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Ask Amy: My kid told me I’m selfish for helping others

4 min

Dear Amy: I have lived my life trying to help people. I have “gone to the rescue” many times to help people who were needy or suicidal or addicted and in need of therapy or treatment. And it does make me happy when I think I have been able to help someone.

Recently, one of my children told me that, because I derive happiness from helping others, I am really selfish and that my actions are no more laudable than those of people who pursue happiness through other selfish means.

The idea shocked me. What do you think?

— Shocked Mom

Shocked: “Selfish” is probably the most pejorative word to describe your tendency to rescue people, but your child is obviously trying to make a point.

You are behaving in a way that satisfies your own needs, but on the selfish scale, I’d put your behavior way ahead of, say, someone who ignores the desperate cries of others. Those who need rescuing are no doubt grateful for your so-called selfishness, but a true “rescuer” derives her sense of self through rescuing others.

The point being that this identity might prevent you from relating to people who don’t have Big Problems, and you might neglect some people in your life (this child, for instance) who would love to have your full attention without having to be in crisis to get it. Selfish? No. Self-serving? Perhaps. And do your many rescues require additional positive attention? Do you enjoy being “lauded” for your actions? That’s your ego’s role in keeping the cycle going.

When one of your children lobs a little bomb like this over the fence, the challenging and more mature reaction is to see it as an opportunity to hear them out. So you might respond: “Hmm, that’s pretty shocking. I don’t see myself as selfish, but it sounds as if you’re trying to tell me about how my tendency to help other people affects you. Maybe you can rescue me from this uncertainty by expanding on your thoughts.”

Dear Amy: My book club has brunch before each meeting, with each hostess providing all the food. I am gluten-intolerant and wonder what is the best way to ask whether the host is serving anything I can eat.

If I eat before the brunch, fellow members ask why I’m not eating. If I mention being gluten-intolerant, sometimes the hostess will ask why I didn’t tell her. If I eat only a little bit of what’s offered, I get the same question.

I have asked the hostess, in the past, what the menu will include, but the hostess often isn’t even aware of what gluten is. It’s always awkward. Although I don’t want anyone to go out of their way to provide food for me, I do like to take part in the brunch, because this is a time to catch up with everyone.

Any tips on how to communicate my food restriction?

— Gluten-free in Colorado

Gluten-free: First of all, your duty is to take care of yourself, regardless of the questions people might have about your dietary needs. These days, it is becoming more common for hosts to ask guests in advance whether they have any food-related allergies or sensitivities.

In the absence of this query, you should contact that meeting’s host in advance: “I can’t eat food containing gluten, so I hope it will be okay with you if I bring along my own food to eat with the group.” A gracious host might follow up by running the planned menu past you to make sure there is food you can safely eat. You could also offer to bring a brunch-friendly fruit salad to share.

If this is a group of the same people meeting regularly, your various members should catch on. And, of course, when you host, you should survey members to make sure you are able to accommodate any food restrictions they might have.

Dear Amy: I really like reading your column, because some of the letters describing a writer’s problems refer to me and are similar to my own. I can apply the advice you offer to them to my own life.

So to all you readers out there in the world: You’re not the only one going through some rough times. I can relate.

— Been There, Am There

Been There: I appreciate your take on the beauty and utility of these Q&As, where people generously share their vulnerabilities for the benefit of others.

© 2023 by Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.