Why is healthy selfishness so important?
Selfishness, healthy selfishness, and altruism – you have to deal with all of them several times a day. Either with yourself or with your social environment. The gradation here is from being in love with yourself in egoism, the right measure of self-love in the middle to selflessness in altruism. But both extremes are unhealthy. Either at the expense of others in selfishness or at the expense of yourself in altruism.
Especially people who have a “helper syndrome”, are emphatic and self-reflective or generally prefer to give rather than to take. They often have to struggle with this issue. They are mostly part of the altruists, are often exploited, and especially suffer from the egoists. In my blog post, I’ll tell you why the golden mean is worth striving for!
Selfishness vs. altruism
Egoism is a term that tends to have negative connotations in our society. An egoist is primarily concerned with himself and his own gain. For him, the world revolves around him. Everything else is put on the back burner. Often egoists also tend to have a taker attitude. Meaning, they rather take than give. Typical synonyms for selfishness are high self-love, narcissism, egocentrism, or egoism. Here, the “Me” comes first.
In contrast to this are the “givers”, the selfless, the altruists. It makes them happy to make others happy. Doing others a favor or helping them when they can. In addition, they are usually very emphatic. This includes many people who have a kind of “helper syndrome”, even if they act out of a “selfish” desire to do something good. They care about their friends and family. Caring is probably one of the purest forms of love towards other people because here the “Me” is of secondary importance. Nevertheless, both extremes are unhealthy in the medium and long term, for you and/or for those around you.
What is healthy selfishness?
Healthy egoism is the mediocrity of self-love and empathy: Your needs and desires are at least as important to you as those of those around you. Since it is still important to you that your loved ones are doing well. At the same time, you don’t lose sight of yourself.
The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to take time for myself. I also have a strong tendency towards the “helper syndrome”. Not for nothing, I am nicknamed “Mother Teresa”. It’s just important to me that everyone around me is fine. If I can help and make others happy, then I love to do that, too.
But sometimes, I am making one big mistake: I neglect myself. It is often even more important to me that the others are doing well. Since I feel like I can cope better with not being well than having someone else around me feeling miserable. That is not to be demonized per se, but in the long run, I’ll fall by the wayside. I’m always there for everyone, but I don’t take enough time for myself. Time for me, the so-called “Me-Time”, which is actually so important. Time for my personal self-care to recharge my batteries. Since how should I give energy to others when I have no reserves at all?
This is exactly where “healthy egoism” comes into play: the mediocrity between egoism and altruism. For me, healthy selfishness means being at least as caring for myself as for others. I’ll tell you what helps me personally. And as I said: I’m learning that too!
My 3 tips for healthy selfishness
1. Work on your self-esteem!
How much do you value yourself? What is your time worth to you? “Time” is something so precious. Ultimately, everything depends on what we make time for. At the same time, we always have to decide against something else. If you take time for someone else, that automatically is on your own time’s expenses.
Appreciation and gratitude are essential for me. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in friendships or in other relationships. Nothing can be taken for granted. Not even you. Appreciate yourself! Be grateful for all that you have achieved in your life so far. Everything you did, what you got through. How many low blows have you had so far in your life and how often have you got up again? Quite a few, probably, because very few of us are spared.
In our daily expectations, we all too often forget what we have actually achieved so far. As you learn to value yourself, you will be less “dependent” on the outside appreciation. This includes self-confidence, self-respect, and also self-love. Admittedly, it’s a really tough exercise, I speak from experience!
2. Learn to say “no” and set limits!
It’s okay to say “no” once in a while! Especially when it doesn’t feel good to you. That is precisely what is very difficult for more altruistic people. Learn to listen to your gut instinct. Because often it tells you something different than your head or your helper syndrome. Helping is still important, but only if it is not at your expense! Your gut feeling wouldn’t deceive you if someone really needs your help. Of course, then you can and should still help and be there for others!
Of course, you can always offer your help in theory. But you should also ask yourself if you really want that! First, ask yourself how it feels to you? Completely regardless of the wishes of others. Then you can still wonder what others might think of it. Self-esteem is primarily about getting to know yourself and your needs better and defining limits. No matter what others might think of it. In the beginning, you will offend many who are used to your helping. This is also a good indicator of who really wants the best for you. Since those who are interested in your well-being will be happy that you vouch for yourself and your needs. On the other hand, the “energy suckers” are more likely to feel offended.
Who are you when no one else is looking?
You also learn to differentiate between those who perceive and appreciate your help – in whatever way. That can also be a simple but honest “thank you” because the simple awareness is often enough. You’ll realize who does not appreciate you and who makes you feel like being exploited or used.
A little digression
Here is a very banal example. I keep getting asked by others if I could repost something on Instagram so that they have more reach. In theory, I could, yes. But do I really want that? Especially when there are people who don’t even think it’s necessary to support me with a like or comment. Or write to me once a year to ask how I am actually doing. Sometimes I wonder if impudence wins or if they don’t question themselves at all. And would they do the same for me? No, probably not – because they probably wouldn’t have any profit from that. There it is again: egoism.
Saying “no” can also be very liberating! Especially on the way to healthy egoism.
Since every “no” is also a “YES!” to you, to your me-time, to yourself.Rosa Lazić
I have already published an article on the subject of “Friends Discounts” on MEDIUM for some further digression. 🙂
3. You don’t ALWAYS have to be there for everyone else!
Would they be there for you if you really needed them? Be honest: Who can you really call in the middle of the night? And yes, it’s perfectly okay to say “no” once in a while. Just like the question: What do I get out of it anyway? Would the person do the same for me?
And no, you shouldn’t put everything on the gold scales now. That’s not the point. You should learn a healthy balance between giving and taking. Friendships and relationships are seldom balanced. In some phases giving outweighs and in others receiving. But if it has reached a level at which you no longer feel comfortable, it burdens you or you are even unhappy about the situation. Then, you should change something. And not only for the sake of you, but also for your relationship or friendship.
Healthy selfishness is related to good self-esteem
“Me-Time” is the expression for the time for yourself. Time in which only you are important. Just you and your needs. The time when it’s all about you. Especially nowadays, when we are always available, we are everywhere and nowhere. People with a “helper syndrome” suffer from this particularly. They are there for everyone, but often too little for themselves. But especially in the time when it is only about you and your needs, you can recharge your energy tanks. It doesn’t matter whether you go to yoga or exercise, meditate, draw a bath or masturbate.
It’s all about you. No one else. This is probably the best time to get to know yourself. You have time to question yourself and your actions, to reflect on yourself. Just moments of being alone will bring you much closer to yourself. You will get to know yourself better. And once you take pleasure in it, it will also be easier for you to stand up for yourself and your values. And saying “no” to unimportant things is also a “yes!” to more time for yourself!
Make someone smile every day, but never forget you are someone too.
Batson, C. D./O’Quin, K./Fultz, J./Vanderplas, M./Isen, A. M. 1983: Influence of self-reported distress and empathy on egoistic versus altruistic motivation to help, in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 45, 1983, No. 3, pp. 706–718.
Hu, Y.-A./Liu, D.-Y. 2003: Altruism versus Egoism in Human Behavior of Mixed Motives – An Experimental Study, in: The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 62, No. 4, pp. 677-705.
Schulz, A. W. 2016: Altruism, egoism, or neither: A cognitive-efficiency-based evolutionary biological perspective on helping behavior, in: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Vol. 56, 2016, pp. 15-23.