BY GIORGINA LIGUORI
Last January I did a radio show on the subject of Healthy Selfishness. This is actually a course I teach for women in Florida.
The woman who was to interview me told me that she was shocked by some of the responses from her listeners when the topic for the forthcoming show was announced. She said, “I did not expect anger. I did not expect hostility. But that was exactly what some people posted on our website.” Many people are offended simply by the word: selfish.
On the show, once the introductions were over, I quickly explained why “healthy selfishness” is not only not a bad thing, but, a very necessary thing.
I remember reading in physics that matter never disappears. If you burn logs, the ashes and the water vapor and other things given off will add up to the weight of the original log. In nature, matter never disappears but is simply converted. I remember when I read that thinking that this must be a comfort for anyone believing in Heaven and/or reincarnation. NOTHING EVER TRULY DISAPPEARS.
This is especially true for emotions. We may think we are hiding frustration, resentment, anger, depression or despair. We cannot sit on these things, at least not for very long. They will leak out. They may manifest as addictions: food, alcohol, nicotine, or drugs. You may sleep too much or not at all. You may gamble or become a shopaholic. Your emotions may spill over as angry outbursts when you simply “cannot take it anymore.” Sometimes it evolves as passive aggression. You “forgot” to buy the beer your husband likes. You accidentally burn the roast when his boss is coming. You are often late to pick up the kids from practice or getting them to school on time. What you are often afraid to admit: YOU ARE PISSED.
Too many women put themselves last. There is never time for a soak in a tub, a dance class, going back to school, or even lunch with a friend. To make matters worse, most of us spoil or husbands or partners, certainly our kids. Admit it: who gets the 8phone first, you or the teenager, who even after you buy it for him, remains surely and is still failing math.
We teach people how to treat us. And if we hold ourselves as having little value, so will our family, our significant other, bosses, and friends. When my children were little, I would come home sometimes and say, “It has been a bad day; momma needs a hug.” Aside from the fact that the hugs were delicious, it taught my kids a good lesson: giving goes both ways.
What about us? What about women who are grandparents? For women who have reached the grandmother stage, we find other hurdles. We are often called upon to babysit, as the assumption is that we have little else to do. We are asked to serve on committees and charities above and beyond what we really can handle.
(My friend Susan once said to me, if I put my hand up, quickly pull it down.) There is nothing wrong with learning, even at this age, to say NO or SORRY, that is not convenient.
Many people are offended simply by the word: selfish.
A friend told me the following story: She is one of the best grandmas I know; she is an “above and beyond” mother-in-law. The mother of three boys, two of whom live in the same county in Connecticut. One day a week, this woman who still works a part-time job two full days a week is given to each one of these daughters-in-law. She drives an hour each way to each household, watches the children, makes them lunch, and frees up mom for a respite of shopping, meeting friends, or catching a matinee. She loves doing it and loves her time with the children. One day, one of the daughters-in-law called and said, “I know you don’t work Fridays, can we switch this week from Thursday to Friday, as I have a meeting I want to attend on Friday?” My friend explained, “Friday is not good for me. I have an appointment with my ophthalmologist; it took a month to get.” Ten minutes later, her son called, berating her. “What’s more important than your grandchildren? I cannot believe you are so selfish. Barbie is really upset with you.” My friend called me in tears. She had never set limits. Her children seriously believed that nothing in her life was very important.
To live with healthy selfishness rule number one: set limits. Whether that means how many charities or political groups you are asked to join or which committees to serve on, ask yourself: Do I really want to do this? Do I have the time or the energy to do this? I love working with charity groups; I do volunteer for politicians I respect, but I have learned to limit what I do to what I can do comfortably, and feel perfectly OK with saying, “No, sorry. That is not possible.”
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This is especially important for our families. Many of us who pride ourselves as having been good mothers, want to also be good grandmothers. But, perhaps as our children were growing up, we did not set aside time for ourselves. We probably put off things we might have enjoyed because Jamie forgot until Sunday evening that he had a social studies project do on Monday. So, instead of the film we’d been waiting to see, we are madly rushing off to the all-night CVS to see if they have a poster board in their stationery department. That was when they were ten. With adult children, many still expect the same thing. We must learn to say, “I would love to, but I can’t.”
One thing I have learned from personal experience: Don’t give a long-winded explanation. “Sorry, Friday is not good” works better than a ten-minute discussion of wanting to go to the art museum, which your listener will make feel unimportant and trivial.
It may seem like a cliché, but it is still true: on a plane, parents of small children are reminded…in an emergency, put the oxygen mask on you first, or you will not have the energy or ability to help your children or anyone else.
For those of us, of a “certain age” this is the best time to practice healthy selfishness. You have earned it. I think one of the great advantages of being older is that we value each day, each hour. For me, there are still so many things I want to do and want to experience. I hate the term “bucket list.” For me, it is simply my “to do” list. I do not want to have to justify time at a massage session; I don’t want to apologize if I sleep in on Sundays until eleven with the phone set to “off.”
It does not have to be extravagant. Buy that lovely bar of cucumber melon soap, rather than the generic. Sign up for a free or inexpensive class at the Y or the community center. Take audiotapes from the library and listen to a good British mystery. Download free programs on the Internet and learn French. Meet a friend for lunch and try Vietnamese pho or get three friends and try a peach Bellini or a sangria. Put up a hummingbird feeding station for hours of joy. Check out local art galleries. Walk dogs in shelters. Sign up to be a reading coach for children or a “big sister” for kids who need a responsible adult in their life. Go to the beach early or later in the day when it is neither too hot nor too crowded. Start a journal.
If rule number one is: Set limits. Rule number two is: believe you are worth it. It is hard to convince people you have value and need self-care if you, yourself, do not believe it. It is especially difficult for those who have lived with people who were emotionally abusive, whether that was with parents who did not practice unconditional love or with partners, husband, or wives who were verbally abusive. Another cliché that still is true: It is never too late to have a happy childhood.
It is only when we feel happy and fulfilled that we can give and love with an open heart.
True story: when my oldest Brian was about six, I was Christmas shopping at Macy’s in New York. I saw a gorgeous lace shawl and thought it would be perfect for my sister-in-law. I draped it over my shoulder and sighed. It was so lovely. I was about to bring it up to the cashier when Brian said, “Mom, buy two.” I was puzzled. “Why?” I asked. He said, with wisdom, way beyond his years, “Because if you don’t also buy one for yourself, you won’t be able to give it to her with a full heart.”
A perfect example of healthy selfishness.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – GIORGINA LIQUORI
About me. I happily wear three hats. I’m a writer: television in NY; newspapers in NC and FL and three books on Amazon. I’ve had hundreds of articles published in magazines. Straight news, fiction, humor. I’m also a counselor who runs women’s groups and parenting groups and I was trained by Cambridge University to teach American teens and tweens Cambridge writing classes. Love the kids! I have three amazing kids of my own and five grandchildren. Learn more about Georgina here: http://giorginaliguorilifeguide.com/