GUEST BLOG: Alan Gillies “Selflessness vs. Self-Denial”

This week sees the return of the lovely Alan Gillies and he’s talking about a topic near and dear to my heart – self worth. In fact, in reading through this article, I can see I am a little guilty of both – selflessness and self denial.

We all know people who are generous to a fault. These people will give what they have, even when it means that they will have left – next to nothing for themselves. For many, this emotion is genuine kindness; for others it is a way to punish themselves.

Is there a thin line between selflessness and self-denial? The difference is in the resulting feeling and the lifestyle of the giver – not in the act itself. For instance, let’s say that you have lunch at work with a friend. As you sit down to eat, she realizes that her lunch is back at home on the kitchen counter. You offer to share your lunch with her so she doesn’t have to go without.

Here’s another example. A friend asks if they can borrow a dress because they are going out on a date. As she looks through your closet, she finds the one she likes, but it also happens to be the new dress you just purchased. With a half-hearted smile, you hand her the dress and say, “It’ll look good on you. I don’t know when I’ll ever get to wear it on a date.”

The difference here is not in the action. In both situations, the giver shared easily enough. However, the person who shared lunch is left with a feeling of satisfaction, while the person lending the dress has just reinforced negative feelings about herself with her sacrifice. One is most definitely not the same as the other.

Selflessness in our character comes from a place of security. In essence, this gesture means that we’re comfortable ‘in our own skin’.

Self-denial, on the other hand, wells up as an answer to insecurity. We don’t deserve to be happy, so we give away things as a form of self-imposed punishment.

Giving our time and our talents are also forms of selflessness. Our character is not diminished by the gift, but we are uplifted because someone else will benefit from our generosity. We don’t have to put ourselves lower in order for someone else to feel better.

Self-denial is the opposite. With everything that is sacrificed, the person feels worse. It’s an increasing debt in which punishment never ends. If this is the case for you, it’s time to seek advice. There is a reason that you feel less than deserving of the good things in your life, and it’s certainly not a mistake or an accident – which is what you may be thinking.

Denying yourself the right to live your life is a serious problem, which usually stems from past experiences where you were possibly made to feel that way. In the absence of anything else to the contrary, you carried that character flaw throughout your life. What could be more wrong than to continue to view yourself in such a negative light?

Are you giving out of your generous nature, or are you punishing yourself for past mistakes? If you feel that your behaviour stems from self-denial, talk it out with someone you trust – for as long as it takes, until you come to a real solution.

ED NOTE: On SYBD there are many suggestions for books for building self-worth – both in the forum itself and in the recommended reads section. See the Personal Development books here.


Alan Gillies is the Founder of Learning 2 Live, an online Lifestyle resource which mixes business with pleasure, covering a number of Lifestyle topics which include Relationships, Health, Wellbeing, Career, Travel & Coaching. He has extensive hands on experience across a wide range of business disciplines including Coaching and Mentoring, Change Management and NLP. Visit his website at http://www.Learning-2-Live.com

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