Selfishness Or Self-Love

The power of saying no, so you can say yes to love.




Table Manners Shaped The Way I Love…Seriously.



One of my earliest memories is my mother spoon-feeding me my dinner after everyone else had already finished eating. I had always been a slow eater. I wasn’t exactly picky, I ate a little bit of everything in small amounts, I just did it very slowly. 
Over the years, she had devised a bullet proof way to get me to finish my food, in between each spoonful she would say— This one is for your grandma…this one is for your father…this one is for your aunt. When she ran out of family members to invoke she would bring in the heavy guns … Think of all the children in the world who don’t have enough to eat. That one always got me, it was impossible to say no. I felt so guilty I would reluctantly open my mouth and let the choo-choo train in.

The message was loud and clear, saying No (no matter how politely you framed it) meant that you were selfish. And no one likes brats.


Years later while studying in London, I met a tall, dark Brazilian that I fell in love with immediately. He made me a Samba Bossa Nova playlist that we would dance to half-naked, and then he would make love to me in Portuguese. That was it for me, I dove in deep and so did he, or so I thought.

After a few months in bliss, something strange happened. He started to become distant, would make excuses not to see me and always had something more important to do with his time. We reached the summit on my birthday, when he gave me a hug as a birthday present, and excused himself from the party early. The next day, he told me he was going to the theatre with a female friend of mine.

In my own broken way, I tried to confront him about it, I asked him why he hadn’t made a single effort on a day that was important to me. He answered that he didn’t want to set my expectations too high about the nature of our relationship.

We didn’t speak for a month, until I broke and wrote him a poem about flavour profiles, dramatic sex, and alter-egos. After that we went out for two more months, until the same pattern started to repeat itself. The excuses began, winter returned.

It hurt like a million daggers, and I couldn’t understand why. For all I gave, he wanted less of me each time. I had given away my time and attention as if it was worthless, while somehow I always came second to everything else on his agenda.

I hadn’t been able to say enough is enough when the time was right. I couldn’t bring myself to say No, I won’t take this because I was afraid of becoming the unlovable brat. So I kept on giving, receiving nothing and feeling guilty for wanting more from him. Somewhere along the line, the inability to say no to another spoonful, translated into the inability to say no more in my relationships.




What’s Guilt Got To Do With It?

As a kid, I was taught that saying no was selfish. I inherited a deep sense of guilt attached to that small word. As if saying no made us into something ugly that no one could possibly want. As if that word turned us into someone needy (the stuff of nightmares).

And the image of the wife throwing a shoe across the room at her husband immediately comes to mind. Many of us spend a whole lot of time and effort trying to avoid becoming that person, the needy wife with the hair curlers and the night gown yelling at her husband for not paying the bills in time. So whenever I would gather the courage to ask for something in a relationship, I would immediately feel guilty for doing so.

We are taught that it isn’t sexy to be demanding, and that what the opposite sex really wants is someone ‘chill and easy going’.

What I’ve learned the hard way is that this isn’t true. What people really look for in a partner is someone who knows what they want and what they don’t want. Someone strong and assertive — not complacent.

Saying No does not mean we are selfish.


Most times it simply means that you value yourself enough to ask for your needs to be met, and knowing when to walk away when need be.It’s knowing how to tell the difference between what you want and what you don’t want, and having the courage to say it out loud.

Old assumption: Saying no makes me selfish and needy.

Reframe: Saying no means I love myself enough to voice my needs.



Let’s Talk About The Fear of Being Unlovable

If you look inside, you will see that this fear of saying no comes from some deeply held belief. In my case, I was taught that saying no made me selfish and needy. It was contrary to everything I was taught was worthwhile in a person: altruism, kindness and selflessness. But when you are giving only because you are too scared of saying no to the person you love, is that really selflessness?

Plot twist — Giving because you are too scared of saying no is actually selfish, because you are expecting validation in return.

It’s the people-pleasing syndrome and it catches you in an unending cycle of giving and resenting:

  1. You are scared of not being good enough to love, giving becomes a way of ‘earning’ love.

  2. You give because you are scared that if you don’t, you will be abandoned.

  3. You resent the person you love for not validating you for what you give.

  4. Your relationship ends because you’re both unsatisfied.

Old Assumption: I am only loved because of what I can give.

Reframe: I am loved because of who I am.


When Saying No Becomes Self-Love

Learning how to say no is practicing self-love, it’s knowing how to recognize and prioritize your needs. It doesn’t mean you are selfish, it simply means that you value yourself. And that confidence is hella sexy and empowering.

Real love implies reciprocity, it is a giving and receiving.

If you are too afraid to ask for your needs to be met, and you constantly give because you are afraid of saying no…you aren’t letting yourself be loved in return.

Getting rid of your fear of No, is saying Yes to yourself. It’s saying yes to giving and receiving love.

We shouldn’t be afraid of being perceived as needy. Just as you shouldn’t give because you are afraid of being rejected if you don’t.

The truth is, if you let others give to you just as you give to them, that is true love.

“People make a huge mistake in thinking that you give to those whom you love. The real answer is you love those to whom you give. And the point is, if I give something to you, I’m investing myself in you. Now that part of me is in you, there’s part of you that I love.” (Abraham Twerski)

Old assumption: I give unconditionally to those whom I love.

Reframe: I love those to whom I give, and I receive because I let myself be loved.

Thoughts welcome.

© 2020 by The Unlearning Project. 

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