You have a problem. It’s yourself. To be blunt, you are addicted to yourself.
I’m afraid that you were born this way, as all of us are. However, most of us learn to hide it most of the time; or at least we come to realize that 100% self-centeredness is not the best way to achieve our goals! That’s a selfish motive, I know, but it’s kind of how society works. There is another way out of this addiction, a way that actually removes self rather than just manages it, but I’ll get to that later.
Like most addicts, you probably don’t realize you have a problem. Although you are constantly thinking about yourself, you know hardly anything about yourself. So, let me describe the symptoms of selfaholism and then give you some hope of getting free from it, especially as you are still young.
Selfaholism is characterized by self-centeredness, self-righteousness, self-promotion, self-sufficiency, self-will, self-worship, self-love, self-praise, etc. However, these symptoms manifest themselves differently, depending on the age of the addict. As you are still a teenager, you are probably in one of the worst phases of selfaholism – strong, independent, and self-conscious enough to show the uglier side of selfaholism; but not wise or experienced enough to realize that it is self-destructive and self-defeating unless at least “managed” and modified.
You probably can’t understand why your parents ever say “No” to you. And why should they even consider what your brothers and sisters want? Why shouldn’t you sit scowling and slouching at the table? Doesn’t affect anyone else, does it? As for chores, why can’t you just come home, eat, and stay in your room? Why should Mom want to know what went on at school today? If only she would talk less, she might have your Hollister t-shirts ready when you need them for a change, right? And isn’t it really annoying the way Dad insists on you going to bed at the same time as him and Mom. As you “teenage-whispered” to your buddy: “I thought old people got deaf eventually. Why can’t I make milk shakes at midnight? I mean, whatever…”
But you’re miserable aren’t you. That’s the weird thing about addictions. They promise much, but deliver little. You think that by pursuing your agenda that you will find happiness, contentment, and satisfaction. But, as you are discovering, self-love causes self-hatred. Oh, I know you think your misery is caused by all the “no’s” in your life – no’s from parents, no’s from teachers, no’s from pastors, no’s from everyone. “Why does no one ever say “yes” to me?”
But the problem is simpler and shorter than you think. It is the big capital letter “I” at the center of your heart. And until that letter is broken in many pieces, your life will continue on its dismal and dreary course. You will wander from relationship to relationship, from college to college, from marriage to marriage, from job to job, from church to church, and from bright shiny thing to next bright shiny thing. And it will always be “their” fault and never yours: parents, teachers, friends, professors, wives, husbands, pastors, bosses, government, whoever, whatever…If only they would all bow down and serve you then all would be well.
But here’s the strangest thing of all; the happiest people in the world are servants – not those who warm the slippers of millionaires, but those who serve others in all their relationships and responsibilities. They may have a million in the bank or even just red ink, but whatever their social or financial standing, they listen well, they give away their money and time, they volunteer at church, they do more than their assigned chores, and they even do some things without pay!
I know that sounds like total misery to you, but, believe me, it’s the way to happiness. Now, of course some people are selfless for selfish reasons. They have the wisdom to see that living just for self is not very helpful socially or vocationally. (I wish you even had that insight). But there are others who not only manage and modify their selfaholism. They actually deny self and live for others. How? Well, they have the great Self-denier working in their hearts. I’m talking about Jesus Christ of course, the Servant who can turn the worst selfaholics into the best servaholics
Study Christ’s life and ask yourself how you too can serve rather than be served. But, above all, study His death. Studying his life will shrink your “I” a little; but it’s when you stand before His cross that your “I” will begin to crack and crumble, even at it’s very foundations. Paul calls us, just as he called the Philippians selfaholics of his own day, to grasp that Christ’s servaholism atones for our selfaholism (Phil. 2:3-7). And as we grasp that supreme act of Self-denial on our behalf, we will not only serve, but we will serve out of selfless motives. We will stop thinking about what we are giving up and all we’ll see is what He gave up.
Is it just coincidence that the great Philippian epistle of service is also the great epistle of joy? (Phil. 3:1; 4:1, 4). I earnestly pray that you too will come to know the joy of servaholism (1 Cor. 16:15).
From a recovering selfaholic.
A version of this article appeared in Tabletalk. Sign up here for a three month free trial or 12 issues for $23.