Healthy selfishness urges you to set boundaries and prioritise yourself, rather than putting the needs of others first. Here’s why it’s important.
There’s a reason selfishness gets a bad rap — for one thing, the term simply sounds negative. Selflessness — doing good for others — is also long-ingrained in our genetic make-up, causing most people to feel undeserving of self-prioritisation.
Why wouldn’t you live for everyone else when research repeatedly suggests generosity and kindness equal happiness? As a result, we’ve learned to put people’s needs before our own in search of greater life satisfaction.
Healthy selfishness hopes to undo that way of thinking, encouraging you to set boundaries to prioritise yourself for a change.
But what is healthy selfishness, and why is it important to set boundaries?
What is healthy selfishness?
When German psychologist Erich Fromm penned Selfishness and Self-Love, he argued that society teaches ‘doing for ourselves’ is sinful and loving others is righteous.
As a result, people feel guilty for practising healthy selfishness — an act in which we demonstrate a healthy respect for personal happiness, self-development, health and freedom.
When you practise healthy selfishness, you develop the necessary skills to cope effectively and adapt to people and situations around you. You’ll also learn to act in a way that genuinely seeks to do good for another person while also being kind to yourself.
One might even agree that healthy selfishness aligns with the notion that you must care for yourself before caring for others.
Healthy selfishness encourages healthy boundaries
Millennials may have mastered the art of healthy selfishness.
Nearly 83 per cent of millennials report having good or excellent health — a statistic attributed to taking mental health days and implementing self-care. Of course, this level of contentment means millennials have also learned how to set healthy boundaries.
When someone asks you to do something, you probably respond with a resounding “yes” almost always. Yet, constantly agreeing to show up for others may cause mental, emotional and physical fatigue.
Boundaries allow you to concentrate on yourself. For example, if your schedule has bogged you down, declining invitations to various social engagements will give you time to rest and recharge. That way, you can also reserve some of your energy for the people closest to you.
You might not particularly enjoy setting boundaries — perhaps you’ve tried before and were met with adverse reactions and opinions. That’s because some people falsely interpret boundaries as acts of aggression. Really, they just need some time to come to terms with the fact that you’re advocating your needs.
You can avoid confrontation by using “I” statements — for example, try the following sentences:
- I want to produce my best work, so I can’t take on another task right now.
- I’d like to take a break to process my thoughts better.
- I feel exhausted from my busy schedule and won’t be able to make it to your party.
- I want to be honest — I felt hurt and embarrassed when you commented on my appearance.
- I know you want to discuss [topic], but I feel uncomfortable having this conversation.
As author and researcher Brené Brown said, setting boundaries is “about having the courage to love ourselves” – even if there’s a chance we’ll upset others.
It’s crucial that you realise you deserve to prioritise your needs. Never feel guilty or ashamed for practising healthy selfishness and setting boundaries to protect your wellbeing.
Healthy selfishness in action
Healthy selfishness is allowing yourself to do and enjoy what you like, even if it has nothing to do with showing up for people.
In turn, it can improve your mental health, physical wellbeing and relationships.
An excellent place to start integrating healthy selfishness in your life is by writing down what you enjoy doing and your priorities for optimal wellbeing.
Some actionable ideas include:
- Learning to say no to things you don’t want to do.
- Addressing comments and instances that made you uncomfortable.
- Paying attention to who you’re giving your time and energy to.
- Making a habit of shutting down your digital devices for a good night’s sleep — people can always reach you in the morning.
- Scheduling appointments with your doctor to stay on top of your health.
- Turning down extra work assignments when you’re already in over your head.
- Speaking to a therapist.
- Permitting yourself to devote time to your favourite hobbies and activities.
- Managing your finances by skipping out on dinners and drinks.
- Meditating and exercising regularly.
Most importantly, healthy selfishness is finding a balance between your needs and what everyone else needs from you.
Healthy selfishness is living well
The key to a happy life is self-prioritisation. You can’t continuously give to people and ignore your own needs.
Improve your wellbeing by practising healthy selfishness. By showing yourself love and care, you can do the same for others.