What is Healthy Selfishness and How Can You Practice It?

Healthy selfishness involves ensuring our own well-being first in order to help others. Here's how important it is and how to encourage it.
What is Healthy Selfishness and How Can You Practice It?
Maria Alejandra Morgado Cusati

Written and verified by the philosopher Maria Alejandra Morgado Cusati.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

We live in a society where the label selfish has a negative connotation. We’re taught that sacrifice for others denotes strength and genuine generosity from an early age, but nothing could be further from the truth. Have you ever heard of healthy selfishness?

The Royal Spanish Academy defines selfishness as “immoderate and excessive love for oneself, which makes one pay excessive attention to one’s own interests, without taking care of the interests of others.” However, many are unaware that there is a kind of selfishness that doesn’t seek its own pleasure at all costs, but instead pursues well-being without neglecting or harming others.

In this case, we’re talking about healthy selfishness. It implies the ability to take care of ourselves and do what we really want to do, without feeling guilty about it. This kind of selfishness is not only not wrong, but also very necessary. For if someone is not able to take care of themselves, they’ll hardly be able to help others.

Let’s take a closer look.

What is healthy selfishness?

The specialists on the subject, Richard and Rachael Heller, define healthy selfishness as the ability to “respect one’s own needs and feelings, even if others don’t… Especially if others don’t.”

In this sense, healthy selfishness involves taking care of oneself and paying attention to oneself in order to be available to others. If we don’t focus on ourselves and do things for our own well-being, we’ll hardly be able to take care of those around us without harming ourselves.

A fairly common and obvious example that reflects the lack of healthy selfishness is mothers who think of all the needs of others (children, partners, parents) and forget about themselves. In these cases, mothers don’t permit themselves to take time for themselves. And if they do, they feel guilty.

The personal neglect and guilt that these women feel are the product of the introjection of cultural beliefs. These beliefs dictate that a “good mother” should be entirely selfless, unconditional, and at the service of others. This is a very unhealthy belief we all need to watch out for.

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Factors that influence the absence of healthy selfishness

While society encourages people to turn all their efforts into their commitment and dedication to others while forgetting about themselves, it’s also true that other personal variables promote the absence of healthy selfishness.

Here are some of the most common ones.

El egoísmo sano implica decir que no.
Being able to stop certain practices that are labeled as altruistic but really hurt us is part of healthy selfishness.

A low self-esteem

Disproportionate dedication to others can come from low self-esteem. Therefore, to strengthen it, the person may do whatever it takes to earn the appreciation or love of others.
However, this is a bad investment. In the end, the person feels frustrated because they give a lot and receive little or nothing. In other situations when do they receive attention, it feels like purchased love.

Irresponsibility with one’s own life goals

On a more unconscious level, sacrifice can stem from a genuine fear of not being able to achieve one’s  dreams. Therefore, the perfect excuse is that they don’t have time because others need them.

Our society places a high value on those who sacrifice themselves for others. So if we do, we have an ideal unconscious pretext to hide our own illusions and fears. It’s easier to say, “I couldn’t get something because I dedicated my life to my family” than “I couldn’t get it because I didn’t know how.”

The benefits of practicing healthy selfishness

Encouraging healthy selfishness will help us with the following:

  • Strengthening self-love.
  • Being happier.
  • Improving your overall health. By prioritizing our needs, we help relieve stress and its consequences.
  • Feeling less guilt. If we say “no” to something we don’t want, we reaffirm our commitment to ourselves and not to others.
  • Supporting others more effectively. When we put ourselves first and take care of ourselves, we have more energy to help those around us.
  • Enjoying the present more.
  • Having better and healthier relationships.

Tips for encouraging healthy selfishness

Now that you know some benefits of healthy selfishness don’t wait any longer and put it into practice! Here’s how.

Identify your own needs

If we want to pay more attention to our needs, we first have to know what they are.

It may sound easy, but for some people, it’s not easy at all, especially for those who have become accustomed to meeting the needs of their family and friends.

To identify your needs ask yourself “What do I really want?” Take the time to listen.

Learn to say no

Collaboration, tolerance, and understanding are positive values as long as you can say no. 

In this sense, don’t say yes when you don’t want to. A thousand justifications only show that you’re not convinced of your full right to refuse.

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Find time for yourself

At least once a week, try to do activities for your personal enjoyment. This will help release tension. Identify what you would like to do if you had more free time. Then do it!

Mujer disfruta la vida con egoísmo sano.
Moments for you are spaces that recharge you with energy and allow you to enjoy life.

Delegate activities

When you start taking care of yourself more and say “no” to the requirements of others, you will indeed have to delegate the activities that you did to meet the needs of those around you. This will not only allow you to put yourself first, but also facilitate the autonomy of others.

In delegating some tasks, you’ll likely need to instruct the other person on how to do them. However, don’t interfere any further.

Dealing with fear and guilt

In closing, it’s important to be clear that if you’re working on healthy selfishness, you’ll likely find two saboteurs in your way: fear and guilt. It won’t be easy, but you must focus on what awaits you at the end of the journey.

When you manage to pamper yourself without feeling guilty, the feeling that will wash over you will be one of liberation.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Heller R,  Heller R. Egoísmo sano: cómo cuidar de uno mismo sin sentirse culpable. España: Urano; 2007.
  • Real Academia Española. Egoísmo [Internet]. Madrid: Real Academia Española; 2021 [revisado 1 oct 2021]. Disponible en: https://dle.rae.es/ego%C3%ADsmo

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.