When I “misbehaved” as a child, I’d be met with a wagging finger and a harsh tone: “Who do you think you are?” – sometimes followed by the rhetorical question, “The Queen of Sheba?”
This usually meant I was being too assertive, too selfish, too lazy, too entitled – and I quickly learned how to question, doubt and repress my (problematic) self.
To stay safe and get approval from my parents, I tried to make myself smaller, more submissive, more subservient, more acceptable.
Later, playing alone in my room, I often wondered who this Queen of Sheba was, because, maybe I really was a lost princess who was growing up in the wrong family. 🤔 A part of me simply felt deeply misunderstood.
Who was I really? Was it true that I was all of those bad things?
This deeper question of who we are, however, has been a profound and integral part of my lifelong quest for healing, love and empowerment.
Can I have an ego and not be egotistical?
Is it better to “die” to parts of myself or to “integrate” parts of myself?
What does it mean to have a healthy sense of self?
A friend of mine recently read me this excerpt from Mark Nepo’s latest book, and it beautifully captures the essence of what I have aimed for:
“On the one hand, we have to solidify a self from which to navigate our way through life. On the other hand, we need to fill that self with everything we are not, so we can keep growing and joining with other life while we are here … our [Self] container needs to be sturdy and hollow, so that Spirit and life can move through us. If we thicken our container too much, we risk not being hollow enough for life to move through us, and we live behind a thickened wall of self.” (p. 106)
As an adult, I’ve often gone back to reparent that confused, scared young girl, who grew up deathly afraid of being entitled or narcissistic (where the self-container is too thick), and who then overcorrected into co-dependence and people-pleasing (where the self-container is too thin).
I’ve learned to appreciate the differences between:
… being selfish, and self-care, self-respect
… being entitled, and self-advocacy.
… being lazy, and knowing when to rest.
… being narcissistic, and having a healthy sense of self.
… being defensive, and having the ability to protect oneself.
Subtle, but profound distinctions that help us break free from the bondage of self-criticism, self-judgment and self-doubt.
Disconnected domination cultures encourage us to pathologize, diagnose and label one another in the name of being helpful. We are taught to tell people who they are, and who they are not.
You are selfish. You are lazy. You are not the Queen of Sheba.
Judging ourselves in this way breaks us down. It increases our insecurity, grandiosity and shame, keeps us disconnected from ourselves and others, and teaches us to devalue ourselves and others.
Instead, let’s create cultures of connection and compassion, in which …
We care for ourselves, and also for others.
We tell our own stories, and also hear the stories of others.
We connect with our feelings, and also stay present to the feelings of others.
We express our pain without blaming others, and hear others’ pain even when their language is aggressive.
We follow the wisdom of our needs, while including the needs of others.
We ask for what we want, while working flexibly with what others want too.
A Playful Exercise and Invitation:
Word Play: Who Are You? Who Could You Be?
Complete this sentence many times over, and see what comes up as you do …
If I were the Queen of Sheba, I would …
Once you’ve exhausted all those possibilities, try out a few more …
If I were Robin Hood, I would …
If I were Lara Croft, I would …
If I were Merlin, I would …
If I were a bad girl/bad boy, I would …
If I were the Dalai Lama, I would …
If I were Oprah, I would …
If I were a Knight in Shining Armor, I would …
If I were a delicate empress, I would …
If I were a hermit, I would …
If I were (fill in your own personas here), I would …
Let your imagination go to town; and let me know in the comments below what you discover!
Love the invitation to play! It allows for surprising responses. Just picking who your alter ego might be was fun. I liked the adventurer but not the tight clothes.
I’m curious what readers think of the term "selfishness". It means literally "care of self". Yet, almost universally it has a very negative connotation. Why do we assume the (negative) actions we associate with selfishness are in the interest of the individual performing them?
Stealing, lying, physical attacks benefit the actor? In what universe? Not mine.
Hi Harry – I love the thought provoking ideas … yes, I see the same thing you are pointing to that selfishness often has a negative connotation, and yet the essence of self-care is such an important and wonderful act … for me, the nuance lies in three states: caring for myself to the exclusion of how that impacts you; caring for you even at the expense of myself, and caring for myself in a way that includes and considers the impact it has on you/others …. thoughts?
I’m not sure how to respond to your last line … ? Y