The older I get, the more important boundaries become. When I was little, I had no boundaries. I was inquisitive, analytical, and unafraid to ask questions—even ones I had no business asking. I didn’t have self-awareness, I just wanted answers. That curiosity stayed innocent until I watched my mom go through my dad’s infidelity. After that, I couldn’t help wondering what it all meant. It was more than just my mom is sad. It became Why did you do what you did to make Mom sad? Although I was just 8 or 9 years-old at the time, that experience matured the inner child in me. It made it hard to let outside people in all the way. I put walls up.
As I got older, my personality started developing into one of take care of yourself. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was selfish; my actions were never to hurt others—I was simply focused on getting where I wanted to go. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started learning about this personality trait within myself. Unfortunately, I had been so oblivious in pursuit of my own life goals, that I didn’t take into account how certain things might make others feel.
One particular time, on a drive with a friend, I was venting about my roommate situation. The roommate was treating me so poorly, and I just needed to talk it through. When we parked, she turned to me, “Raya, I just can’t take hearing you talk about this,” she snapped, “You’re talking about your roommate not realizing you’re treating me like a bad friend.” Her comment seemed to come out of left field, and she never did tell me exactly what I’d done wrong. Different groups of friends started saying the same thing to me, “You only care about yourself.” While that wasn’t entirely true, when different people tell you the same thing over and over, there has to be some truth to it.
What those people didn’t know was that at a young age I learned that a person had to take care of themselves. I wish I had the mental capacity to have those conversations back then. It would have been great to understand exactly where people were coming from—and to properly articulate to them where I was coming from. I didn’t yet possess the capability of social awareness, but I quickly learned. I started shifting my actions to make sure I took others’ feelings into account.
As an adult in my mid-30s, I’ve learned that everyone should prioritize their own happiness. However, there is a way to go about doing that without making other people in your life feel like they aren’t important. I used to beat myself up for my behavior because I felt bad for not thinking about how my actions could impact other people’s feelings. But then I gave myself some grace. My intentions were never to hurt anyone, and I never felt like anything I did for myself could or would have malicious intent towards those I cared about. I was simply misunderstood.
Looking back, I can better assess those situations, and I realize that the people who called me selfish were the people who were not yet able to be “selfish” for themselves. They hadn’t learned that their own happiness should be their top priority, and they expected me to put their feelings first because they put mine first. When in actuality they should have been prioritizing their own feelings and communicating—especially if they didn’t like something I did or said. For whatever reason, they would never say anything until the feelings built up and then exploded. (A part of me thinks they never said anything because they knew my intentions were never in a bad place. Otherwise, why be friends with me?!)
I’ve learned from those past experiences and become more empathetic to others’ feelings. I ask questions and listen to answers with the intent of understanding. I also make it a point to make sure I’m understood. Never again should another person have to question my intentions because they’ll know exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing. I think this particular life lesson is still a work-in-progress for me, but it’s truly amazing to look back and see how much I’ve grown. I can prioritize my own happiness and do it in such a way that it doesn’t make anyone else feel less-than.
Have you had difficulty putting yourself first, or have you had pushback from others when you do?Leave a Comment