The Quickest Way to Love? Be Selfish

What I’ve Learned From Healing My Inner Child

Selfish is a tricky word — defined as lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure. That seems really negative. Even connotationally, selfish is used as a diss to someone’s character, often by someone they care about.

However, being selfish isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I think it’s time we take another look at what the word truly means.

I’m writing this as I wrap up my last project at work (I’ve slowly started to tell my bosses that I’m heading to grad school in the Fall). Beginning my transition towards leaving the corporate world behind and starting my journey to becoming a therapist marks the first really big decision I’ve made for myself in my life.

This has been incredibly freeing, as for all of my childhood, my decisions were made for me. I never got an allowance, so how I spent money was solely up to my parents. How I expressed myself — clothes, jewelry, haircuts — and how I spent my free time — from the video games I couldn’t play to where I went and who I hung out with — all determined by them.

They used money as a proxy for control. As long as they paid for something, they owned it, by extension owning me. My college, school, and major? Determined by them. The classes I took? Pre-screened by them. Where I went abroad? Pre-screened by them (RIP Australia, I’ll see you soon). To a smaller extent, my job? Determined by them.

Beyond money, my freedom was also extremely controlled. My texts were read, my social media accounts found (and monitored), my room constantly barged into and re-organized without my consent, posters not allowed on my walls. Even in college, when my writing for the newspaper column about mental health got too personal, they made me take it down otherwise they’d stop paying for school.

It’s beyond fucked up to have a kid (nonethless have 3) and take advantage of their helplessness to get an ego trip of pulling the strings to make up for the lacks from your sad, empty life, but that’s all I knew.

I was called selfish all the time by my Mom when I fought with her. It was the leading trident of her gaslight trifecta— “selfish, arrogant, ungrateful” hurled my way any time I tried to stand up for myself and express my individuality. She made the word taboo. As someone who never took care of herself across every personal and interpersonal facet you can possibly imagine, she demonized self-care. Even talking about yourself or using the word I drew snarky remarks and putdowns from her and my father.

I’ve recently come to terms with the functional depression this put me in for most of my life, from as early as I was 10, as well as the lingering PTSD and hyper-vigilant anxiety I constantly sit in. Turns out my sleep apnea wasn’t the reason I wake up a lot every night.

After moving out, I still lived in fear of expressing myself for a year and a half, but after deciding to apply to grad school, I slowly began opening up. 2022 has been my gap year or my abroad that I was never allowed. My blog’s been a great time capsule for my healing, showing how I first taught myself how to laugh through stand-up and improv, then how to dance, then how to cultivate an authentic physical self-image, then how to disagree, then how to explore my past, then how to forgive myself for not being stronger, then how to let go of the pain. I’m proud to say that both my room and my person (inside and outside) look how I would’ve wanted them to when I was younger.

As I’ve begun to breathe, think, and live more authentically, I've become hyper conscious of how things affect my energy. Trained to live by what’s right or optimal instead of what’s best for me, I stopped eating foods that I didn’t like, stopped compulsive exercise that didn’t bring me joy, stopped addictively watching porn, stopped seeing people who weighed me down, stopped seeing people who I felt nothing about. I stopped going out to bars, I stoped dating, I stopped hanging out altogether for a long while.

I’ve found it extremely hard to care about anyone besides myself this entire year. In the purest sense, I’ve been selfish. I’m also the happiest and most ready to give I’ve ever been.

I truly belive that in order to successfuly contribute to society and leave a positive impact on the world, you need to commit to a period of 100% selfishness.

If not, you'll build the artifacts of your self — your self-image, self-care habits (good & bad), career, and relationships — on a faulty foundation. I understand that for most people this is done over the entirety of their childhood, when they’re taught and reinforced that they’re worthy of being taken care of and therefore worthy of taking care of themselves, something I’ve had to make up for in the last 6 months. However, I still think the truth holds regardless of where you are in life.

In order to give, you have to feel like you have something to give. In order to feel like you have something to give, you have to work to give yourself it. In order to focus on others in a way that helps, not hurts them, you have to exhaust your primary needs. It’s a simple concept but mind-blowing once you start to live it. I call it “becoming normal.”

I’ve seen the negative extreme of this through my parents, the version in progress through my own life, and a more complete version through every person I admire. From athletes to musicians to actors to writers, they’ve all ventured deep into what one of my friends calls “the cave of me.” I just finished reading Matthew McConaughey’s memoir (the best I’ve ever read) and he had countless stories of solo adventure, from sneaking out at night to tackle cows as a kid to traveling to the Amazon to actualize a wet dream. No, I’m not kidding about the latter.

Everyone I’ve ever seen or met with true love in their lives has a restless desire to learn as much as they can about themselves. Now, as much as self-love is something found and not earned, that act of its discovery is still intentional. It’s a choice to pursue.No one comes from a perfect enough home to emerge without any self-doubt or any insecurities, and there are lessons and traumas that the real world will force us to learn. No denying that. Shit happens. Even if you come from love, you still have to be vulnerable enough to let it in.

My supposition is that we universally underestimate how much more of our cup we can fill ourselves.

Part of that is our parent’s fault, part of that is the world’s fault for continually telling you you need something else to do it, part of that is our own fault for not being brave enough to do the work.

The more work you put it on wrestling with your inner demons, the more leverage you build against them when they tell you to not try for something better, or worse, to settle for something worse. I’m talking hours sitting without distraction, letting yourself becoming overwhelmed by what comes up, reassuring yourself it won’t kill you. Emotional exercise.

This is hard — as someone who faked zen, faked cool, faked peace for years when I was still running from myself, I get it. I know it. But that kind of real introspection, that kind of selfishness, is necessary to find the love that fills, the love that heals, the love that makes it all make sense. I haven't found it yet, but I know I'm on the right track.

Eventually you gotta come out of the cave, but don’t be afraid to go in.

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Carter Owen

Carter Owen

Aspiring author and humble observer of human behavior writing from NYC — sharing my journey and what I’m learning along the way. Think more, feel better.