Misdirected (Dis)Respect

I recently had a client tell me about a guy with whom he was maybe, sort of, kind of, possibly beginning to start a relationship. And the client shared with me that one of his hesitations about starting the relationship was that “the guy deserved better.” The statement stopped me.

The idea that someone deserves better than oneself is a notion that has never made sense to me. Unless you know that you are going to do harm to someone or are being duplicitous, then I don’t know from where anyone gets the idea that he or she has the authority to decide whether one is good enough for another. I asked my client on what basis was he making the decision for his potential love interest and my client was unable to produce a coherent, rational argument. It seemed to be more of a feeling. In this case, it was a feeling of personal inadequacy of my client’s.

It strikes me as very presumptive that someone would feel he or she was in a better position to decide what would be rewarding to a (potential) partner than the partner himself or herself. On what basis does one make such a claim? Are you thinking of dating someone with poor judgment?—if that is the case, then the person probably does not deserve better than you. The assertion strikes me as rather self-centered actually.

I think the statement is made out of respect for the (potential) partner, but is actually an act of disrespect. It is grounded on the person either not being able to make good decisions or not knowing what would be good for himself or herself or that the person cannot adequately assess others. Those aren’t very respectful claims to make about another. In fact, they pretty well disregard the other person’s ability to decide or determine what he or she would most enjoy or benefit from in a partner. It pretty much is the same as saying “I know what would be good for you better than you do.”

But the aspect that I think makes it the most self-centered is that it is really about the person making the statement’s self-image than the person about whom the statement is being made. As with my client, it is more often a statement of one’s own sense of inadequacy. It seems it would a healthier and more productive approach to acknowledge and explore how the qualities you see in yours love interest make you feel, rather than write off the compatibility. Heck, you may even want to be honest with your partner. But I would strongly encourage you to be open to what your partner might see in you of value that you do not recognize in yourself.

I really don’t think we are in a position to decide if we are worthy of or good enough for another. I think we are not the best judges of that. I think that we grant a (potential) partner more autonomy and more respect by being honest about who we are (with our concerns about compatibility and being open to his or her perspective). Respect for your (potential) partner’s ability to make a good decision as much as you respect the qualities that make you feel unworthy.

Put Your Oxygen mask on First before Assisting Others

This piece of advice from flight attendants is a useful metaphor for the rest of one’s life. Many people end up putting others before themselves, end up assisting others before taking care of themselves. And, in a sense, the same consequence occurs as might if you waited to put your oxygen mask on until all those around you had been taken care of—they spiritually or emotionally pass out. Perhaps more accurately, they end up being less functional because they have averted too many of their resources towards others. This is perhaps a particular concern for the submissive members of the BDSM community.

When I was in graduate school the faculty emphasized the importance of taking care of oneself in order to be available to give one’s best in taking care of another. Being in a profession that is highly susceptible to “compassion fatigue,” this was frequently repeated in all of my training experiences. However, for people for whom compassion and service toward others is their nature but are not in a “compassion profession” they are rarely taught the importance of self-care.

One of the barriers to awareness about self-care is the blurring of self-preservation or even self-interest and selfishness. I addressed this previously on this blog, but it is common enough of a phenomenon that it is worth repeating. Self-care is more akin to being responsible, than being selfish. Self-care (or equally self-preservation or self-interest) can as reasonably be seen as maintenance. The best service is offered by the best maintained machines. This is also true of people; we operate best when we take care of ourselves (first).

When we haven’t taken care of ourselves first, then we are prone to the effects of stress. We are more likely to get distracted, more likely to forget things, more likely to make bad decisions, and more likely to become irritable, rather than act in a loving manner. Taking care of others can actually increase one’s happiness. However, this is much less likely if the care feels like a burden rather than an act of kindness. If one is worn out or unfulfilled in his or her own life, then the care that is given—to a child, parent, partner, or friend—is more likely to generate feelings of resentment. This will in turn undermine both the relationship and the reward of the relationship. Subsequently, the quality of the care provided will suffer.

I do not want to promote selfishness under the guise of self-care, but I too often see people neglect themselves under the guise of caring for others. This actually seems more insidious than selfishness to me. I suppose what I would truly advocate is greater awareness in taking care of oneself, rather than putting others first. I would even suggest that to my sub (slave/boy) friends and clients—a good Dom/Master/Daddy needs to be aware of when his/her sub needs to care for himself/herself as well. So, if you find yourself providing a lot of service or care to another or others, check with yourself to make sure that your needs are being met too. You will be able to provide better care and service if you do.