Is self-love selfish?
Is loving yourself, putting yourself first, taking time to recharge selfish? This is a question that has come up in numerous therapy sessions with numerous clients over the past month and one that is worth addressing. It seems to be a universal question and concern. My opinion… yes, self-love is selfish, but this isn't bad.
As a culture, we have established unwritten rules that state that putting others ahead of ourselves is what is right, noble and expected. Others needs must come before our own. Poor treatment by family, friends, coworkers, strangers are to be tolerated so as not to disrupt the status quo, despite the gravity it has on the individual. Parents are to constantly give to their children, all-the-while running on empty with nothing left to give. Helping others and, at times, putting others needs ahead of our own is a beautiful, wonderful act that makes this world a better place. At times, it is even necessary. It makes relationships stronger and more rewarding when we can give that level of love, appreciation and acceptance and know we will get it in return. But everything has to live within a balance. Putting others first becomes harmful when it is all we do and when we are no longer giving to ourselves in order to recharge our battery, accepting treatment that’s hurtful or abusive, and draining ourselves to please others.
It can be extremely harmful if we don't take the time to fuel and recharge ourselves. We are not an endless reservoir of love, giving, acceptance, tolerance, kindness, etc. We all have limits on how much we can give to others and if we aren't taking the time to recharge then we will run dry. If you have ever been on an airplane, you have heard the flight attendants talk about the importance of placing one's mask on first before attempting to help the people next to them. This rings true for self-love as well.
Self-love is setting boundaries around the treatment you will and will not accept. It's surrounding yourself with people who bring love and light into your world. It is knowing your worth and leaving the table when respect is not being served. It’s the understanding that you owe no one an explanation or justification for who you are. It is taking time to fuel your mind and soul with activities that make you feel excited and recharged. It’s making sure your body is taken care of by feeding it the nutrients and activity it needs to function. It is changing your thoughts so that they reflect the positives in your world and of yourself, rather than just the imperfections. Self-love is an act of courage, strength and bravery, as it requires loving oneself so fully that imperfections and negativity have no place in one’s world. It means having the courage to choose yourself over activities, relationships, jobs, emotions and thoughts that no longer serve you or contribute to your growth. These acts of self-love may mean the loss of relationships with people who cannot accept your personal growth due to their own discomfort. However, the people who truly love, support and want what’s best for you will be cheering your courageous act of self-love on from the sidelines with the understanding that your growth is their growth too.
Self-love is not only a selfish act, but also a selfless act. In order to continue to give to others we HAVE to be selfish enough to place
our mask on first. We HAVE to be selfish enough to take time to rest, fuel our minds and bodies, set boundaries around our time, accept the treatment we deserve, while rejecting the treatment we don’t, and learn to love ourselves first and foremost. Self-love is the foundation not just for personal growth, but growth in all areas of our lives. When we take care of ourselves then we bring a much more full, lively, loving version of ourselves to the relationships around us. We make better friends, family members, parents, coworkers, leaders, community members and role models. When we take care of ourselves first, we are better equipped to be present, engaged, loving and helpful to the people we care about the most. This is the version of ourselves that the people who love us want to be with and the people who we haven’t met yet want to meet. This is the version they love most, and we feel most at home with.
So, yes, loving yourself, putting yourself first, and taking time to recharge is selfish. But it is also selfless and requires a tremendous amount of courage to pursue. For when we are whole on our own, we experience a type of love no one else can supply us and give a type of love more unconditional than we otherwise could have given to those we hold dearest.