What makes a topic like this particularly awkward is that my biggest blind spot is the very thing I criticized almost all my former flames of doing.
It’s difficult to talk about because I hate this particular thing so much — to the point that I’ve been running off my mouth about how people like this are the absolute worst. But the more I investigated, the more I realized that I was guilty of it too.
At some point in life, I replaced the desire to be with high-caliber people with the desire to be with people who I had more in common with. This surprisingly led to deeper connections but unsurprisingly to higher volatility. On the one hand, there was a lot of interests to bond over. On the other hand, the selfishness or self-centeredness was even more obvious.
I wanted to be with people I had more in common with because I needed to make sure that whatever I liked, they liked. Whatever they valued, I valued. That way, I would get my needs met with no fuss and it was less likely that I’d be broken up with.
Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it. And then when you don’t want it anymore, life keeps shoveling it down your throat.
With my most recent ex, I realized that she and I both had abandonment problems. Hers manifested in temperamental, possessive and vengeful ways. Mine was more co-dependent. I tried to be perfect and would micromanage her emotions so I’d feel safe. The same fear of abandonment unleashed two different brands of selfishness.
While she never criticized me of being selfish, I actually was. When I told her to try therapy, was it primarily for her sake or was it because I needed to feel safe? When I was desperate to be with her, despite knowing she was super-possessive, did I stick around mainly because we were becoming very good friends or because I needed her to fulfill a role I earmarked for her?
As much as I supported the notion that love was about freedom, I was trying to coerce her into actions I wanted. Even though I knew these actions could maybe benefit her, I can’t say it wasn’t mostly for my sake. I despised her possessiveness too, but possessiveness is a close cousin to selfishness. You believe this person is here to cater to you. You use them. And it gets even more insidious because your will for them is more important to you than their will for themselves.
Years ago, I read a quote by Carl Jung which said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Intuitively, I knew this was true but the actual ramifications were something I couldn’t readily accept. Sure, the quote isn’t outright saying that you are what you hate (even though I say that because I’ve seen it time and time again), but the magnitude of anger I had for selfish people had a huge lesson for me.
Cheating, in and of itself, doesn’t anger me as much as it does other people. Change doesn’t anger me as much as it does other people. Stubbornness, financial irresponsibility, immaturity or a fear of commitment don’t anger me as much. But maybe one of these things absolutely infuriates you. Maybe it’s something else.
I invite you to take a look at the things that incense you the most about relationships. What’s that thing that when you see it in a movie, you can’t help but explode? What was a recurring irritant in your past relationships, or even your current one?
If you explore it, you might find out something about yourself that will help you to not be so triggered the next time you witness it.
For me, I had to accept that at the end of the day, people are going to put themselves first — and that’s okay. Sometimes you might end up a casualty but it’s nothing personal. It also may not work out in their favor; they may be wrong. Doesn’t matter. People are just doing what they think will work and are trying their best at the end of the day.
After all, that’s what I was doing. I didn’t want to shack up with someone who would torch me because they were afraid I’d leave them. But the appropriate action in that case wouldn’t be to regulate their emotions. That’s something she had to address, not something for me to assuage.
However, this isn’t to say that putting yourself first can’t be pathological. It certainly can and if you have a desire for people to do what you want them to more so than allowing others the freedom to do what they want, you probably need to take a serious think about why you want a relationship.
I went about it the wrong way, but I guess I don’t feel too ashamed now. Then again, I was just shaming myself all along. If I hated selfishness so much and then saw it in myself, of course I’m going to feel lousy.
But selfishness being my blind spot really was not an understatement. Now that I’ve finally seen the truth of myself, life itself looks quite different. Usually when that happens, that means different choices will be made going forward.