This week on the podcast, we’re talking about selfhood. Many of us have been taught that "self" is bad. But there’s a big difference between selfhood and selfishness. Furthermore being selfless is not always the right choice.
Reclaiming a healthy sense of self is not opposed to faith. In fact, learning to honor yourself goes hand-in-hand with honoring the One who made you. I get personal this week, because this journey is deeply personal for me. We discuss:
1. My own story of loving God but not having a self
2. What is the difference between selfhood and selfishness?
3. Why is selfhood key to healthy relationships?
4. How selfhood is the missing first step to setting healthy boundaries
5. What does the bible have to say about selfhood?
6. Jesus’s example of selfhood
Selfhood is what you bring into your relationships. It gives you the courage to show up bravely, with integrity, even when it means pointing out hard things or honoring your limits. It’s an understanding that in any relationship, two people have perspectives that matter, and you are one of those people.
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While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
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Episode Eighteen: Selfhood The Best of You Podcast 1st September 2022
With Dr. Alison Cook
Alison: Hey, everyone. I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started, as we learn together how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hey, everyone. Welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You podcast. Where we're going to talk, today, all about this word— selfhood and how it's different from selfishness.
Selfhood is a word I wrestled with so much growing up. And I'm going to talk to you a little bit about my own story of coming to terms with this idea. And then walk you through what I think it really means to become a self. That we have a self and that this is not incompatible with loving God. With loving the God who made us to be a self.
So this is a, really, meaty episode as all of these have been. Because selfhood is really the cornerstone of all of these other topics. We confront ourselves through our wounds. We see the ways that, we behave in ways we don't like, or we don't like things about ourselves. Or we see our trauma responses, or we see our attachment wounds. All these things we've been talking about, and really when it gets done to the root of it all, we're trying to heal the self.
So what is it, and how is that not being selfish to focus on healing the self? So lots to dive into today. Before we get started I want to remind you, it is not too late to take advantage of all the free gifts you'll receive when you pre-order The Best of You.
Remember that subtitle— Break Free from Painful Patterns, Mend your Past and Discover Your True Self in God. This book came out of my own story of struggling to find my own self, and I'll share a little bit more about that with you in today's episode.
But when you pre-order the book you will get so many freebies. You'll get the first three chapters. You'll get entry into my Boundaries for Women Video Course for free. You'll get an entire bundle, that includes two video teachings on emotions, on healing from childhood wounds, from parents. There's a free devotional. There's the recording of my two-part Five Toxic Behaviors webinar.
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Plus, you get all of those other free bonuses. You can work through everything together. And also if you order 50 books or more you also get that same 40% discount. All those bonus items, and on top of that, I will schedule a live virtual conversation exclusively for your group.
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So let's get started on today's episode, selfhood versus selfishness. So I want to tell you just a little bit about my own journey with this idea of selfhood. As a young woman of faith, in my twenties, I had a pretty dramatic experience of coming to faith in Jesus.
I grew up in a Christian home. I always believed, but I didn't really fully grasp what it meant to know the living God. To really have that personal experience of a relationship with Jesus until I got to college and it was beautiful. It was a beautiful experience. I mean, I changed. It changed everything. I think about that time and it is almost like that experience of falling in love. It's like all of a sudden the sky was bluer. The trees were greener.
It's like I had entered into a whole new world of knowing this God who loved me, and it was very real, and I loved that period of time. And it was a time of growing and so much understanding of God, and of the Bible, and of Jesus. And I will never, ever, forget the wonder of that time. It's been foundational to who I am today.
But here's the thing something also happened during that time. And that is, this, I began to absorb some messages that I shouldn't, also, simultaneously attend to my own self. I shouldn't, also, simultaneously grow as a person. That to grow in my spiritual life meant that I should deny or completely set aside my personal growth. My growth into being a fully formed human. And what I mean by that, specifically, is I should... these are the messages I absorbed. But I'm not saying this is correct, I'm saying this is somehow what I absorbed.
I grew in my love of God, but I was simultaneously absorbing these messages that I shouldn't pursue my dreams. That I should set aside my talents, sacrificially. That I should never think about my own wants or needs. That I should always focus only on other people.
I really sort of tried to live out this dichotomy of following Jesus, following God meant a complete denial of myself. And it was a misapplication of what I believe Jesus meant by this idea of, "Deny yourself to follow Me." And I unpack that fully in the first two chapters of The Best of You. I unpack that, and I'm not going to unpack that, fully, in this episode today. I'm going to dive into a different component of that. But I just want you to know that that was my story.
I really tried, literally, to live out this idea of love God and only focus on other people. And it's as if anything that stemmed from me, I shouldn't matter. If I wanted something that was self and self was bad.
I assumed that following God meant that I must completely obliterate any sense of - I - altogether. Misconstrued church messages, really, combined with some childhood wounds to create this unhealthy pattern. That eventually in my early thirties led me to a breakdown.
I essentially had to take time away from my graduate studies, for almost three years, to correct that fallacy in my thinking. To learn what it meant to heal myself. And that three years was not taking a break from God, it was filling out what it means to follow God. Following God does not mean not becoming your true self. In fact, I believe following Jesus leads us on a journey to becoming more of our true self. But I didn't understand that for a decade.
For a decade I thought they were two separate things. Following Jesus meant completely obliterating myself and it didn't work. It led to burnout. It led to loneliness. It led to anxiety, and it led to a life that I do not believe is the life God wants for us.
And this is the cornerstone of all the work that I do. We are to follow Jesus. We are to love others and we are to love others as we learn to embrace, and honor, and become our true selves. All three of those things matter. God is at the center of it all.
God is at the center of helping you become who you really are, the person God made. To become the self, the You that God made. God is at the center of that process. So that leads me right into what do I mean by selfhood.
So selfhood is a term from psychology, really, and it refers to your individual identity. It's what makes you a distinct person from everyone around you. You have a special youness, it's what is beautiful about you. It's what God delights in about you. It's what other people need from you, is you being you. The you that God made that's your selfhood.
Selfhood is marked by healthy confidence. And what I mean by that is a thoughtful awareness of your strengths, your preferences, your values, and even your limitations, and some of your blind spots.
Selfhood isn't this persona that you put into the world. "This is my true self." That's persona. That's ego, and we get into ego in the book, that's not selfhood. Selfhood is this very honest, humble awareness of who you are. What you like, what you're good at, what you think about things, your preferences. It encompasses the depth, the deeper things about you. The stories that you carry, even some of your wounds.
Uncovering this deep sense of self doesn't just happen. It's a process that happens over time. And we talked about this a little bit in the last episode on attachment. When you don't have those secure attachments early on in life, it's hard to develop a strong sense of self. Because we don't develop a self in a vacuum.
We develop a self in relationship with those earliest caregivers. With those earliest people around us, and there's this term called mirroring that psychologists used.
When you're a child, when you're an infant, the people, the adults in your life mirror. They hold up a mirror to show you who you are. In healthy environments that mirror is honest, and loving, and, "I see you."
"Here's what I see about you."
"Here's what I notice you're good at."
"Here's what I notice that is hard for you."
"Here's what I notice some of your blind spots might be." Because we're not perfect. We have those fallen natures too, but it's not shaming. It's a seeing. It's a noticing. And as other people witness you and see you, you begin to see yourself. You begin to develop a sense of who you are.
"Oh, this is who I am. I'm someone who loves going to school. But I'm someone who also hates recess because it's confusing to me, and I don't know how to navigate social groups." I'm just making things up.
"I'm someone who would love sitting in a corner and reading a book all day long. But I struggle with going out and making friends."
Or you might be someone who, "I love going to school for the social. Man, I want to just talk to all the people and visit with my teachers all day. But, boy, when it comes time to doing my homework, it is hard for me to sit down and focus."
These are normal experiences of learning about yourself. There's no shame in any of this. But when you're not seen. When you're not witnessed, early on, you don't understand a healthy sense of yourself. Which, again, is just a healthy confidence.
A healthy confidence in both your strengths and some of your limitations, your struggles, and what you like, what you prefer. What comes naturally to you, what your gifts are, what your talents are, what your passions are, what your convictions are. All the goodness you want to bring in the world. All the goodness that God placed inside of your body and soul, this is selfhood. It includes acknowledging what's hard and celebrating the gifts you've been given.
Selfhood is what you bring into your adult relationships. It gives you the courage to show up, honestly, as you really are with integrity. Even when it means pointing out hard things or honoring your own limits. It's an understanding that in any relationship, two people have perspectives that matter, and you are one of those people.
Now what's the difference between selfhood and selfishness? Whenever I talk to people about the importance of getting to the root of who they are and healing their core sense of self. I get pushback in the form of these questions.
"Well, isn't that selfish?"
"Didn't Jesus teach us to deny ourselves?"
"Isn't it good to be selfless?"
These are some of the messages we've been taught and my answer is this, there's a big difference between selfhood and selfishness. They're not the same thing.
Furthermore, being selfless is not always the right choice and it's often misunderstood. So here's one way to illustrate the differences. Selfishness says, "It's all about me. It's my way or the highway."
Selflessness says, "It's all about you. Whatever you want, I'll disappear to make sure your needs are met." That's selflessness in an unhealthy way.
Selfhood says it's about both. It's about you and it's about me. And the best way I can honor my relationship with you is to show up as my true self. Because when I bring my true self, my selfhood into this relationship, and you bring your selfhood into this relationship, man, we can create something beautiful together.
Selfhood is necessary to establish healthy relationships. It's necessary to live out your potential and to create the life God made you to inhabit. It's not being selfish, but it's also not being a doormat.
Without selfhood your decisions are driven by guilt and fear. You tend to take the path of least resistance. You tend to work over time to please everyone else. You prioritize the opinions of other people instead of honoring your own authentic wants and needs. You don't show up as the best of who you are. You don't live out of the best of who God created you to be.[00:16:46] < Music >
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Okay, so, I want to give you some more examples off selfhood. It's not selfishness and it's not being a doormat. So selfishness says, "My wants and needs always come first."
Selflessness says, "My wants and needs never matter."
Selfhood says, "When I express what I want and need, I will forge healthier relationships with other people."
Selfishness says, "I pursue what I want no matter who gets hurt." That's selfishness. "I don't care about anybody else, I'm pursuing my dreams." That's not realistic. You know, if you care about other people, you have to consider the wants and needs of other people and the people that you've committed to. That's not what I'm going for here.
Selflessness says, "I never pursue my dreams. I bury my talents, even when it hurts me, and I do that in the name of lifting everybody else up. But really I'm just completely disregarding the person God made me to be."
Selfhood says, "I develop my own talents because that's what God asks of me. And I also help others develop theirs." It's both/and.
"I'm not going to bury my talents because I can't, that's not what God's called me to. But I'm also going to come alongside you and say, 'Hey, what are your talents? What are your gifts? How do we pursue those together in harmony?'" Do you see the difference?
I'm really trying to drill down on this because it's an important one, and I don't think it's taught on enough. Last one selfishness says, "I always advocate for what I want and need. I never defer to others. It's all about me." This is not healthy. This is not healthy for our relationships and it's not what God wants for us.
But, on the other hand, selflessness says, "I never state my needs. I always defer to others." That is, also, not healthy. That is, also, not the life God wants for us.
Selfhood says, "I consider my needs. They're important to the health of myself and of my relationships. And I consider the needs of the people I love. I consider both. I take them both into account and I have to figure it out." And it's a little bit harder.
It takes a little more time to figure out, "Man, here's what I need today. Here's what my spouse needs today. Here's what my kids need today, and all of those matter. I've got to figure out how to navigate and how to negotiate through all of those." And that's what, essentially, The Best of You is about.
It's how to walk through that negotiation. Because it's complicated to be a true self, that also cares about helping other people become their true selves. This is nuanced. When you live from a strong sense of self, here's what I want you to hear me say your YES and your NO becomes strong, clear, and powerful.
In fact, developing a sense of selfhood is the most foundational step to setting healthy boundaries with other people. It's really hard to set boundaries with other people when you don't know who you are?
What you want?
What you need?
What talents God is asking you to develop and steward?
If you don't know what you're saying yes to in your own life, before God, it's really hard to figure out the healthy boundaries that you need to set with other people. Selfhood is that missing building block, upon which we begin to build the healthy boundaries in our relationship with other people.
Here's the good news it's never too late to start choosing yourself. It starts with paying attention to the corners of your own body, soul, and mind. It starts as you listen for the voice of what brings you life, becoming yourself. This you that God made you to become is a process of learning to pay attention to what matters most to you. It starts by learning to pay attention to your convictions— What do you really think?
What do you really believe?
It starts by paying attention to the health of your body— What does your body need?
What are the cues your body is giving you? It starts by learning to ask for help. What do you need?
What do you need to ask for from the people who care about you?
It starts by saying yes to your talents— What are your passions?
What are you good at?
What do you long to bring more of into this world?
It starts by paying attention to your own inner longings. It starts by paying attention to your God-given self. And this is not selfish, I'm going to say it one more time. This is how you heal. This is how you become the person God made you to become. And as you become more of your true self, your God-given self. You will discover that you have more goodness, more wisdom, and more capacity to bring to the people around you.
Finally, I want to close on a note about what does the Bible have to say about this idea of selfhood? Well, selfhood is rooted in the idea that you were made in God's image and that comes out of Genesis 1:27.
You bear the image of God inside your soul. You were made to reflect who God is in a unique way, through you. I think sometimes we have this idea that we're supposed to be more godly. But what if being more godly, reflecting more of God's image is becoming more of you? The person God made uniquely to reflect the qualities and the character of who God is.
What a beautiful thought, but we're not taught how to do this, and this is my passion. This is what The Best of You journey is all about. "You are God's handiwork created to do good in this world." That's Ephesians 2:10. And the truth is Jesus gave us an amazing example of selfhood during a short time on earth.
Now hear me out on this one, a lot of preaching in our faith communities focuses on Christ's selflessness. But that idea often gets misconstrued. The selfless acts of Jesus were always rooted in the clarity He had about who He was and His larger purpose.
Jesus understood the power He had and He chose to wield that power sacrificially, wisely, for a greater purpose. Jesus was no doormat. He wasn't. He knew who He was. And, so, often what I see, especially for women, is we see this selflessness as living like Jesus.
But I don't see that reflected in the person of Jesus, I read about in the gospels. Jesus had a strong sense of Himself and when He gave up Himself it was out of a strong sense of who He was and, again, for that greater purpose. It wasn't just people-pleasing or laying down, playing nice, being a doormat for other people. That is not the example that we see in Jesus.
When Jesus said to deny yourself, Luke 9:23 among others, He understood the difference between denying your selfishness. Your old ways of coping and surviving, whatever those might be, and they might be your propensity to please other people.
He understood the difference between denying your selfishness, denying your old ways, and denying your selfhood. Your God-given, image-bearing self. This is your soul made to shine who God is through your life.
Hear me say that again, He understood the difference between denying your selfishness. Your old ways of coping and surviving. Your old ways of trying to keep other people happy, even. He understood the difference between denying your selfishness and denying your selfhood. The best of who you are. The best of who God made you to be.
Jesus claimed and protected His identity as God's beloved son. Which allowed Him to heal people, transform lives, and ultimately change the course of history by His death and resurrection. His ultimate act of sacrifice was rooted in a rock solid sense of who He was and whose He was.
He gave up His life from a position of strength. Do you hear the difference? He gave up His life from a position of strength. That's not being a doormat. And I want you to hear me say that, if you're someone who's been encouraged to die to yourself. To stay in an abusive situation, that's not the example we see in Jesus. And there's so many ways I unpack that in The Best of You because it's so important to me.
He gave up His life from a position of strength. It was rooted in a clarity of purpose. Sometimes Jesus wielded the power of His selfhood angrily. Sometimes He stood up to other people. Sometimes He showed mercy.
Jesus' example is very different from the kind of selflessness that comes from not knowing who you are. In fact, Jesus strong sense of self empowered Him to sustain healthy boundaries. He demonstrated a clear pattern of letting His YES be yes and His NO be no, that's Matthew 5:37. Whether He was taking time for Himself or spending it with other people.
When you live from a strong sense of self, I'll say it again, your YES and your NO becomes strong, clear, and powerful. That's the example we see in Jesus. Now there's a whole bunch of examples from Jesus' life. I'll give you a couple here. Jesus said yes to choosing friends carefully, Luke 6:12-16. Jesus said yes to developing His potential, that's Luke 2:46.
Jesus said yes to asking for help, Mark 14:32-34.
Jesus also said some healthy nos. Jesus said no to toxic behavior, Matthew 23:13-36, to name just one. Jesus said no to bullies and abusers John 8:1-11, to name one of many.
Jesus said no to being on all the time, for performing all the time, Matthew 14:23-24.
The example of Jesus is so important, especially for us women, to understand. Because so many of us have been taught to sacrifice as Jesus did, without also being taught to develop His strength.
In order to love and lead others, as Jesus did, you have to develop a strong sense of self. This is so important. This is the message I have for you, not just for this week but for every week to come. In order to love and lead others well you have to develop a strong sense of self.
I hope this week, as we close, you will take a moment as you consider this question, what brings out the best of you? Consider some of these questions—
What needs are you dying to have met?
What convictions are you aching to protect?
What or who do you want more of in your life?
What step could you take toward unlocking your potential?
These are the kinds of questions that are going to help unlock what brings out the best of you. What brings out your true self. What helps you become that self, that you? That beautiful you that God made you to become and is inviting you to step into.
Thank you so much for joining me. I look forward to seeing you next week on The Best of You.[00:33:03] < Music >
Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Best of You. Be sure to check out the show notes for any resources and links mentioned in the show.
You can find those on my website at dralisoncook.com. That's Alison with one L- cook.com. Before you forget, I hope you'll follow the show now so that you don't miss an episode. And I'd love it if you go ahead and leave a review, it helps so much to get the word out.
I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.[00:33:42] < Outro >