Many people make a point of being benevolent towards others. They seek opportunities to help others, whether in some practical sense or by providing moral support. They find this to be personally rewarding.
Yet, they hold a double standard. They struggle deeply to treat themselves with the same level of understanding and respect that they so often show to others. Others may not struggle at all, making no effort whatsoever to treat themselves with the same positive regard.
Choosing yourself is just as rewarding as it is difficult, however. We are better prepared to support others when we ourselves are supported by a stable base of self-esteem.
After all, what really makes us so worthy of condemnation, when others are worthy of forgiveness?
There are good reasons why choosing yourself is so much more difficult.
The foremost reason is strictly practical; we are responsible for ourselves, and we have to hold ourselves accountable. A healthy sense of dissatisfaction can be useful and necessary; it is this dissatisfaction that allows us to improve ourselves and respond effectively to our mistakes.
This dissatisfaction, however, is difficult to apply; we need to be dissatisfied with what we are right now, without being dissatisfied with who we are (and who we have the potential to become) at the deepest level.
In simpler terms, our habits, choices, and thoughts are subject to improvement, but we must always unconditionally accept our core identity.
This is a fine line, and our dissatisfaction can easily become conflated. Self-deprecation may be mistaken for objectivity; we may think that to criticize ourselves is to take responsibility for ourselves.
But this is not true. To criticize ourselves is to reject ourselves; it is the opposite of choosing yourself. This attempt to disown who we are is bound for failure; we are ourselves, and nobody else can substitute for us.
Better to reframe our perspective, and realize that our inherent traits are not bad. Each trait is neutral; whether it takes a positive or negative manifestation in response to the world around us is a question of our adaptations, rather than of the trait itself.
When we eliminate this double-standard, we may come to consider ourselves worthy of our own time and energy.
Choosing yourself is the best choice; we should not rely on the short-term gratification that comes from helping others. As we pursue the high that comes from helping others, we may do so in the most superficial, unsustainable ways. Enabling others will hurt them in the long-term.
Of course, helping others will always be worthwhile. But this is not an alternative to helping ourselves; we should seek out the long-term gratification that comes from choosing yourself.
In doing so, we come to terms with something that was always inevitable. Nobody else can help us on the deepest level; we have to help ourselves. If we have moral obligations towards others, then we must also have moral obligations towards ourselves, whether we wish to or not.
Of all the people in the world, the one person who we can help the most is ourselves. If we want to make the world a better place, we should know where to start. But choosing yourself alone is insufficient; we need to have the proper vantage point so as to develop ourselves effectively.
If we are to make ourselves a priority, then we need to set boundaries that shield us from exploitation.
Choosing yourself means that when we help others, we must weigh the costs to ourselves. If the harm outweighs the benefits, then the world at large will actually be worse off as a result of our efforts. The fact that this harm comes to us by choice is irrelevant.
It follows that there are limits to what we can do. This is necessarily true; no individual can realistically solve all the world’s problems. It’s never hard to find someone who is suffering, but the tragic fact is that unless we know when to look the other way, everyone will be worse off.
There is nuance in setting effective boundaries, however. There is no universally-applicable rule; our only choice is to consider, on a case-by-case basis, how much we can offer at any given point in time, and how vulnerable we should allow ourselves to be.
It is unfortunate that those among us who are deeply vulnerable may be emotionally unprepared to have those vulnerabilities exposed. To them, “choosing yourself” may involve setting harsh boundaries that prevent others from getting too close.
Those who violate those boundaries by exposing their vulnerabilities, even in the name of intimacy, are liable to be met with adverse reactions until they learn to limit such behaviours. If they do not, they may find themselves shut out, unable to connect even superficially.
As always, communication is paramount. Nobody can be blamed for violating a boundary if they were not made aware that it existed. Those setting the boundaries should communicate insofar as their vulnerability allows; if they do not communicate effectively, others will be left to guess.
Because our needs and capabilities are so variable, it will take time to develop an awareness of our needs and establish a consistent set of boundaries. Yet, these boundaries put us in a position where we can strengthen ourselves, only accepting as much burden as we can bear.
However, boundaries are, by definition, limiting. Those who set them must be sagacious, or else they will remove themselves from the connections and intimacy which are essential to their development (and even their subsistence).
As our boundaries give us strength, however, we will find less and less need for them. We will begin to dismantle them, accepting new challenges and developing yet more strength.
DEVELOPING THE ASPECTS OF SELF
From a vantage point that matches our current capabilities, we can finally get to work. Choosing yourself involves developing the aspects of self, including (but not limited to) health, knowledge, skills, and emotional intelligence.
These aspects are all sympathetic to each other to some degree, but the one that bears the greatest connection to the others is emotional intelligence. If we take a specific approach and target our needs directly, our emotional health will improve directly.
DISCOVERING OUR NEEDS
Our needs, to a large degree, can be identified via our intuition. Even if we have a large, looming concern, such as a financial issue or approaching deadline, we may find ourselves compelled towards something seemingly irrelevant, such as a hobby.
This suggests that we may have even greater needs which are hidden to us. These emotional needs may include a need for self-actualization, or a need for leisure time, so that our current lifestyle can be sustainable. These needs are directly related to our emotional welfare.
Of course, our intuition is often clouded by denial. It may be that our emotional well-being is indeed tightly correlated with these large, looming concerns. If these concerns intimidate us, we will be averse to acknowledging them.
In short, these matters are highly individual, and the answers to these questions can only be found by choosing yourself and making your own discoveries.
It’s simply a matter of seeing what works, what doesn’t, and finding the priorities that are the most rewarding to us. On such a path, a toolset of careful introspection and self-belief will prove invaluable.
Above all else, it is absolutely necessary that we consider ourselves to be a worthwhile investment, regardless of whatever obstacles and setbacks we encounter. We simply have no other choice; even so, we may come to be amazed at what hidden potential we held all along.