When virtues are vices

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.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “When virtues are vices

  • Ella Wherry

    Just a thought, but what if you change the word ‘usefulness’ to ‘Service to Others’, and consider that the choices you keep making exist in that realm, that when done with respect, kindness and honesty, places one in alignment with the Four Virtues. Even more so as you seem to be an observational introvert, a sensitive, and quite empathic, it is understandable that you would be feeling or sensing the unspoken expectations of those around you. It’s one thing if someone in your life gives voice to an expectation; we can choose to meet it or not given our capability in the moment, although if we love them, we usually will try. BUT. Then there are those that I consider the most dangerous and burdensome..those expectations that are UN-spoken. These are the ones we sense, we feel their importance to the Other; their weight, the hidden value and judgement of disappointment, even as they may be the shackles that bind us to others though we are drowning under their formidable weight while we are swimming from shore to shore in daily life. I know no cure for it. It is not some defect within the nature of the sensitive being. The choice is made over and over again to give unendingly because of LOVE. It is a consequence of loving too much. Perhaps you can examine if your own unspoken expectation is to meet everyone else’s? Blessings.

  • Ella Wherry

    …a long traveled and utterly familiar road. It is one of the kindnesses of growing old, this, some sort of crone wisdom. 😉

  • Sass

    I don’t treat myself as though I matter, beyond my utility, and I have no idea how to.

    It’s hard, isn’t it? I try to do it by asking myself how I would treat someone else in my situation. If I wouldn’t ask someone else to do what I am considering, then I shouldn’t ask it of myself either.

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