Henry had come to town to be with his father, who was in failing health.
He thought he’d stay a week or two and then return home. However, his father began opening up and engaging in deeper talks, something Henry never had when he was younger. Henry was getting insight and closure to relieve the pain he had carried since childhood.
Henry was torn by his sense of loyalty to his mother, who had been resentfully divorced many years ago and recently suffered a heart attack. Henry had a conflict between his responsibilities to his father, his mother and himself. While Henry was enjoying the time he spent with his father, he was also enduring a growing sense of anxiety and couldn’t stop predicting disaster either way.
Both loved ones needed his presence, both were beset by negative experiences that would only intensify in his absence. Henry felt obligated to be there for both of them. It was his self-assigned responsibility to prevent these disasters from happening. He began obsessing and feeling guilty all the time.
Henry has the tendency to assume excessive responsibility for others problems. He makes frequent sacrifices in an attempt to help others overcome adversity. Some who are excessively responsible, feel worthless and deserving only of pain and punishment. They strive for others approval to combat inescapable inadequacy.
Henry was the caregiver and the excessively responsible martyr in the family. He pleased everyone in the family, but himself. Quite often, his good intention to please his family members turned out to be counter-productive.
He needed to push his comfort zone to break the impasse by doing what pleased him. He had never considered this an option before. It was foreign to his experience. Henry was concerned about feeling guilty of the crime of selfishness, if he put himself first in his life, after 42 years of selflessness.
Henry felt that he would be committing the crimes of:
He felt he would be punished, indebted or lose the love of these people he cared for most. He lived in fear of the painful consequences for engaging in the “unacceptable” behavior of self preservation.
Self preservation is like when we go on an airplane. Selfish means putting our air mask on while everyone else chokes. Selfless is putting everybody else’s air mask on while we choke. Self preservation is putting on our air mask first, so we can the help those around us.
Many of us are not used to putting ourself first in our own lives, but it is entirely appropriate to make ourselves a priority. We are not being selfish. Selfish begins and end with us. Selfishness means we take care of ourself and let everyone else be damned. Self-preservation means we take care of ourself so we can be there for everyone else. To be a good person, we have to care for our own needs first.