Selfish- the dreadful word reserved as an encompassing insult. We call people selfish when their priorities consistently revolve around themselves. It seems selfish people have little to no regard for the well-being of others and their plans rarely meet the greater needs of a particular party. Selfish people contradict the sharing and caring mentality fostered in our culture.
As the wise Spock once said, “…the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Many abide by this logic, or strive for it, assuming personal needs are secondary. This might work when making decisions that will affect massive amounts of people, or when caring for a child unable to care for itself. Outside of those scenarios, on an individualistic level, it would only be so beautiful for us to selflessly cohabitate; all of our needs covered because we all consistently followed this way of being, always concerned with everyone else first. If it weren’t for those pesky selfish people, placing their emotional, physical, or personal requirements ahead of everyone else’s.
I disagree. Codependent logic is flawed. Predicting others’ needs is impossible if they do not communicate, and communicating needs is a ‘selfish’ act in itself. I propose the needs of the many, more often than not, lean in favor of people taking care of themselves; a classic example: putting the air mask on one’s self before helping others on a plane. The word ‘selfish’ is a much broader term than we utilize. Out of the context of our common vernacular, selfish can be a helpful or even critical trait to well-being.
In a world overrun by codependent logic (i.e. the idea that our feelings are the result of other people’s actions) the ability to care for ourselves is mandatory. Maintaining healthy boundaries, employing the right to say ‘no,’ and not abandoning our integrity when we assume an obligation becomes self-loving, kind behavior we enact to prolong our mental and physical health.
I think it is important to differentiate between lovingly selfish and inconsiderate behavior. If selfish is an umbrella term to describe all behaviors where one places themselves before others, there is an unhealthy side of this too. ‘Needs’ are tricky, fickle things every single person has to manage. Finding equilibrium, balancing our essential needs like food, shelter, and clothing, compared to our emotional needs like human connection, personal space, laughter, or emotional release takes effort. It is far too easy to manipulate ourselves with the idea that wants or reactions stem from needs, or that we need something from one particular person. If one can be physically and mentally healthy without it, then it is probably not a need.
When our needs are unmet, we often become reactive. As discussed in another article, reactions stem from the brains misdirected fight or flight response: the brain equating stress as danger. Reactions to emotions do not arise in an unconscious effort to meet literal needs. In essence, reactivity is the result of the brain’s unconscious effort to meet irrational needs (i.e. safety from danger that is not there).
There is a victim pattern buried somewhere in there; the panic-stricken brain’s logic is markedly codependent. Blaming external stressors for one’s reactivity follows the codependent thinking that outside variables, people, circumstances, etc are responsible for an individual’s feelings.
In that moment, the need is not relief from danger; the actual need is for an individual to remind themselves that they are safe, returning to conscious, rational thinking, and the ability to choose how to respond.
The inconsiderate form of selfish behavior discussed earlier often takes the shape of those reactions, masked as an effort to meet needs. An example, if you’ve ever been so stressed with work or school that you absolutely needed a friend or partner to stop what they were doing to listen to you vent, and in their unavailability (likely because they were stressed with their own work) you may have felt rejected or abandoned, only heightening that stress.
There is not a measure of whose life is more stressful, or whose needs are more important. Requiring someone to abandon their needs in order to care for someone else’s brings us back to codependent thinking. Personal truths are not universal. This is the catch to this self-loving form of selfish.
Relationships, friendships, interactions, and any other form of social connection involves at least two people, both of which are responsible for how they show up in dialogue. If someone’s selfishness requires another person to abandon their needs, it is probably inconsiderate. Healthy, conscious pursuit of needs recognizes that being ‘selfish’ is not without consequence when it involves other people.
Others may be upset with the way we handle situations, regardless if our actions come from self-love or inconsideration. Worse yet, they may handle their emotions from reactionary places. Regardless of how they react, it is our goal to respond appropriately. With a conscious connection to self, self-loving behavior does not include reacting from malice or belittling the needs of another. It requires not taking responsibility for another person’s feelings. If we employ conscious communication and our intent is clear, another’s reaction is outside of our control. We must accept those terms of interaction, taking action where we decide it is healthy for us.
We have a chance to build a connection with our selves, allowing self-understanding by being selfish. The word must be de-stigmatized. In the healthiest way, we must put our needs first in our day-to-day actions and shake off those people-pleasing tendencies. We must speak and act on our truths from the most authentic place. This does not mean disregarding the needs of others. With conscious decision making, we can understand the motives of our behavior, determining if we are acting from healthy self-love, or reacting from self-manipulation. It is up to each person to decide how they wish to show up for themselves and in relation others. In that conscious selfishness, there is freedom.
Be selfish. Love yourself.
Heather Rashal, LMHC
407-657-8555 ext 6
Winter Park, FL