Balance & Beyond Podcast
#21: Shattering the 'Selfish' Myth
Ever felt the sting of being labeled 'selfish' as an ambitious woman?
We're about to unravel the threads of this loaded term, exploring how societal norms and childhood conditioning have weaponised it against women, particularly mothers. We're challenging the age-old belief that being a powerhouse and a caring mother are paradoxical roles. We'll delve into the rise of the 'power woman' in the 80s, and how the term 'selfish' has kept many women tethered to guilt and self-doubt. But we're not stopping at simply challenging these norms — we're helping you break free from this judgment and understand 'selfishness' from a fresh, empowering perspective.
And that's not all. We're also shifting our lens to focus on the increasing instances of burnout among women. Burnout is not a badge of honour — we want you to know its signs, symptoms, and, most importantly, how to prevent it.
We'll provide useful tools to manage burnout and insights on crafting a balanced lifestyle that leads to fulfilment and success — as defined by you. This episode is an essential resource for ambitious women seeking to understand societal conditioning, burnout, and the freedom to define success on their own terms. We promise engaging discussions and insights that will inspire and empower you, so tune in!
Never miss an episode!
Sign up for hints, tips and insights relevant for your life
INTRO: Welcome to Balance and Beyond, the podcast for ambitious women who refuse to accept burnout as the price of success. Here, we’re committed to empowering you with the tools and strategies you need to achieve true balance, where your career, relationships and health all thrive, and where you have the power to define success on your own terms. I honour the space you’ve created for yourself today, so take a breath, and let's dive right in…
There is one word that has powerful women shaking in their boots. It's one of the biggest insults you can throw at her. And it is amending and impacting our behaviour in ways you wouldn't believe. What's that word? It's the word “selfish.” To be called “selfish” as a woman, and particularly a mother, has deep roots in much of our conditioning. So, today I want to share with you where this comes from. And the mindset shift that can truly set you free of ever thinking that you are being selfish ever, ever again.
So, what does selfish actually mean? It's a word that is what I call a “loaded word.” It is thrown around at women, and we often worry ourselves about, “Oh, I don't want to be selfish.” And the dictionary definition of selfish is: “Of being concerned excessively, or exclusively, with oneself. Seeking to concentrate on one's own pleasure, or well-being, without regard for others.”
Now, there's a lot of words in there about “exclusively with oneself”, “without regard for others.” And when this is thrown at women, or when we worry ourselves about being selfish. It is usually said in a way that implies that you have a big ego, and that you're self-centred. That you are full of pride, bordering sometimes on narcissism. And some women I know, when this word is levelled at them, it's almost as powerful as being implied that they are neglecting their family. And neglect is a very, very big word.
So if they're selfish, they are neglecting their family. But you'll notice, this definition talks about “excessively” or “exclusively with oneself.” What's interesting is, as women, we are so worried about being accused or perceived as selfish, that we go right the other way and don't have any concern for ourselves, and never think about ourselves in respect of others. This is something that has fascinated me over time.
As I speak to more and more women, this word selfish comes up again and again, and it's interesting because we've been conditioned this way. A lot of this result relates to our childhood conditioning. When girls, and even those of us that grew up in the 80s, even though it was, you know, we were burning bras, and our mothers had done some of that work for us. There's many studies that have shown that, even in the 80s, girls were still taught to share more than boys. Girls were still taught to play nicely. To be quiet. To not fight. Meanwhile, there were some boys beating each other up over the Tonka Truck in the playground.
Now, I know your things have shifted a lot since then. But, if you're listening to this, and you're over 30. This is the conditioning that has really impacted you. What also is coming through in this conditioning is, as children of the 80s, we were also brought up in the same token. There were some of these various gender stereotypes that were starting to gradually be broken down. But, we were also told in the same breath that we could do anything! We were told we could fly to the moon, we could be Prime Minister or President. We could do whatever we wanted.
And we looked at this and went, “Hmm, okay, you told us we could do anything, but you're also telling us to share and play nicely.” And when I look at my main female role model, usually my mother, what we saw happening in the 80s, was what was role-modelled as a good mother. A good mother does everything for her children. She sacrifices everything for her kids. She doesn't put her own needs first. She puts the needs of everybody else first. She stays up until midnight making cupcakes for the school bake sale. She makes things from scratch. She wears an apron, and is kind of trapped in the 1950s.
So, we've got this really fascinating dichotomy of mothers who are still operating off their societal conditioning. That's bringing in this “girl power” message, and then some mashup of the two. And, is it any wonder, that this is where things have landed for us? And we're finding ourselves caught between worlds, and are incredibly confused?
Now, in the 80s, there was also the rise of a “power woman”, who was entering the corporate world. This is when women were first really starting to have careers. As such, most of the people who had careers in the 80s, who progressed as women, didn't have children. And it was very much the expectation that, if you're a woman who had children, you weren't able to progress your career. Because you then didn't love your children, and mothers who did things for themselves were selfish. You were a bad mother. If you left your children to be raised by a nanny, you're a bad mother. You didn't care about them. If you pursued a career, versus them, well, you loved your career more than your children. And who does that?
But those mothers who didn't perhaps have a career, who wanted one, were usually grumpy and resentful. And they then found significance in becoming the martyr, who does so much for everyone, and yet resents the fact that they do everything for everyone without being asked. And then they get no recognition, and no one does anything back. So, can you see these dichotomies? Have a career, pursue it? Oh, but then you're the “working girl”, and then you are a “neglectful mother.” And then, in order to be a good mother, you have to be a martyr, and do everything for everyone. But then you end up grumpy and resentful. And the working woman's grumpy and resentful, and nobody is happy.
And we're now, this generation, grown up in that environment, and now gone. “Ooh, the word selfish is thrown around both ways.” “A mother can't be selfish and put her needs first, because she needs to be a good housewife and look after the children.” “And if I'm selfish and want a career, well then, I'm going to be grumpy, and I'm neglecting my children.” “So what do I do?” “I know I will just work like I don't have children, and be a parent like I don't work.” And so we've tried to do both. Thinking, “Right, I can do anything!” “Sure, I'll hold two paradigms that don't actually work well together.” Is it any wonder we are burning out?
So, what is happening with our generation after being caught between these two worlds, is the word “selfish” is still incredibly loaded. We're “selfish” for working. Then we consider ourselves “selfish” for wanting some alone time, and not necessarily being with our children every waking second that we're not working. Because that's what we should want. Because a good mother wants to spend time with her children. We feel guilty for being out, away from our children, working. So, if we're not working with them, you must be with them.
And this selfishness, or this fear of being branded “selfish”, or being worried about being “selfish”, we fall into some of those traps that our mothers did, when they were the martyrs. We get incredibly resentful that nobody ever gives us any space. And yet, we never asked for it. We never held it, and we never took it. We over-give, and become chronic over-givers, by saying “yes” to everything. That people-pleaser in us runs rampant. But, then we get resentful when people don't give back to us. And they don't stay up all night doing something that we expected them to do. We tell ourselves they don't have to do it, and yet we secretly expect them to. We think we're being the
“good people” by putting ourselves last, because that's what makes a good mother. That's what makes a good woman.
But everybody I talk to, and I talk to hundreds of women each month, are saying to me, “Jo, I'm not my best self.” “I'm running on fumes.” “I'm grumpy everywhere.” “I feel like I'm failing at everything.” “I'm a bad mother.” “I'm not my best self at work.” So, where is this fear of being selfish actually getting us? Well, my friends, it's not getting us anywhere. And we are completely giving away our own personal power to this fear that doesn't belong to us.
We have inherited this word. And we have weaponised it against us. We weaponise it in so many ways. We use it as a brand. That we're neglecting. We worry about being selfish. Therefore, we can't take care of ourselves because, “I'm already so guilty.” “I'm trying to work and be a mum and be a partner.” “I couldn't ever take time away.” “We want to take care of everybody else.” “So, yes, I'll invest in my children's education.” “I'll invest in tutoring.” “Guess, my partner needs some time away.” “He can do that.” “Go spend money on me.” “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, I couldn't possibly do that.” There's a family to take care of. It's nuts, right? Can you see how we are torn, and we are beating ourselves up, and we are burning out in record numbers?
So, I'm going to offer a radical perspective to you today. And, I invite you into a powerful reframe. That is one that I have taken on board, and I encourage anybody who comes into my world to take, and that is to completely reframe the word selfish. Personally, I prefer if you never use it, and ban it from your vocabulary. But, if you must, I want you to decide that you know what the outcome here is. I usually hear from women, “I want to be my best self, so that everybody else gets the best of me.” “I want to be influential at work.” “I want to be a strong leader.” “I want to be present with my kids.” “I want to be “the fun mum.”’ I want to be playful and spontaneous with my partner.
Okay, so what do you think is going to happen? If you continue to put yourself last, and feel resentful, and then wonder why you can't step into these emotional states. Yeah right, mutually exclusive. So, I'm going to encourage you to actually reframe what's going on here and say, “You know what?” “It's actually selfish for me not to give my best self to my family.” And if that means I have to go to bed early, or if that means I need to go for a walk by myself, or if that means I need to get a coach, or see a therapist, or get some help from somebody.
That is actually something I don't want to do. “If that's what being selfish is, well, oh my gosh, I need to be selfish!” “Because, I need to take care of my family.” “Oh, I could neglect my health, and then end up burning out, or having an incurable condition, or getting cancer, and then I'm going to have to not work for a good couple of months.” Oh wait, you mean, taking care of myself is selfish?” “I'll do it every day of the week, if this is what's going to make a difference to how I show up, to how I feel.” “If this is being selfish, if this is going to allow me to access joy, it's going to allow me to become a better person.” “If it's going to allow me to be present, well then, oh my gosh, I want to be selfish every day of the week.” “Because if I am “selfish”, by that definition, if I am taking care of myself, if I'm my best self, everybody around me gets the best version of me.” “Everybody gets me being playful, I am sharp, I can focus, I'm articulate, I can actually get more done.”
Can you see the theme here, that putting yourself last and worrying about being selfish, is actually contributing to your misery? And one way of knowing whether or not this is applicable to you is ask yourself, especially if you have a daughter. If you have a child, would you want them to feel the way about themselves that you do now? Would you want them to be terrified of asking for help? Would you want them to do everything for everybody else, and never for themselves? Would you want them to invest their time and effort and money on other people, and never on themselves? The answer is always “no.”
We want our kids to take care of themselves. We want our daughters to invest in their education. To invest their time in good people, to invest their time in getting to know themselves. And yet, we won't model this. So, this is something that is important to you. If you want your kids to look after themselves, if you want them to take care of their health, if you want them to grow up good, healthy people, if you want them to nurture their brain, to nurture their bodies, to nurture their friendships, and to bring their best self into the world.
Well then, you better start with you. You had better learn. ‘Alright, it's time.” “I'm going to reframe this.” “I'm not going to worry about being selfish anymore.” “I'm going to stop using that world altogether.” Find a better one. Or I'm going to flip the meaning and say, “Yes, you know what?” “You are absolutely right.” “Why would I want my family to get the worst version of me?” “Why would I want my family to have an exhausted mother?” Who's on the couch and can't get up because she's comatose from the week, because she's run herself ragged, and didn't have time to feed herself, didn't get enough sleep because she was too busy doing things for other people, didn't ever exercise, and move her body, so it's falling apart?” Hmm, what do you think? Which one would you rather?
So today, I invite you to banish the word, and reframe it, and most importantly, I invite you to do something that the old you would have considered selfish. By simply listening to this episode today, you've now got a different perspective. Whether you're going to go to bed early, you're like, “Yes, I'm doing something selfish today!” “Jo, you're right, this is what's going to make me a better me.” Are you going to invest in the deluxe version of your coffee? Are you going to have a chat with a friend? Are you going to just take some time to sit still, and be still and put it down? Are you going to invest in yourself in some way, shape, or form? What is it that you are going to do today, that your family, everyone around you, and your future self, will absolutely thank you for? Because that, my friend, is worth being selfish every day of the week.
OUTRO: Thank you for joining us today on the Balance and Beyond Podcast. We're so glad you carved out this time for yourself. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend who might need to hear this today. And if you're feeling extra generous, leaving us a review on your podcast platform of choice would mean the world. If you’re keen to dive deeper into our world, visit us at www.balanceinstitute.com to discover more about the toolkit that has helped thousands of women avoid burnout and create a life of balance, and beyond. Thanks again for tuning in, and we'll see you next time on the Balance & Beyond Podcast.
Want more episodes?
Visit our podcast library for more episodes that will help you discover the world of balance, and beyond