The word ”selfish’ has come up quite a few times in recent conversation with (admittedly female!)  friends. Women often face many tough lessons when it comes to Self, because we are inclined and programmed to ‘put others first’. In myself I know that this goes back, not only to my own individual childhood, but it even involves ancestral patterns established long before I was born.

I often struggle with this question: how far do I go denying or even violating myself (and my own needs, feelings, priorities)  to be there for others. When those ‘others’ are one’s own dearly loved children, the picture isn’t always clear!

SELFLESSNESS is seen as a virtue, but IS IT?!

It is very convenient for others when our default setting is to act selflessly, but there is a serious risk of LOOSING our SELF in the process. And what does that mean: loosing our self? To me it means floating in an ocean of other people’s demands and emotions like a rudderless boat, without being anchored or tethered, not being ‘at the helm’.

This week it suddenly hit me ‘like a truck’ that I can not think of many positive words that have the word ‘self’ in them, only “SELF CARE”. For me that words carries positive connotations (only!)

However, not so:


I decided to run a word search and found one more positive word “SELF HEAL”! (This is a key word in my shamanic practice: activating the innate ability to heal in clients).

Technically speaking the opposite of the word ‘SELFISHNESS’  is supposed to be ALTRUISM – but for me personally the opposite of ‘SELFISHNESS’ is ‘GROUNDED, TETHERED TO SPIRIT, WITH HEALTHY PERSONAL BOUNDARIES’.

From my own experience I know that acting from a place of ‘out of touch with Self’ rarely pays, because  decisions or commitments don’t feel right and anger comes into the picture. (I get angry with my SELF and that anger can spill over into my relationships with others).

Our culture sends us mixed messages when it comes to ‘Selfishness’. I had a Roman Catholic upbringing, SELF SACRIFICE was seen as a virtue and therefore promoted at every opportunity. Martyrs are ‘BIG’ in the Roman Catholic tradition and even today I sometimes have to deal with an archetype I (have come to) call “The Inner Martyr”!

Selfishness was viewed in the Western Christian tradition as a central vice – as standing at the roots of the Seven Deadly Sins in the form of pride. 

Francis Bacon carried forward this tradition when he characterised “Wisdom for a man’s self…[a]s the wisdom of rats”.  (From Wikipedia)

Most psychotherapists today would say that a ‘healthy sense of Self’ is at the very heart of being a vital and productive member of society.

As a mother of three young children people who are ‘child free’ occasionally seem a little ‘self-involved’ to me.  A lot of their conversation is about “me, Me, & ME”  (or so it seems to me, I can already see a few people ‘unfriending’ me  on Facebook, eeks!)

As a shamanic practitioner and teacher I feel that a healthy connection to Spirit as well as a healthy sense of Self are required for accomplishing what we came to do here on Earth.

To me Self is the spiritual vessel that allows me to be here. Just as my body is the physical vessel that allows me to actively participate in life on earth. However, ultimately I am ‘not a body with spirit’, I am pure  spirit temporarily in a human body.

For me “Self” is the construct that allows me to perceive myself as separate from others and from Creation, so I can do the maximum amount of learning on a deeply personal level, here on this beautiful planet. However, spiritually speaking I know that part of me always years for unity consciousness (returning to Oneness with the Divine). So I suppose my ultimate take on ‘Selfishness’ is that it is through Self that I learn and understand (both myself and others) but I must work towards relinquishing that sense of Self one day. Many spiritual traditions tell us that in the moment of death Ego dies, but our Spirit continues the great spiritual journey home to our Divine Origin or Creator (Source),

And I would not call that state ‘selflessness’ or ‘altruism’, I would call that ‘transcending Self’.

As always I would love to hear what others think!

Imelda Almqvist