The Blindside of Selflessness

In my last blog, I wrote about the blindside to gratitude, where we may sometimes repress our grief because it is too difficult to process. I want to continue on this idea with another virtue, that when taken to the extreme, can also leave us with another blindspot. Namely, the blindside of selflessness.

Recently, I had a patient tell me about how he loved to serve his friends and family. He, like many others, would give you the shirt off his back. However, he followed that up with the comment, “but I’m the type of guy that won’t let others do things for me.”

I, too, had a friend once who was similar to my patient in that regard. He would bring you food, give you money, lend you his car, go way above and beyond the call of duty when it came to what was expected from a normal friendship. If someone gave out awards for service, he would have won every time.

But as our friendship grew, I began to notice a distance I felt between us. He would listen to me talk about my problems, but there never seemed to be a time when I could help him in the same way. In fact, he never seemed to ask me for help or support. There were even moments when I would ask how I could help him, and he would jokingly turn the conversation around and bring up something concerning me.

By doing so, he believed he was being selfless, but that selflessness to me felt distancing. Did he not trust me to help him? Was I the only one with problems? Why couldn’t he let me help him?

I think the root of his lack of asking for help came from a self-esteem issue. At his core, he was convinced that he didn’t deserve to have someone else serve him. So, he tirelessly would give of his time, energy, and resources to others, but he struggled to let other people support himself. And that lack of confidence in his deserving of generosity led to a gap between us. The principle is this: dependability builds intimacy. But closeness cannot develop unless that dependability goes both ways.

The other problem with not letting others serve us is that we deprive them of an opportunity to bless us. When doing so, ironically, you can be unintentionally selfish in your attempted selflessness. Once, a wealthy friend didn’t allow me to split the tab with him on an expensive purchase. And when I protested, he responded, “Bless me by letting me bless you.” He was communicating that I had an opportunity to be selfless by giving him an opportunity to be generous. When we let others serve us from a place of uncompelled charity, we are actually practicing true selflessness, not selfishness.

Maybe you sometimes find it difficult to accept gifts, compliments, or acts of service from others. If these acts of generosity make you uncomfortable, consider talking to a mentor, pastor, or therapist. Or, consider speaking with a friend who you serve generously about how it makes them feel when you do not accept their charity towards you. You may find that the best way you can serve them is by letting them do something for you.