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Ah selfishness. We were all taught from a young age how wrong it is to be selfish. “You need to share” and “bring your sister with you” are things that we all heard while growing up. We need to share, help those less fortunate, and bring our family members along to share in our friends. Clearly, we were taught to not be selfish, but that begs the question – is it ever okay to be selfish?
Is it Okay to be a Little Selfish?
I’m going to answer this as clearly as possible and then go into details later. Yes, it is okay to be selfish every now and then. And it’s definitely okay to be a little bit selfish! You can even call it self care if it makes you feel better.
I even struggle with the sharing concept we were taught as kids. Yes, I know it’s important to teach young people to be generous, but is it important to teach them that they can’t have anything for themselves? I’m not a parent, so I don’t know what it’s like today, but I remember having to share everything I “owned” when I was a child. Nothing was mine. And maybe that’s great, because I’m still generous and giving – but sometimes I’m so generous and giving that I end up hurting myself. I would prefer to be more balanced, but I struggle with saying “no”, because that would be selfish.
Is it Okay to be Selfish in a Relationship?
My biggest struggles with self-care, selfishness, and not knowing how to find that balance have come in relationships. I’ve written about being the breadwinner, and being taken advantage of as such, and I know logically that its okay to be a little selfish in a relationship. By selfish, I mean: taking care of yourself, and making sure your needs are met. Maybe most people won’t consider that selfish. It does sound pretty normal. But if you are anything like me, you feel drawn toward being the giver. Sometimes the smallest acts of self-care seem selfish.
I’ve told this story before, but it’s the best example I can think of where self-care borders on selfish. In a previous (really bad) relationship, I felt guilty about ordering take out for just myself. What would he eat if I just brought home a meal for me? How selfish would I be if I didn’t make sure he had food to eat? It’s not like I couldn’t afford it. But clearly if I was only doing it out of guilt and feelings of selfishness, I didn’t really want to do it.
And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to take care of yourself sometimes. It’s okay to not take care of others all the time, especially when they aren’t taking care of you. Heck, I learned in my current relationship (because he’s awesome) that it’s even okay to just take care of yourself even when they are taking care of you. Some may call that selfish – but those are probably the people who are taking advantage of you in the first place.
Can Selfishness be Good?
I think that selfishness, in its most basic form, is a good thing. To me, it means taking care of yourself. And I know that can be incredibly difficult for those of us who dedicate our lives to taking care of others. Sometimes it’s just not part of who we are to step back and make sure we are taken care of ourselves. We are so used to handling everything for ourselves that it feels weird to let someone do something nice for us. It even feels weird to do something nice for ourselves!
Okay, so maybe the word selfish literally means “lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure”. Its traditionally been used to describe someone behaving in a way that does take advantage of others. So yeah, behaving in a traditionally selfish manner is generally not okay.
But there’s a lot of nuance here. The people closest to us have a habit of letting us know we’re being selfish, even when “selfish” means doing the tiniest anythings for ourselves. If we aren’t 100% selfless, we are selfish. In a way, it’s a slur that’s been used to keep women subservient, to keep us giving all of ourselves while erasing any expectation that we might deserve more.
So yeah, 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 are taking advantage of others. It’s not okay to be so egotistical that you are taking more than your share – whether that be taking the biggest piece of an office birthday cake or expecting a significant other take care of your entire life.
I don’t think it’s okay to be selfish in the traditional sense, where you lack consideration for others. Being respectful, compassionate, and empathizing with others is a wonderful thing, and you shouldn’t turn your back on that 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 yourself takeout and let your partner figure out their own dinner – especially when they are just going to be too sloppy drunk to notice. 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 he can take care of himself.
Clearly, I’m very food motivated, but if you want to be selfish you can treat yourself to whatever it is that makes you happy. Maybe it is a special meal, or a fancy coffee drink, or even a book or a spa day. The important thing is that you treat yourself every once in a while.
Is it Okay to Be Selfish?
Maybe not in the traditional sense. But if taking care of yourself is considered selfish, then absolutely! What do you think?
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.