’re about 10, then you’ve got to put yourself first so that they can learn how to do the same thing.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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