Chapter 18

I have been called selfish often, especially by those closest to me. I had an interesting discussion about this yesterday, when I was told that my behaviour is not selfish, but self-centred.

My immediate reaction to that was, what’s the bloody difference? They’re both terrible traits.

The difference, I was told, is with regard to intent. Selfish people don’t care about the ramifications of their behaviour on others as long as they get what they want, whereas self- centred people care too much about what other people think about them, so much so that they are fearful of saying anything that might upset others, to the point that they will mask what they want or need if they think it might upset another person.

I’m not denying there are aspects of selfishness in my behaviour, but I am inclined to agree that I’m self-centred to a greater degree than I am selfish. I get so caught up in worrying that I’ve wronged people that my immediate reaction in almost every situation is “what have I done to cause them to react like this?”.

I need to reframe this tendency, so when someone responds to me, regardless of how, I should ask myself why are they reacting to me in this way? How likely is it to be because of something I’ve done? How much more likely is it to be because of something they’ve got going on that has nothing to do with me?

It sounds ludicrous, but this is going to be extremely challenging for me. I’m so self-centred that my comfort zone is to expect the behaviour in every interaction to be about something I have done, or failed to do. It’s going to take a lot of effort to pause and recognise this, then deal with it as it crops up. However, I expect as that behaviour is repeated, it becomes normalised and my brain eventually will become accustomed to reacting like that, instead of the self-centred way it currently reacts. That’s my working theory, anyway.

Something I found slightly mind-blowing this week is the notion that in order to change your future, you don’t necessarily need to understand your past. I’d always believed that in order to change I needed to analyse my past to understand why I am how I am, and in turn to allow me to change. Not so. In fact focusing on my past has done approximately fuck all for my development, so I think it’s safe to say that dwelling on one’s past is not a particularly productive course of action.

Another challenge to face is how I communicate with the world, and like most effective behavioural traits, it is actually simple to understand, but many of us fail to put into practice. To communicate effectively, we only need to know three things about any given topic:

  1. How I/you feel.
  2. What I/you need.
  3. What to request to obtain what I/you need.

At its most basic:

I feel exhausted. I need a rest. I want to take a nap for an hour.

Or:

I feel hungry. I need food. I want to eat a ham sandwich.

And so on. Obviously complexity grows with competing and often contradictory needs but the basic premise for how to communicate is there. I must be clear about my needs and what I want to address them.

I also need to be specific. It’s not enough to say, for example “I want sex” or “I want food”. Being specific is crucial to effective communication. So those statements become “I want to make love to you tonight as soon as The Blacklist is over” or “I want two poached eggs with some lightly toasted brown bread and a venti blonde roast four and four”.

I’m actually enjoying this, finding the flaws in my behaviour and trying to fix them. I just need the right tools to do it.

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