Selfish is a word that is loaded with negative connotations, but there isn’t enough focus on the positives of putting yourself first. It can be a bad thing if you are constantly selfish and show no regard for the others around you, but in the same vein it can also be a negative if you are constantly selfless and putting others around you first. In this post we will discuss the ups and downs of being selfish and selfless, how to set boundaries and the power of saying no.
Someone calling you selfish can be quite a wounding insult, just as being called narcissistic or spoilt would be, but that shouldn’t make you steer clear of the word altogether. It is so easy to become fixated with not being selfish that we constantly put others ahead of ourselves. Sure, a favour for a friend or going somewhere you’re not overly excited about to help someone isn’t a bad thing, but it’s when we add all of these good selfless deeds up and start filling up our time with them, that we become worn out and exhausted.
This is where saying no comes in. No. such a tiny word which carries so much weight. I remember as a kid when I was asked to do something I didn’t want to do, I’d be quick to say no without giving it much thought, but since growing up it is a word that has become tougher and tougher to say. A feeling creeps in, saying no now makes you negative, boring, moody or unhelpful. This isn’t the truth. Saying no is healthy. Saying no to something you’re uncomfortable with or really don’t want to do is protective, it’s self-caring, not selfish.
We know that even the notion of saying no can leave us feeling guilty, like we are telling someone that we don’t care enough about them to help, but this is something we need to question. Say you declined an offer to help a friend out with something because you felt tired and needed some rest, and they said that its no problem. If you feel guilty about this, you just have to break down how the conversation actually went. You were direct with your answer, you weren’t rude or hurtful, and your friend agreed that it was fine and respected your decision. Feeling guilty about it will only give you uneasiness over something that is perfectly acceptable.
See the thing is, when you’re depressed or anxious, a lot of the time you don’t really view yourself as a person you like, so it’s way easier to put others in front of you. Whilst helping others is a great thing to do and we should be proud of ourselves when we are empathetic and helpful, it can only stretch so far if we don’t acknowledge that we also need to be supportive of our own needs and limitations. It’s very easy to let other people’s opinions guide our actions and lead to us feeling stretched thin, but most of the time others won’t even have a negative thought in mind when you say no in an honest way and for a good reason. If they do, then they probably aren’t people you should want to help out in the first place.
Another important step in this process of healthy selfishness is setting up boundaries. Boundaries can be extremely beneficial to those of us who struggle with saying no and being selfish when we need some time for self-care and rest. However, when we are putting these in place we also have to be careful that we are not placing threatening locked gates in front of us, as that can prevent the people you care about from getting close to you or helping you when you may need them.
Instead, we need to just gently lay down some lines that tell others what we are okay with and what we are not okay with. If it causes you stress when people may take you for granted or not give you the opportunity to even decline a request they have, then these boundaries will be exactly what you need to give yourself a sense of control in an otherwise difficult situation.
This article was not intended to make you start saying no to every single request you get or draw boundaries so deep that nobody can get close to you. It’s just a quick reflection on how easy it is to tire ourselves out by donating all of our time and energy to other people and not spending any time on ourselves when we need it the most. It may not be an easy journey to start, but even just take some time to think about the last time you felt bad because you agreed to do something you didn’t want to, then think about why you agreed to do it. Most of the time you will find you agreed due to some perceived social pressure or guilt that you have enforced on yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with helping someone, or being available when somebody needs you. In fact, that is something you can take a lot of pride in and is a good mentality to have in life, but just make sure that you leave enough time to give yourself what you need. There is no need to set yourself on fire in order to keep others warm. If you’re experiencing any of the feelings described in this post, or know somebody who is, then there are many things you can do to help. Talking to somebody about how you or they are feeling can be very beneficial. If you’re not sure what to do but need urgent help, there are many emergency hotlines that provide support and encouragement such as Mind.org and Samaritans.org. You’re not alone in feeling this way, others are there to help.