Why is Being Selfless so Hard?

Sometimes I think the main journey of my life is learning to be less selfish. It started when I was very young with my siblings. I had to learn to share space, toys, etc. Then I went to college and had roommates. Living with people other than family members posed its own challenges of learning to adjust to different ways of doing things.

When I got married I thought; “Now I’m really learning how to be selfless. Not only do I have a new/permanent roommate, I’m also in love with this person and am learning to balance her needs and wants with my own and sometimes those don’t always line up.”

Seth Crying
Sometimes this is what trying to be selfless looks like.

A couple of years later we had our first child and I realized I had just been scratching the surface of my living selflessly journey all that time. Now we had someone who’s life and very survival depended on us! Being too selfish could literally put his life in jeopardy.

It seems like each new step of life has ratcheted up the personal responsibility meter.

Each step has given me less room to be selfish and shined a light on how selfish I’ve been up until that point. At times I’ve embraced the new responsibility but more often I’ve been dragged into it while scratching and clawing to hang on to my former freedom.

The truth is I don’t want to be selfish. After I’ve adjusted to each new phase I’m usually able to see how much I’ve learned and how my character has been molded to make me a better person.  Over time I’ve also learned that my life and that of those I’m closest too is actually better when I’m not selfish. I’m happier and so are they when I freely give of myself and put their needs first.

But sometimes it is so hard! So often what and who I want to be and the reality of who I am are so different.

So often I’m tired, I’m worn out and just want to do what I want – to tend to my own needs and wants. If I’m really honest, sometimes I don’t want to think about anyone else all. I want to feel sorry for myself and have others take pity on me.

Even if you’re not married and don’t have kids, I’ll bet you can relate.

Some days it is an hour by hour battle. I’ll think of others and do what is right for a while and then boom I’m right back in my state of selfishness.

So why do we revert back to selfishness so easily? Why do we find ourselves feeling sorry for ourselves so often?

I think it is probably hard-wired into our human nature and somehow deep down acts as a survival mechanism. But as most of us know when it is over done it has the opposite effect and it hurting us and our relationships.

Life has a way of squeezing selfishness out of us as we grow up and mature. In fact I wonder if that isn’t the mark of a mature person, the less selfish they are, the more mature they are. If we fight this natural progression we’re sure to face some serious hardships. It might be easier for a while but I’m convinced it will catch up to us.

But being selfless doesn’t mean getting walked on or being a doormat.

The challenge that I’m learning to work through is how to graciously give of myself while also politely asking for what I need instead being frustrated when the people closest to me don’t always see and meet my needs. Sometimes I do that well. Many times I don’t.

I don’t write this post as a how-to with easy solutions to getting over selfishness. I’m right in the middle of this journey and don’t have any simple answers. I write it hoping that maybe you’ll be encouraged to know that you’re not alone and that it doesn’t make you a bad person if you can relate.

I think admitting that we are selfish is a step in the right direction. Maybe together we can commit to doing the best we can and praying for each other that God would continue to grow us and give us more grace each day to do our best and to forgive ourselves when we fall short.