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Excerpted from Give to Your Heart's Content by Linda Harper. Copyright © 2002 by Linda Harper. Excerpted by permission of Innisfree Press.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"In truth, self-centered actions are usually not self-nurturing because they fail to consider the desires of the whole person, especially the desires of the soul."

  Linda Harper, Give to Your Heart's Content, Part 3

Cultural Factors in Not Giving to Yourself

In our culture both women and men have been discouraged from self-giving. Christiane Northrup, M.D., an expert on womenís health and author of Womenís Bodies, Womenís Wisdom, describes our culture as one that teaches women that they must "sacrifice themselves and their needs for the good of others." She believes that our society encourages women not to give themselves what they need.

Stephanie Golden, Ph.D., author of Slaying the Mermaid: Women and the Culture of Sacrifice, finds that

in our culture, suffering is a crucial component of the sacrifice expected of women . . . There can hardly be a single woman in our culture who hasnít struggled with the conditioning that tells her sheís no good unless she consistently disregards herself to put other people first.

In his book Knights Without Armor, Aaron R. Kipnis, Ph.D., a specialist in depth psychology and gender issues, looks at similar challenges for men. He explains that a manís underlying belief that he is loved only for what he can provide keeps men habitually taking care of othersí needs at the expense of their own. He describes the tendency of men to extend themselves beyond the natural limits of their "bodies, hearts, and minds in an attempt to achieve some ideal of manhood and productivity."

Not only are men discouraged to nurture themselves, Dr. Kipnis explains that

if a man is sensitive to the needs of his body and emotions, he will not be acknowledged by his culture as manly.

Another influence that interferes with self-giving is the parental voice in our heads that says, "Donít be selfish." I cannot tell you how many times in my clinical practice I have heard my clients express this fear of being selfish! While Websterís definition of selfish is to be concerned exclusively or excessively with oneís own needs while disregarding others, many people feel that they are being selfish if they do not always put another person first or if they take anything "extra" for themselves.

One of my clients, Ruth, related an incident in her life that exemplifies this fear of selfishness. One day Ruth canceled an appointment for her massage when, at the last minute, her daughter called and asked her to babysit her grandchildren because her daughter wanted to run some errands. My client felt she would have been a "selfish mother" if she turned down her daughterís request.

I also felt this pressure of not being a "giving enough" person when I declined to give a monetary pledge to a cause that was not particularly dear to my heart. The phone solicitor accused me of not "caring about people." Had I given a donation in attempts to convince the caller I was not a selfish person, it would have been a self-depleting and inauthentic act of giving for me. Not giving according to someone elseís wishes does not make a person selfish or self-centered.

Many people think that "self-nurturing" means being "self-centered." In truth, self-centered actions are usually not self-nurturing because they fail to consider the desires of the whole person, especially the desires of the soul. In his book Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore describes narcissistic or self-seeking behavior as a signal that the soul is not being loved. It can be a selfish act not to replenish ourselves with what we need because we can then never be the givers we were meant to be!

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