Back in early December of 2013, I remember listening to this miniature sermon while riding in a car. The speaker was talking about one of the fundamental truths of Christianity: put the Christian deity first, others second, and yourself third. Every great teaching in the Bible was related somehow to this concept. Not only that, but if people managed to do this, they’d be happier for it (among some other promises).
It sounds nice, but it’s a recipe for disaster.
Being selfless was always taught to be a virtue in the churches I grew up in. Doing for others was more preferable than just doing for oneself. While it might not have been a technical requirement for being a good Christian, it was an informal thing that people ought to aspire to. All in all, being selfless is a complicated idea in Christianity because it’s also used to ward off allegations of being selfish as well.
I say this because being selfish was treated as being one clear example of being sinful. Doing things with only yourself in mind wasn’t good at all, and I listened to many sermons talking about how sinful people are primarily selfish. Too many times I was told that people who don’t have Jesus in their lives only care about themselves, or they worship false idols in their lives that just let them secretly glorify themselves. The bottom line here is that selfishness is to be avoided at all costs. For my benefit, I would always be reminded that I was being selfish – especially when it involved me doing stuff for others.
I ended up being intensely focused on not being perceived as selfish. It got to the point where if anyone mentioned that I was being selfish, I’d give them the benefit of any doubt. After all, I was told all the time at home and elsewhere that I was being selfish for the most trivial of reasons, and nobody would lie to me about that, would they? By the time I got into adulthood, I was a veritable machine of doing my best to make sure I wasn’t just trying to take care of my own needs.
I used to blame myself for sticking up for myself.
That’s the ultimate goal for all of this. Being godly meant still being kind to people even if my world was falling apart. Even in periods of deep depression, I couldn’t tell people about it because I’d just be catering to my own needs and not anyone else’s. Mine didn’t matter because they shouldn’t matter. When other people might want to help me out, I still have to say no because it’s just selfish and forbidden.
It took me a while to figure out that habitually putting other people first isn’t healthy. Really, it took a giant bout of suicidal depression before I realized that maybe I should give myself permission to get help. Most people end up figuring this out early on in life, but I could only grasp it after months of therapy. And yes, there are still times when I might blame myself even for just wanting something I need.
Getting out of Christianity helped.
One of the reasons why I had to admit to myself that I didn’t believe any supernatural deities existed anymore was that I started seeing how badly the selfish blame game had deteriorated my sense of self. Moreover, too many Christians rely on this blame game to get along in life, habitually pushing others into submission just to get their own way. I can say this because I’ve been on the receiving end of it more times than I can count.
Regardless, not having a faith that kept pushing me back to neglecting myself helped me get and keep a perspective on things. Outside of it, I was able to see how badly I abuse myself just for the sake of not even appearing to be focused on what I want or need. Without it, I highly doubt I would have been able to even like myself long enough to get help.