According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of selfishness is the act of seeking or concentrating on one’s advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.
Based on this definition, you could assume that being selfish is a negative quality. It is implied that in order to concentrate on one’s personal gain, then one must take something away from another individual. What if you do something for yourself that does not affect other people, is it still considered selfish? The answer is yes, but we need to be a little selfish to improve our mental well-being.
Three Types of Selfishness There are three types of selfishness: positive, negative, and neutral. According to Dr. John Johnson, positive selfishness is when something benefits both ourselves and other people. For example, purchasing an item from a friend would be considered positive. Both parties have a need, have something to offer, and both will be excited and satisfied after the transaction. You committed an act to better yourself, but also bettered the other person during the process. It is a win-win situation.
Alternatively, negative selfishness is described as “[taking] from others to their detriment and [giving] nothing in return." Participating in a one-sided conversation would be a negative example; expressing your struggles and seeking support, but when they look for reciprocation, you display a lack of disinterest. Acts like these lead to unhealthy relationships and take an opportunity of much-needed expression away from an individual.
Lastly, neutral selfishness is an act that benefits you but doesn’t directly involve other people. Self-care would fit into the neutral type. The definition of self-care is the practice of taking action to improve one’s health. While caring for yourself, you are the only one benefiting from such an experience. Therefore, not all selfish acts are created equal. As long as we do not take away from others, then being selfish is not that bad.
Personal Experience I have always put the needs of others ahead of my own. The challenges I faced and the issues I struggled with were constantly put on the back burner. During graduate school, I had the opportunity to speak with a clinical psychology student as part of a project. She needed the hours as a clinician. I needed the hours as a patient; it worked out perfectly. The results of those sessions helped me understand how much extra weight I was carrying, and it was because I chose to put the needs of others ahead of mine.
The sessions opened my eyes to the challenges I faced. From body image to my parents divorcing at a young age, I had suppressed my feelings for so long because I felt it was selfish to talk about myself. Instead, I deflected conversations away from me and redirected them toward other people’s struggles. It did not take long for me to recognize and accept the importance of self-expression because without me choosing to be positively selfish, I would not have been able to understand the problems I was facing.
What can you do? You can practice being selfish through self-care. Ideally, you should set aside time to care for yourself every day, but for some, that may be unrealistic. While that may be unrealistic for some, it does not have to be long. Block off at least one hour so you can practice some form of self-care. Whether you read a book, sleep in, go on vacation to one of the beautiful Haitian islands, it is important for your mental health to relax your body and mind and unplug. You cannot truly take care of another individual if you cannot first take care of yourself. By getting yourself in a place where you are comfortable, relaxed, and in a strong mental state, then you can help others more effectively. Better yet, find someone to tag along with you. Grab a friend and take a trip to the beach and relax for the day. Plan a vacation with that special someone so you can escape reality together. Having a shared experience with another individual creates a long-lasting bond and a moment that will be hard to forget.
Final Thoughts It is noble and respectable to put the needs of others first; however, this could be extremely damaging to your mental state because you are not allowing yourself the opportunity to take care of the person that matters most: YOU. Michelle Obama once said, “We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own to-do list,” which is true because our society places such an emphasis on “doing the right thing”, that we sometimes forget to do what is best for ourselves. Remember, as long as you are not taking away from others, it is okay to be a little selfish from time to time.