Selfish vs Self-ist: Huh? and Heck yeah!


When I got sober, I really struggled with the idea of taking care of myself and being of service to others. 

In the 12 step rooms, we read and hear that alcoholics are selfish and self-centered.  How could I be selfish if I was always doing everything that was asked and expected of me and more?

All my life, I have been a people-pleaser. By this I mean I tied my self-worth and my identity to saying YES to everyone’s requests before even considering my own. I came to learn that this is not healthy and, indeed, a “character defect.” 

The truth is that my people pleasing was my ego desperate for pats on the back, yearning to be heard and seen, believing my presence in someone’s life needed to be earned. In other words, acting people-pleasing was selfish and self-centered.  I did it for the way it made me feel: SPECIAL. Until it made me angry and resentful, powerless to stop and to ask for what I needed. Then I stewed.

Enter the concept of self-ist, which I heard, on an Audible podcast by Domonique Bertolucci called “The 7 Step Mindset Makeover.”  She is best known for her book The Happiness Code. I was just looking for something inspiring to listen to in the shower and got this little gem of a concept.

This concept was really a breakthrough for me in terms of my co-dependence. I walked away with a real understanding that my needs and wants matter as much as anyone else’s.

For those who might be new to the concept of codependence, here is the definition from Melodie Beattie, author of Codependent No More, and who is responsible for bringing the term into the vernacular: a codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.

I know that might be obvious to most people.  For me, I started to see, really see, that I have been going through life ranking everyone’s wants and needs and sitting in judgement accordingly. In fact, I thought it was my superpower: seeing all the pieces of a 3-D moving puzzle and prioritizing and sorting them by urgency, importance, ease, etc.  I am a project manager by day – I get paid to do this. BUT, that meant I was using my own selfish and self-centered criteria to decide what my husband and son (the primary victims and benefactors of my personal growth process) should be doing and then I would be in a huff if they didn’t agree. Who is the 6 year old in the house????

So to me, self-ist should start with a capital S in reference to my highest, holy Self that takes its direction from God. Being Self-ist means I can pause and check in with my Self (my gut, intuition, Holy Spirit) for guidance and respond accordingly.

This is versus reacting from that selfish, ego-driven place looking for a reward, relief, power, nurturing, whatever.

When I first got into recovery, I would also bristle at the concept of “the pause.”  I took pride in being able to whip out barbs and retorts without skipping a beat. Selfish, thoughtless, separated, ego. 

The pause is that crack that lets in light, spirit, connection.  It gives me a chance to really listen to what that other person (who is ultimately part of me –Self-ist) is truly reaching out to communicate.

So now Self-ist isn’t just knowing that everyone’s needs matter, it is knowing that everyone is my Self. I don’t know if this is exactly what Domonique Bertolucci meant, but it seems to work for me and I am sticking to it!

Let’s bring it back to the struggle of taking care of myself and being of service to others. Thanks to the concept of self-ist-ness, I can pause when someone asks me for something or I see/sense/perceive that something needs to be done and ask if it serves the Self – both the part that is in this body and that other body. Then I can respond accordingly.

In addition, I can trust that opportunities to serve/sponsor/organize WILL come. It is in my prayers every day. As someone in recovery, it is my primary purpose to give to others what has been given to me. Which really just means that I would be giving my Self to my Self. As Neale Donald Walsch always says, “There is no one else in the room.”

To get the phone and computer wallpapers inspired by this blog, click here.  And if you are interested in doing the 12 steps in a small group by Zoom on sugar and flour, please sign up for my email list.  Whether you’ve done the steps in another program or tried OA, FA or never heard of the steps at all, you will want to learn about this!


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