At what point does being compassionate with yourself become selfishness? When does trying not to impose on others by asking for help become self- defeating pride? When does standing up for yourself become an attack on another person? When does gratitude become a form of martyrdom? What can start out as a virtue can become a really toxic thing, taken too far. The answer is balance, but in the habits we form, it can be all too easy to turn virtues into vices.
My default is always to try harder, give more, ask for less. Every problem I have ever faced I have tried to deal with by this means. My fear of imposing on others, my fear of adding to other people’s problems and of being a nuisance leave me almost incapable of asking for help. I don’t think that’s a virtue. I don’t think burning out regularly is a virtue either, but I keep doing it, and I keep living out the patterns of thought and action that take me beyond my limits. I keep getting myself into situations where what matters is what I can give, not whether I am happy. I keep finding that I cannot ask other people to put my comfort ahead of their own. Even when I’m cracking up and falling apart, which I do with tedious frequency. It’s not a way of being I would encourage anyone else to adopt.
I know the story holding all of this together. It is simply that any amount of self-harm is fine if it serves a cause or answers someone else’s need. I don’t treat myself as though I matter, beyond my utility, and I have no idea how to. It puts me in the curiously hypocritical position of making life choices I do not advocate, and living and working in ways I would go to great lengths to dissuade others from taking up. But I think this is who I am, that my authentic self may be entirely about usefulness, that having little room for me in my own equations is a choice I keep making because it’s about the only reliable feature of who I am. Although I hate hypocrisy, so there’s another sat of things I can’t stack up in a sensible way.
Don’t try this one at home.