That Sane Place Between Selfishness and Self-lessness

How much is enough? How much food? How much weight loss? How much love, attention, success? Our culture encourages us to believe that if you get enough, you will be enough. So you keep trying to get more-- more love, more attention, more success, more weight loss. But it never seems to be enough to make you feel better.

You may be looking in the wrong place. If you keep focusing on getting enough or being enough, you will miss the golden opportunity to do something that can make lasting changes in how you feel.

When you focus inward, you can learn what it is to be enough. When you connect to internal sensation, you finally have a chance to change how you feel. And how you feel in your body. 

We all have moments of feeling good enough, but we rush by them, mostly unnoticed. Instead we focus on how aggravated we are, how rushed we feel, how tight our shoulders are and how much that anxiety upsets the stomach.

Take a moment to try these three body sensation exercises. As you do, pay attention to the subtle shifts in your body.

First, think about one of your favorite memories. Perhaps when you felt gratitude, or joy or love. As you think about that memory, notice how you feel inside. Does your chest feel more expanded? Or contracted? Do you feel warmth? Or coolness? More open? Or closed? More full? Or empty?

Next, think about a time when you felt frustrated, hurt or upset. Again, notice the sensations that signal these feelings? Do you feel more expanded or contracted? Warmth or coolness? More open or closed? More full or empty?

Now return to the positive memory and again notice what happens inside, what sensations arise as you focus on the more pleasant event?. 

When I first learned about body sensation, I thought they were silly mind games. However, I learned that the nervous system literally changes when you change your mind, and more importantly, experienced this. When you can focus on positive sensations, you actually teach your nervous system to more easily feel those open, expanded feelings. But you have to be aware of these positive sensations. Most people simply aren't aware of them. 

As you become more at home with body sensation, you will be able to recognize and trust your internal boundaries. You will begin to automatically know how much is enough, how much is not enough and how much is too much. This type of connection with yourself will help you know how much to eat, how much to achieve, how much to take, how much to give—and how much to give to yourself.

Some people think this type of paying attention to yourself is selfish. But it is very different. Selfishness is being concerned only with oneself.

A focus on healthy eating, or restricting, tends to promote selfishness. If you ignore hunger, or avoid foods you want, you will be distracted by unmet wants and needs. You will be less available for true connection with others and may feel disconnected and lonely.

Selfishness often causes us to take in without "digesting." We take in food, kindnesses, success or ideas without getting nourished by them. Because we take in without digesting, we feel like nothing is enough, and we are left "hungering." Ultimately, we come to believe that there won’t be enough (food or love or money or luck, etc.). We develop and live with a poverty consciousness.

Some people think they have to focus on others and take care of other people, a form of self-lessness.

But, this self-lessness is having or exhibiting a lack of concern for oneself. It is guided by "shoulds" and "supposed to's" and is supported by the belief that love is earned by taking care of others' needs. It is being less than who we really are. This focus tells others, “I don’t matter” -- which ends up being how others will treat you. Self-lessness often results in quiet, unexpressed anger. You are left hungering from not "feeding" yourself in the midst of "feeding" others. You are left depleted and undernourished emotionally. We develop and live with poverty consciousness.

As you take care of your own needs, you will have a positive regard for yourself and act upon it while being connected to and respectful of others.

This is the sane place between selfishness and self-lessness. It is putting on your oxygen mask first and then attending to the mask of our child (or ailing parent, or friend). Self-fullness is possible when you tune into and attend to your needs, wants and desires; create space to meet these needs, wants and desires; and set and hold boundaries around this space.

When we feed ourselves, we are not left hungering. We have enough. When we take time to receive and digest what is given to us, we are nourished. When we give and receive in relationships, when we savor and share success, we are nourished. And, when we feed ourselves with attunement to hunger, satiety and food preference, we experience enough. 

Initially, this will feel uncomfortable. "I can’t possibly say no; she needs me. That would be selfish!" However, the presence with yourself is necessary if we are to develop nourishing inter-dependent relationships. We can then fully experience "I am enough. I am not too much. There is enough for me." We can finally live with abundance consciousness.


About Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LDN, SEP

Karin can help you escape food and body angst and learn to manage your eating and weight naturally. Visit for free handouts, online courses and more tips on mindful, intuitive eating and healing disordered eating.

© 2017 Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LDN. Adapted from the work of Amy Tuttle RD, LCSW and Karin Kratina.