Does #selfishness isolates us in such a way that it can gravely harm our health?

Comment by Isabel Hernandez Negrin. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.

We like to #believe that we’re not selfish. If someone tells us we are, we probably get mad.

Acting in a selfish way is, in truth, what we know best, but we shouldn’t criticize ourselves for it. In our habitual state of life, that state in which we seek our own well-being and avoid discomfort, we are not able to see that #selfishness is the incentive of almost all our behaviors. The most primitive part of our brains is what drives us constantly to do it: flee or fight against what bothers us, and get closer to what produces in us a sense of satisfaction or pleasure. From the simplest unicellular organism, we all do that. If an amoeba finds an environment that is dangerous for it vital equilibrium, it will move away from it as soon as it can, and it will remain in one that is adequate for it to survive.

That impulse is perfect to save our lives when confronted with physical dangers and to remove us from toxic environments. However, this impulse keeps acting in the same way before psychological phenomena. Thus, when an internal alarm sounds, a psychological fear appears, it drives us to act in the same way, and this impulse is so strong that we can distance ourselves from people or situations because of personal fears, even though these fears are only in our imaginations.

In this way, we can avoid people or be aggressive to people who thinks different or has different beliefs, or to comments that unbalance our self-image. We can feel we are in “danger” because of an offhand comment, a certain look, a gesture, something we imagine, something we believe is cutting our expectations about something and even feelings we don’t like.

Before any of these situations, we react like the amoeba, without thinking, without seeing what’s really happening, without distinguishing that we felt we were in “danger” because we interpreted it as such and not because it was a real danger.

Living “blindly”, reacting like the amoeba, seems to validate behaviors that can go from fraud to corruption, deceit, self-deception, aggressiveness, victimhood, guilt, anger and inconsideration. In the end, you will see that these behaviors, motivated by personal fears, and not by real dangers, make us, and others, suffer. Our attitudes and their corresponding behaviors have consequences in our bodies. Becoming monumentally infuriated by something that made us uncomfortable doesn’t leave us satisfied or happy. These selfish behaviors, the ones that put my own wellbeing first – even if it’s uncertain – they put me in a corner, they make me feel that I’m living in a hostile world (in work, in my family, etc.) without noticing that my thoughts, motivations and fears are the ones that have in that corner. From there to stokes, depression, anxiety, frustration or bad relationships, is only one-step.

How can I do things in another way? First, it’s necessary for me to have the intention to see my reactions, without criticizing myself. When you feel that something is starting to make you mad, that you start to lament about things, stop and observe what you’re feeling before reacting like the amoeba. Observe what you’re feeling in your body in that exact moment, the tension in your stomach or your head, the emotion that blossoms, the thought that pop in your head, and do not feed that reaction. Choose not to feed that reaction because it’s only the primitive part of your brain that it’s trying to save you from what you believe is threatening you. The choice is in your hands, is just a matter of having the intention.

As Facundo Cabal said, we live distracted in our own lives. Observing what drives us to act is the only way to a full life. Just try it and you will see the results.