How to Tell the Difference Between Selfishness and Self-Preservation

Selfishness is an ugly word. It’s something we try to avoid because we know that being self-serving is the opposite of why we were put on this Earth. But there comes a point in our lives and relationships when it's time to put ourselves first and realize what we deserve.

I’m one of those people who care deeply about others. My mom would say it’s to a fault, but I’m an INFP personality type so I can’t help it. I always try to see the good in everyone, and I use that as an excuse to allow myself to be treated as less than I am or less than I deserve. So, the idea that it is okay to put myself first is a difficult concept for me. I think that most people like me find it extremely tough to understand that even though we’re meant to care about others, it is possible to do so and also care about ourselves at the same time.

Granted, it is difficult to differentiate between selfishness for the sake of it, and selfishness for mental well-being. So for those who need the extra encouragement in plain English, like me, here it is:

  • It is okay to walk away from someone who needs you and always puts their needs above yours.
  • It is okay to pull away from someone who only notices your absence.
  • It is okay to “ghost” someone who only needs or misses you when they are drunk, sad or lonely.
  • It is okay to decide that you deserve better.
  • And it is okay to decide that you are important.

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You should never feel obligated to put yourself down in order to see someone else for what they may never be. We all have value, and for my fellow feelers, we need to feel comfortable valuing ourselves. It is not selfish to understand your own worth and work towards finding others who understand your worth.

Being in any form of a relationship that requires you to sacrifices pieces – large or small – of yourself for someone else, particularly when they are unwilling or unable to do the same, is unhealthy and potentially unsafe. It is so important to understand that it is okay to pull away, walk away, regroup and decide that you deserve more.

If you struggle with this concept like I do, then put it in terms that you can swallow. You can’t help someone else get back to 100% if you are not 100% yourself. You can’t help someone else when you’re struggling yourself. It is unsafe and unhealthy (repetition for emphasis, right?) to attempt to save someone else so much that you lose yourself in the struggle. I think a lot of people assume that it’s easy to be caring and kind-hearted. But in truth, it takes a lot of effort and thick skin. People take advantage of the kindness, and the longer you put someone else first, the easier it is to be taken advantage of. This does not mean that you should flip a switch and be cold and unfeeling. Understand that life is a balancing act. It’s okay to choose whether or not to answer a phone call or respond to a text, and you MUST be willing to accept it if you are on the flipside. It’s a two-way street.

Don’t make a habit out of selfishness, but don’t make a habit out of self-sacrifice either.