Never again: Selfish.

There are words that hurt. Selfish is a destroyer for me. And it’s taken me a long time to understand why. While I am a generous, sometimes (borderline) sacrificial person, I think this makes me strong, and so it’s not what shapes my pain at the root. It actually runs deeper and earlier.

As a child, I was denied individuality. Motions to do things for myself were swept aside, seen as signs of weakness. If I expressed a desire to sit out of a group activity, it was made clear to me that then leaving me alone was punishment, exclusion. It was proof of my selfishness that I would rather have time alone than join in. Lila, the selfish one. That is how, through instances of punishment for individual thinking, the mechanism was installed.

Since then, I have been acutely aware that my duty is to others, to the family unit. Wanting something, anything, for myself is only a weakness, punishable, to be silenced and hidden at all costs. I have therefore developed a disregard for myself, my needs and desires; as a result turning me into an efficient family/team/couple member, always putting others first. But that game ends up with me in pain, feeling repressed and unworthy. 

So now that I understand, why don’t I just move on and be an individual ? Guilt. Guilt is the answer. Guilt and fear that I’m letting others down, that I’m being selfish. For standing up for myself, for being honest, for having emotions, for expressing them. Because now, in my head, there’s always a voice, a cycle of thoughts that’s ashamed of my individuality, at the imagined cost of others’ comfort and joy.

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I’ve started a process of recovery. I’m in the early steps. Of removing that voice, acknowledging it’s not mine but a childhood fear, that I can leave it behind. I’ve started to feel how rich a person I am. How the woman I am becoming deserves her own space, her free time, to have her voice heard, to not be scared.

So when you call me selfish, or self-involved, I cringe, I hurt, and scramble to self-efface, to have my presence forgotten because the voice inside says I’ve failed at my duties again.

That’s why I sing. That’s why I ask – where’s the room for my self love? Wouldn’t I do well to put myself first? Shouldn’t you, who are by my side, celebrate that?

Selfish is a word that hurts, and I hope now you understand. You wouldn’t tell me I have too much self love, would you? 

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Boy, don’t even try me.

Just because I’m black you expect me to be exotic. You think my curves and curls make me wild in bed. You like the sound of the languages I speak and want to hear more.

Then, because I’m swiss you accuse me of being a bourgeois goody two-shoes. I am not (and neither are you) my origins (your heritage). More than the sum of my parts, let me exist outside of the boxes you label for me, for all of us. Do I have to remind you never to judge a book by its cover?

So, just because I am a half-black (and yes, half white) educated woman who enjoys singing love songs as well as twerking does not mean you have a right to change me or “put me back on track”. No, my sister won’t play basketball for you, yes, her boyfriend is still with his “negro girl” (true words, heard for real, no joke), and no, I will neither calm down, nor speak in a voice that is not mine.

Why don’t you just stand on your side of the court and take all the balls I ace your way?

I stand tall as your opponent, worthy and unafraid.