Selfishness Revisited: Why It’s Okay To Be Selfish Sometimes

“Stop being selfish!” they scream whenever you do anything for yourself. 

“Share.” “Let your sister have some.”

As children, we’re taught to share, help others, give of ourselves, and be selfless. 

Selfishness is frowned upon as one of the worst traits we could possibly exhibit.

The lessons are engrained from an early age and make us feel guilty whenever we do something for ourselves. 

That leads to the ultimate question: is it okay to be selfish?

What is Selfishness?

Traditionally, selfish means “lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.”  It often describes behavior that takes advantage of others. 

That’s generally not okay, but the definition lacks nuance. 

Society uses the word in a very different way. 

People call us selfish for doing the tiniest things for ourselves. We’re selfish if we don’t want children, if we want children, if we want to be a working mom, if we want to be a stay-at-home mom, if we want a day off, if we want time to ourselves, etc., ad nauseam. 

In a way, the slur has been used to keep women subservient, to keep us giving all of ourselves while erasing any expectation that we might deserve more.

Is it Okay to be Selfish?

The short answer?

Yes. Absolutely. It’s 100% okay to be selfish on occasion. 

It’s difficult because it goes against everything society taught: selflessness, giving, and caring. 

But those lessons forgot a crucial piece: if we give too much of ourselves, there will be nothing left. 

Rethinking Childhood Lessons

I struggle with the sharing concept we learned as kids.

Yes, teaching young people to be generous is essential, but must we teach them that they can’t have anything for themselves? 

I remember having to share everything I “owned” as a child. Nothing was mine. 

Maybe it worked out because I’m still generous and giving – but sometimes I’m so generous and giving that I end up hurting myself. I wasn’t taught to limit my selflessness. 

I still struggle with saying “no.” It’s an unforgivable crime to put yourself above someone else. I never learned the balance between generosity and self-care, giving and receiving, selfishness and selflessness. 

And it’s caused a lot of problems in my life. 

Is it Okay to be Selfish in a Relationship?

Relationships should be give and take, but women often find themselves giving while receiving nothing in return. 

But we can’t complain about it because that would be selfish, and we can’t stop giving because that would also be selfish. 

I’ve been in relationships like this. I’ve struggled so much to find the balance between self-care and selflessness. As a breadwinner, I’ve found myself paying for everything while also managing the house and chores, with my hobosexual partner riding on my coattails. 

But if I asked for anything in return, I was the selfish one. If I stopped giving, I was greedy. 

The idea that you’re selfish for daring to meet your own needs becomes so engrained that you can’t fathom behaving any other way. 

An example is when I wanted to order takeout but felt guilty about ordering for myself. What would he eat if I brought home a meal for myself? How selfish would I be if I didn’t make sure he had food to eat? He couldn’t afford to order takeout himself (because he refused to get a job)

I could afford to pay for both of us, but I didn’t want to order food for him. It shouldn’t be my responsibility to ensure a fully grown man gets fed, and even if it was, there was food at home for him to eat. 

But I felt so guilty. So selfish. 

I later learned it wasn’t about the takeout food, it was about the fact that this man only took from me, and I was at my tipping point. 

I was so concerned about being “selfish” that I gave everything of myself until I had nothing left but resentment. 

How To Be Selfish in a Relationship

It’s okay to be a little selfish in a relationship. 

Relationships should make life easier for both people, not just one. 

Stop taking care of everyone else all the time and make time to care for yourself. Engage in self-care. Demand your partner contributes to the relationship. Stop doing everything. 

Some partners will complain. They get used to life on easy mode, where they reap all the benefits of your hard work. They’ll do and say anything to keep the status quo. 

A good partner will realize they were selfish and step up to ensure equality. A lousy partner will use all the tricks in the book to make you feel bad. 

They’ll call you selfish, cruel, and useless. They’ll claim they do so much for you (when you know in your heart they do nothing). They’ll even resort to threats and violence if they feel they’re losing access to your free labor. 

You need to escape partners like this. You will be happier living the selfish single life. 

Call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline if you need help or feel you’re in danger: 

1-800-799-7233

Can Selfishness be Good?

Despite what we learned as children, selfishness isn’t always wrong. 

Selfishness means taking care of yourself. It’s a difficult concept for those of us who dedicate our lives to caring for others. 

It also means letting others care for you, which feels awkward for people who’ve spent their entire lives caring for themselves and those around them. We’re so used to doing it all on our own that it feels weird to let someone do something nice for us. It even feels weird to do something nice for ourselves!

If taking care of myself is selfish – I’m selfish. And rather than fight with someone to try to explain that buying myself a treat every now and again isn’t, in fact, selfish, I’ll just own it. 

Yep, I’m selfish. Deal with it.

When is it Not Okay to be Selfish?

Like everything in life, moderation is key. It’s okay to be selfish to a certain point – but that point ends when you take advantage of others. 

It’s not okay to be so egotistical that you take more than your share—whether taking the biggest piece of an office birthday cake or expecting a significant other to care for your entire life.

It’s not okay to be selfish in the traditional sense, where you lack consideration for others. Respect, compassion, and empathy are wonderful things; you shouldn’t turn your back on them to take care of yourself. 

But, at the same time, you can’t be so compassionate that you give everything of yourself.

What is the Best Way to be Selfish?

The best way to be selfish is to treat yourself to things sometimes without worrying about what others might want or think. 

It’s okay to order takeout and let your partner figure out their own dinner—especially when they will be too sloppy drunk to notice anyway. My current partner tells me I deserve to stop at Wawa on my way home if I really want a sandwich, and I don’t need to worry about him. 

I don’t need to feel bad about not getting him one, too, because he’s an adult and can take care of himself. Naturally, his attitude makes me want to bring him home something. 

I’m very food-motivated, but if you want to be selfish, you can treat yourself to whatever makes you happy. Maybe it is a special meal, a fancy coffee drink, a book, or a spa day. 

The important thing is that you treat yourself every once in a while without worrying that someone else isn’t getting something, too. 

Be Selfish

Not in the traditional sense, but in a way where you take care of yourself regardless of what people think. 

Selfishly indulge in that meal, take a day off, or leave the house for you-time. 

Stop letting people guilt you into giving more by calling you “selfish.” You deserve happiness, too. 

Author: Melanie Allen

Title: Journalist

Expertise: Pursuing Your Passions, Travel, Wellness, Hobbies, Finance, Gaming, Happiness

Melanie Allen is an American journalist and happiness expert. She has bylines on MSN, the AP News Wire, Wealth of Geeks, Media Decision, and numerous media outlets across the nation and is a certified happiness life coach. She covers a wide range of topics centered around self-actualization and the quest for a fulfilling life. 

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