Are you in a relationship right now that you’d rather not be in? Whether you thought of a family member, a friend, an acquaintance or the person you pay to mow your lawn, ask yourself this: Why am I still holding on to this relationship?

We confuse being self-centered with being ego-centric. Being self-centered is healthy, as long as you’re aware of, and centered around, your true self.  When your internal teacher, your true self, tells you to keep away from someone, whether it’s a stranger or a friend, you feel guilty because you think that not wanting someone’s friendship means that you are not practicing love, compassion and forgiveness and you label yourself as selfish and ego-centric. The result is always the same: you feel guilty; you think something is wrong with you; and you convince yourself that you need to sustain this relationship because otherwise you’re just a selfish, judgmental person.

But since you constitute half of every relationship you’re in, shouldn’t you think of yourself as equally worthy of the love, acceptance and compassion you extend to the other person? The Buddha said: You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

So why are we not giving ourselves the breaks we give to others? Why is it selfish to give love and affection to yourself, but noble to give it to others? The only reason you would sustain a relationship you actually don’t want is fear: fear of rejection, fear of loneliness, fear of being labeled as selfish. It doesn’t matter what brand of fear it is because fear is fear. Spirit, which is the true self, never fears and can’t even conceive of fear since it was created as an extension of love. This means that all fear, including the fear of being labeled as selfish, comes from the ego, the false self that was made in fear and from fear. When we withhold love from ourselves, which we do each time we’re not in complete truth with ourselves, we’re actually acting from ego and therefore validating ego as our guide.

To be egocentric is to be dis-spirited, but to be Self-centered in the right sense is to be inspired or in spirit. (A Course in Miracles, T-4.7)

Any time you feel the need to sustain a relationship you’re not happy with, know that your ego is at work. The ego is very cunning; it’s constantly trying to come in through the back door. The ego will try to convince you that if you were “spiritual enough” you would be ok with being friends with anyone. But don’t let yourself be convinced by the ego. You can love someone without wanting to have anything to do with them — and you do that by accepting them as they are and dropping the need to judge them or change them. You choose to see the light in them, even though they don’t see it in themselves, but you can see the light in others only if you also see it in yourself.

The ego often masquerades as false humility, convincing you that you’ll somehow collect brownie points with God  if you keep the friendship you’re not enjoying anymore. Notice where this thought comes from by reversing it: If I end this relationship, I will be in trouble with God (instead of getting brownie points if I kept it). The thought clearly comes from fear, and the resulting action therefore must come from fear as well. It’s easy to see the ego in this thought process because any thought of fear comes from the ego. And it’s also very clear to see that you’re ultimately not concerned with the other person, but with the interest of your little self, or ego.

Because I am afraid that I will end up in hell (hell being whatever version of hell you think there is), I better keep my friendship with this person. Because I am afraid that I will be hated at the office, I better keep my friendship with this person. Because I am afraid that I will be the black sheep in the family, I better keep my relationship with this person. Notice it’s all about the little me — and that is ego-centric. If ending the relationship is what you want, you’re being self-centered, but in the right kind of way because you’re in line with your internal knowing and are therefore inspired and in spirit. Don’t be afraid to be self-centered. As long as the self you’re centered around is your true self, which can also be called spirit or higher self, you’re living an authentic life.

The other thing the ego will try to convince you of is that if you were “spiritual enough,” you wouldn’t have challenging relationships anymore. That’s not true, of course. We are faced, over and over again, with situations and relationships that challenge us, so that we can learn not so much about those situations and people but about ourselves. And, while we’re figuring out these situations, people and relationships, we are not required to give up ego thoughts but to simply question them. By questioning our ego thoughts we investigate the deep seated fears we carry, and we gradually start to listen to the quiet but persistent voice of the spirit, the true self, instead of listening to the circus music of the ego.

Authentic power is knowing yourself and what you want. You don’t feel the need to compete with others or to please, manipulate or fight others. All those behaviors are of the ego and they are actually really easy to recognize because they always revolve around what someone else does or thinks, rather than what you think, feel and want. Often we stay stuck in such ego behavior because we’re afraid to take responsibility for ourselves. We may not even know what we want.

To start taking responsibility for your own happiness and peace, simply ask yourself what you want. What matters to you? What do you value? Do you value your internal peace or do you choose to suffer now, hoping for some reward in the future? All you need to ask yourself is how you feel in this very moment about a relationship. You already know the answer, but you may not trust yourself because you’ve always depended on someone else’s advice and opinion.

Anything you want to ask a teacher, ask yourself, and wait for the answer in silence. (Byron Katie)

Ultimately, you will have to let go of people who keep you powerless. That doesn’t serve you or them, and you can’t expect to change anyone else but yourself. Practicing self-centeredness in the right sense will point you in the only direction you can go if you want peace: inward.