Saturday, February 15, 2014


The assigned topic in my writing group last week was “Selfishness”.  I thought long and hard on the topic, and began writing a weepy passage about poor little me, working extremely hard, day after day, to take care of others who were being selfish by taking advantage of my stamina and generosity.   

Then I made myself ill, hit the delete button and started over.  I put my box of Kleenex down and got out my snarky pen – because snarky is usually much more honest than my tears. 

In case you didn’t already get the memo, I am a certified control freak.  I am getting better with a lot of things, but there a couple important ones that I continue to leave my claws fully embedded in.  I just can’t give up trying.  I am very well intentioned, mind you, but I am told that good intentions don’t necessarily excuse my behavior.  I am just supposed to let go, and in those few special cases, I can’t seem to do it.   

But what is being a control freak all about?  Really, it’s about selfishness.  I want what I want, when I want it, and damn it, if the universe doesn’t comply, then I jump in and get things done, in the way only I can do.   Because I’m special that way.  I applied for the position of Supreme Goddess of the Universe quite some time ago, and even though I have not been granted the position yet, I feel compelled to keep showing everyone all the good that I am capable of.  Why? Because if they could see it my way, then they would do it my way. 

And I get caught in that simple flaw every time I don’t get what I want.  For example, I want to love someone fully, but I also want him to be different than he is.  It’s too hard to admit that even though he can see it my way, he doesn’t choose change.  So I keep trying.  I keep banging my head against the wall, but nothing actually changes.  What I discovered is that he applied for the same position I did, and we are currently in competition for control over our shared universe.   

Selfishness is defined as being “concerned with your own interests, needs, and wishes while ignoring those of others”.   It is my will run amuck, at the expense of my compassion.  Do I have needs?  Of course.  Should I engage in self-care?  Definitely.  But when does taking care of my own needs cross over into selfishness? 

I think it’s when the pursuit of my own needs gives me permission to try to control another person.  When it whispers in my ear that in the interests of self-care, I am allowed to manipulate the behavior of another, instead of accepting them for exactly who they are.  It’s a tricky line, but not hard to catch.  All I have to do is ask who am I trying to change?  Myself, or someone else?

If I have needs, I can make choices – for me, about me, in favor of me.  What I cannot do is make choices for someone else in an effort to get them to fit into my picture of how the universe should look.   If I do, then I have crossed over into selfishness.  

Even the pitiful martyr who started writing this piece is selfish.  She engages in martyrdom because she wants her sacrifice to motivate change in someone else.  It’s selfish, because she gets something out of it.   Something juicy and meaningful.  Something that feels a little like power.   But that’s not me.  

Or is it?

© Copyright 2013 al-anon journal
Photo credit: © Thinglass


  1. I love this post. Live and let live isn't as easy as it sounds. I wanted to control my world and if you were in it I wanted to control you. I know now that I was afraid to let go. I thought if I managed everything and everyone that nothing bad would happen. It happen anyway and my life unraveled and left me with a mess. I am happy to control nothing now.

  2. Great post, thanx for your honesty.

  3. At the bottom of this control thing is fear -- I think that 99% of human beings living with alcoholic family chaos would react in the same way -- it's a child's view of the world that she has done something to make people drink and so she can do something to make them stop. That habit of feeling fear and trying to control/fix things continues until you understand and grow up a little. That behavior will probably not go away, but I can learn to notice when I'm doing it again. And then make the choice to accept the things I cannot change (other people) and change the things I can (me).

  4. The hostile martyr role is something I understand. I know how easy it is to slide back into that behavior again. I cannot control what others do. I do the right thing and hope for the best. Others have their own journey.