Unlearning

Selfishness. Growing up one of five girls, this was the word most often spoken by my parents as an admonishment. “You’re being selfish.” If you didn’t want to share, you were being selfish. If you didn’t want your sister to join in your activities, you were being selfish. If you put yourself before anyone else, you were—you guessed it—selfish. It was the worst of the worst.

“Sorry” is the sister of “Selfish.” They travel hand in hand giving doses of self-loathing, self-questioning and causing one to be in the constant state of apologizing.

I’m sorry, I was being selfish.

Any other emotion could be connected to the root of selfishness, because at the end of the day, we were less important than the quiet house both of my parents yearned for. Fighting, anger, tears all came down to the fact that we were being selfish. Being called selfish shut us up. Little did they know that being called selfish made us swallow ourselves.

For our birthdays we were given a choice, a party with a few friends (and sisters) or dinner out with one friend with only my parents. I always chose those precious dinners with steaks and Shirley Temples, where I had my parents all to myself. When I was allowed to be selfish—on my birthday.

I struggle with my “selfishness” on a daily basis. I was trained to put everyone else in front of myself. Taught that self-care is just another form of selfishness. I think most women are raised in the belief that selflessness equals loving (quiet) and selfishness equals bitch (loud).

I am unlearning. I am not being selfish by saying what I want or need. I am not going to apologize for living my life for my self. I am not being selfish by putting up boundaries and calling out behavior that threatens or assaults, or is demeaning, or just fucking rude. I will not apologize for caring for my self.

It is a lesson women are unlearning together in numbers that are shocking the System.

I am going be self-full. I am going to strut. I am going to scream. I am going to shout myself hoarse with the fullness of my self. I am throwing myself up.

And then I will have dessert and not share. Because, I fucking deserve it.

5 comments

  1. As always, I am amazed at your
    ability to expressed so honestly
    what many women have experienced. I am one of 5 children and heard the same
    refrain over and over again. At the age of 82, I am still “unlearning” what I was taught
    so long ago. Love ❤️ your writing
    Love you!!!

  2. Wonderful Jennifer. Thank you for posting again.

    I myself, was not told I was being selfish, but was often “shushed” for speaking my mind or being disagreeable, not so much by my parents themselves, but by society in general. As women, we have always been shushed through time. I’m glad that hopefully, women are finding there voices again. For me personally, something changed in me when I turned 50 and I decided to be shushed no more.

  3. Three boys and three girls in a Catholic family. I heard the word ‘selfish’ often. Almost always applied to the girls. Boys? We were just bad or sinners. Just speaking of you lately. I had no idea how much I missed you until then (and now). You took me in for Holiday dinner in that nice place you had on capital hill. Kevin and I think Scot too. I was so lonely. How strangely comfortable and at ease I was; holidays have always been hard. How I learned that night, the secret ways, the mysteries, forbidden knowledge. Yeah, that’s right I’m referring to . . . canasta. Be selfish. Do you deserve it? I really wouldn’t know. But I think during these times it is necessary. There is a reckoning coming and those of my ilk must keep our heads down.

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