She was sobbing and ranting, and I wanted to tell her “You have the power to choose any facts and any feelings, why are you choosing these facts and feelings?” but she was stuck in the painful trap of self-importance.
It was not the right place, and certainly not the right time to have that conversation, and if you would have told me I’d have it, I’d probably hide under a nearby table and held my breath trying to not make a sound. I tend to avoid these type of discussions because I know where they come from.
Self-importance is the prison that tells us that we are special and the world revolves around us, that we are at the center of our life experience, or like my brother likes to say to me “you are the center of the universe.” I like to think I am past that stage of my life, but it is really a never-ending journey and a battle that requires much intention and awareness.
As the mother of a very strong 2-year-old, I am fascinated by the beginning stages of the “I, me, mine,” focus, and to see this tiny human declare her strength, independence, and sense of control in the world. She’s becoming quite the mirror and a catalyst for major self-reflection, which has accelerated my transformation in this area.
“Self-importance is man’s greatest enemy. What weakens him is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of his fellow men. Self-importance requires that one spend most of one’s life offended by something or someone.”~ Don Juan
As I listened to this woman talk to me about her interpretation of my words and actions, to what she had completely made up and imagined about my feelings, my thoughts, and my actions, I was overwhelmed by countless emotions.
I won’t deny that, at first, I just wanted to be swallowed by the earth as people do when the ground quakes cracks open. I secretly wished that she could just see what a fool she was making of herself, and I begged her to calm down, promising we’d have the conversation another time… to no avail. And since she is someone I care about, I quickly explained her conclusions weren’t true and her resulting feelings were not my intention. You guessed it, none of that mattered. But something interesting happened.
I started to see her as this fragile, vulnerable, fearful, sad being, completely trapped in a lie of her own making, completely unable to experience the peace, love, and bliss that were openly available to her.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
It hits very close to home for me, because I was once stuck in that pattern and I can clearly see that it held me back and that I traded the feelings of joy, oneness, and connectedness that are so dear to me for the stress, fear, and anxiety of being offended, of taking everything personally as if everything had to do with me or happened because of me.
You may think this kind of delusion happens because one has a strong self-concept, but it is actually the opposite. I can attest to acting this very way because of feelings of inferiority and other insecurities I called mine. It was a disease I had caught in my own home growing up, and for some reason, I didn’t want to let go of. Read what Carl Semmelroth says in his book, The Anger Habit Workbook (aff link):
“Self-importance is quite different from self-esteem. In fact, it is a major barrier to the development of self-esteem. Your self-esteem assures you that you have the ability to deal with whatever occurs in your life with competence and grace. Self-importance leads you to assume that whatever you want or need is owed to you because of who or what you are.”
Self-importance is a certain path to suffering because it is wall that we put up to not allow hurts in, but at the same time, the feelings we crave to feel loved, nurtured, and cherished cannot penetrate that wall either. We end up acting in ways that are incompetent and far from graceful and, based on these actions, we are ultimately perceived as uncaring, entitled, and self-centered. Needless to say, self-importance leads to loneliness, suffering and separation.
And that’s where she was. Suffering from the makings of her own imagination, and lonely even in a room full of inviting people, and facing a friend who truly cares for her. She couldn’t see it… but I could, because of all the awareness I’ve gained in the past couple decades. Creating a new world starts with declaring: “let there be light.”
And this raw awareness of what was happening, and seeing myself in her, was exactly what helped me not judge her, but to feel compassion for her. And once I was in this new space of letting go of my own self-importance, I was able to see things clearly: she was beautiful and sensitive, she doing the best she could and it was not about me. A lesson that continues to be reinforced, and continues to gradually heal my childhood wounds.
One of my favorite books of all times is Don Miguel Ruiz’s classic, “The Four Agreements.” (aff link). The second agreement reads: Don’t take anything personally.
“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds…
When we really see other people as they are without taking it personally, we can never be hurt by what they say or do. Even if others lie to you, it is okay. They are lying to you because they are afraid.”
I could quote the entire book, because it is THAT good, and I constantly need this kind of reminder. It’s very easy to get sucked into the spiral of self-importance and believe the lie that someone’s opinion has anything to do with my reality. I choose to let her have her opinion, and let things evolve as they inevitably will, because the truth is I am one tiny being in a vast universe, and I am only responsible for myself. The world was and will be before and after my mortal existence. I am not the center of the universe… and neither is she. And though we seem so separate in our journey from self-importance to self-worth, we are so connected in so many ways. That’s the beauty of humanity… none of us are special because we each are.
When we truly see each other as one, as sisters, and we root our identity in this concept, there is no more inferiority or superiority, and many of the self-conscious emotions that cause suffering and tantrums slowly dissipate. The illusion that we are separate from others, that we are each our body, is the source of most of our problems in humankind, and unique to the human experience.
In Psychology, the self-conscious emotions refer to the emotions that begin to show up in the second year of life, when they start seeing themselves as distinct beings and to develop a sense of self. Guess what these emotions are? Pride, guilt, shame, envy, jealousy, embarrassment, and self-pity… and they all stem from self-importance. YUCK!
It’s funny how just a little bit of knowledge can empower and enlighten us so much. After I realized what self-importance can do to me and how it is the root of everything that makes me a restless wreck, I have put a bit more effort into eradicating this center of the universe syndrome that haunted me and blocked me from feeling connected to the people in my life.
And it is in moments such as these, when I see a beautiful woman in front of me, shattered by her own personal beliefs and expectations, that I see that getting rid of my self-importance is not about me, as my ego would have me think… it is actually about being able to further connect with others, even when the distortion of their self-importance is at the highest manifestation.
Maybe, just maybe, my quest for self-awareness is a quest to be others-aware, and maybe, just maybe, my quest to master myself is actually a search to master my relationship with others.
Self-importance causes frustration, discontent, and pain. Self-importance stops progress. Self-importance results in not feeling important at all. But the real tragedy of self-importance is to not be able to see others’ value because we don’t see our own, and to project our self-hatred onto those we want to desperately love. It is when we shift from our self-centeredness and see the big picture that we can truly find ourselves. And though she may never find out, my friend gave me the chance to shift some more, and for that, I’m truly grateful.
What are your honest thoughts in the topic of self-importance? I want to learn so much about it and I feel your comments will give me a wider view on this topic, so go to town!