Am I Being Selfish?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

While growing up, we moved almost every year. Both of my parents worked full time and they remodeled each house in their spare time. We kids were expected to pitch in and help. There were no excuses. Our home was sometimes messy, but it was sanitary and we could always find everything. When our home was finished, it was breathtaking (at least to me). Meals were usually eaten together and holidays had no holds barred – all the food was homemade and the decor was extensive. Dinner was usually a work of art. Vibrant colors of fresh fruits and vegetables and artful arrangement were valued.

I had a lot of conflict with my mother. I was often sick or exhausted with no explanation. For her, there were NO excuses. She would yell, kick, slap, or even draw a knife when she was angry. She was also a perfectionist. For instance, one time when I was 12, I could not remember where to put a plastic mixing bowl. For 20 minutes, I moved the bowl back and forth from the plastics cupboard to the cupboard with the baking goods. I chose incorrectly. She had me take everything out of the kitchen, wash each item and shelf, make sure the spices were alphabetized, and then put everything back. I finally finished at 2:00a.m. on a school night.

Now:

I went back to school at the age of 38 to earn a Bachelor’s degree. My earlier education had been interrupted by a series of infections during high school. I have now been working at my first “professional” job for 2 years. My husband and I have just celebrated our 25th anniversary. At 46 years old, I have teenage boys. My health has continued to vacillate between exuberant health and frightening illness. Last October, my health once again came to the forefront. I was diagnosed with two strokes. Further testing showed previous strokes and an autoimmune disorder. Finally, I had evidence that my problems were not hypochondria or malingering. Luckily, I have emerged from all of these problems virtually unscathed physically.

Lately, I have tried to diminish the stress in my life and think about the things that give me joy. I realize that those things are very simple. Sitting out in the sunshine, simple beauty, and relaxing with friends and family are important to me. Unfortunately, trying to get these things are difficult.

Although I try to keep our home neat and organized, I can never keep up. My family does not pitch in. My husband likes everything to look neat but does so by “shoving things”. I cannot find anything. For instance, I finally found our hammer behind the television when I moved it to clean underneath. He always puts things away so there is no clutter but who knows where he puts it. I end up just purchasing duplicates. When I do have time to organize, I find 6 of everything and of course, I have no place to put them. This drives me crazy.

I have been starting to buy a few larger ticket items things so that I can create a haven of beauty in our world. I recently purchased our first coffee table ($250) as well as the first set of dishes ($200) since our wedding. I am also wanting our first large rug. I feel that I have been waiting long enough for my turn – 25 years! I also think it is time for a new car. Mine is 10 years old and I have never had a new vehicle. My husband has chosen 10 new vehicles for himself as well as 2 used ones. I don’t think that money is an issue. We own our home outright, have $100,00 back for our son’s education, and owe only $1,000 in credit cards. We both have secure jobs even in this economy.

My husband is going ballistic over my changed personality. I am realizing that I am not wrong even though I have been told that I was by my parents, teachers, doctors, and my husband. Even though I hated so many things about my mother, I did enjoy the teamwork and beauty that she created. I wish that I could get the family to sit down and eat a healthy meal together or take a mini vacation like a game of badminton in the backyard. It is all such a fight but maybe I have been too much of a wimp. I know that most people that have a near death experience come out loving and giving while I seem to be ready for a fight. Any suggestions for getting the life that I want or accepting the life that I have?

A. Are you being selfish? You’ve had many life experiences. Things have changed in your life, you’ve grown. You’ve matured. Now you think of life and you see it a different way. Nothing that you’ve written says to me that you are approaching this in any type of unhealthy way. People grow and change throughout a lifetime and that is very healthy.

You’re different from your mother and father. You’re different from your husband. I would not expect it to be any other way. Each person is unique and each person has his own destiny. Are your goals unrealistic? They certainly do not appear that way to me.

Everything that you’ve written seems very logical and very reasonable. If anyone has been selfish it appears that your husband is guilty. He had 12 different cars in the time that you’ve had one. He doesn’t help in the house. He wants a tidy house but he doesn’t really help. He puts things away, not in an attempt to produce cleanliness but to hide the mess that he has made.

Your children are also individuals and what’s right for them, each of them, is completely individualistic. Each child differs from the other, just as you differ from your husband and parents. Never think that what you went through as a child was normal. Your mother may have meant well but she certainly did not treat you well.

I think it’s very important that you also begin to think of yourself. As you have pointed out, your husband and you have saved the money for your children’s education, paid off your home, and have very little debt. You both have good and secure jobs. It’s time for you to begin to enjoy life. In no way do I believe that anything that you have suggested in your letter is selfish in any way. You seem to be a very responsible person, you seem to understand finance, you have saved ample amounts of money and you have maintained very little credit card debt.

I would encourage you to move forward in your life. Never feel guilty for wanting to find pleasure and meaning in life. What you’ve asked for is in no way excessive. To ask for less would be to deny yourself the very essence of life.

Good luck and if you have any other questions please write back.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Jun 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Am I Being Selfish?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/06/08/am-i-being-selfish/

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