What does it mean to be a good person?
Twice in the last seven days I have heard that I am a “good person”. My first reaction in both instances was to deny it. Inside, I was screaming, You just don’t know all the selfish, indifferent, careless sides of me!
It is dangerous for me to get attached to other people’s evaluations of me. Their praises are like drugs – an instant reward to my system, and after the rush has abated, I crave another. Soon my “good deeds” turn into making other people approve of me by becoming whomever they want to see.
For a long time I thought being good was to be selflessness itself, to devote yourself to other people until your body, mind and soul broke. This was the model of goodness I picked up sub-consciously in my culture. During my teenage years and beyond, I would fall into bouts of deep-seated self-loathing because I couldn’t or wouldn’t be this kind of “good”. I felt inadequate, a waste of space and resources. I still fall back to feeling this way sometimes.
It is easier to hate myself than love myself. Easier to criticize than accept. Better to be miserable than happy and guilty.
Because all I had ever wanted was for my imperfect self to be picked up by other people, and soothed, accepted, and loved by them. By displaying a textbook attachment behavior, I was hoping to receive unconditional love. If I couldn’t get love, I wanted pity, or sympathy, or something. That’s a lot of burden to place on any human being, let alone on fellow thirteen-year-olds.
In the end, when I was swimming in the misery and drowning, I started accepting the idea of being enough. That I was enough, just the way I was right now. I picked up my own screaming inner child, soothed her, held her, and promised her I would be with her. I realized that I was the only one who was fully responsible for taking care of myself, and I was also the best candidate for the job, since the need to wear a mask was considerably weaker.
With this new resolution, the definition of being a “good person” also changed. Now the priority lay in taking care of myself first. If I didn’t, I’d be a burden to others, and it would be unfair of me to expect them to pick up the slack. What this “taking care of oneself” contains is different for everyone and you have to decide for yourself. For me, it translates into taking care of my physical needs – sleep, nutrition, exercise (although I am very flexible with this one, haha), health -, setting a boundary to other people’s needs, learning to recognize when I am stressed out and what to do about it, and forgiving myself for being a human.
I am not a good person. But I am enough the way I am.
I try to treat other people the way I want to be treated; I try to be open-minded and understanding; I remind myself that I can’t know what others are feeling or thinking since I haven’t been in their shoes; I try to be helpful where my help is wanted or welcome.
I think there is such a comfort in helping others. It feels good to be needed, because being needed somewhat confirms that our existence isn’t useless or meaningless. However, I don’t want to help others purely to feel good about myself. That’s a selfish ego-gratification. It’s also not true that some disasters will happen without my help. The only thing I want is to make the world a teeny tiny better place, or at least not to make it worse. But the moment my actions become all about pleasing others, I will lose myself.
I am not an emotional person – at least not anymore. I tend to panic and forget myself when I am overwhelmed by emotions. Maybe that’s why I am wary of human connections, although at the same time I crave it, because my need for connecting with other people is a very human one. Thankfully, I have met great people in my life with whom I can be open and vulnerable each time our paths cross. It’s like a series of connection/merging and disconnection/individualization, and it suits me just fine. A long-term connection is quite another matter, and I am not sure whether I can tolerate it.