The negative stigma towards ‘selfishness’ has somewhat blurred the lines between selfishness and self-preservation. These blurred lines can cause feelings of guilt and pressure to always try to be selfless.
What if before we make a decision that others may perceive to be ‘selfish’ we check in with ourselves. Ask yourself, what is my motive behind this decision? Am I doing this because I don’t care about others and their feelings, or am I in fact putting myself first because I need to look after my own mental health and physical well-being?
You see, the difference between selfishness and self-preservation is your motive. If you truly care about others but also understand your need to put yourself first sometimes, your making a self-preserving decision. However, if you blatantly have no regard for others and you are perhaps making decisions based purely on what suits you best, then that could be considered as a selfish decision.
Society sees being selfish as not caring about other people. As if by caring for yourself you are hurting someone else, or costing them their happiness.
You are branded egotistical – as if you value yourself over all others. How dare you put so much value you in your own desires?
But is that such a bad thing? Who’s going to do this, if not you?
There is a trend now towards ‘self-care’ which bucks against the idea of ‘being selfish’. It calls on us to put on our oxygen mask before we help anyone else with theirs.
This can become useful if it is seen as more than taking an hour on a Sunday evening to have a hot bath and indulge in a face mask.
Instead if we see self-care as a way of accepting when it is appropriate for you and others to put yourself at the top of your own priority list.
We often sacrifice self-care because we’re too busy trying to save everyone else. But people have to learn their own lessons in life, however painful that is. Who are you to decide that you know what is right for them? Now that is selfish, as it’s based on your own desires for them, which may not truly be in their best interests.
The way we can really help is to focus on ourselves and stop trying to run others’ lives. While we think we’re caring by “rescuing” them from unpleasant experiences in their lives, we are denying them the opportunity to face their own challenges, and grow stronger or learn a lesson from doing so.
That doesn’t mean we should never help people, but there is a difference between providing support for somebody who asks and taking it upon ourselves to save somebody and make their life turn out in a way that we think it should.
We teach people how to treat us by our own actions and attitude toward ourselves. By putting signs out there that you are a rescuer and will sacrifice yourself to help others, you attract the sort of people who want to be rescued and for whom it has to be all about them—not a balanced relationship.
Then, you have made it a self-fulfilling prophecy, by effectively bringing about what you always complain that you attract: people who take advantage of your good nature.
Self-care is essential for us all, but looks different from person to person. We are all individuals with different preferences. Listen to your inner voice to find out what makes you content. Sometimes we can’t even hear our own inner voice because we are so busy anticipating the needs of those we care about, so you might have to listen carefully at first.