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When It’s OK to Be Selfish

Self-care: We hear it all the time now — or, more accurately, see it on Instagram as skin care products, fizzy bath bombs, yoga poses, açai bowls, and more. But self-care is more than what’s commercialized on our social media feeds.

Self-care started as a way to physically take care of yourself. It then evolved into caring for your emotional well-being, and even more so the overall healing for women, people of color, and more marginalized communities.

Then why are we still feeling like self-care is selfish?

Maybe you’ve just called off dinner, declined an invite where your ex will be, or even just said no to anything. This might leave you feeling a little selfish or guilty.

It doesn’t matter that you’re emotionally and physically exhausted, or that your mental health is suffering. You might lie awake in bed, thinking about how you should have done something different or been better in some other way. Saying no feels like a failure, like you’re incompetent or unequipped to handle day-to-day life.

But if staying in helps you prioritize yourself and your own energy and healing, are you really being selfish?

When the word “selfish” comes to mind, it often sparks negative connotations at first. We think self-centered, self-serving, self-involved. And we’re supposed to avoid thinking only “me and my interests,” right? To instead try to live for the good of all humankind, since giving is taught as preferential to taking?

Even though it’s defined as being concerned with only your own personal pleasure and profit, as well as lacking consideration for others, we still think of selfish as the times when we’re simply putting ourselves first.

But we can’t see it in black and white. For instance, we’re told we need to adjust our own oxygen mask first before helping others in a plane emergency. Or to make sure the scene is safe for you before helping anyone who’s hurt. No one would call us selfish for following those instructions.

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Just like all things, there’s a spectrum. Sometimes the right thing is to be “selfish.” And just because someone defines something you’ve done as selfish (like opting out of their party), doesn’t mean you have to define it on their terms.

Sometimes being “selfish” isn’t a bad thing. There are times when being selfish is the right thing to do for your health and well-being. These are also times when taking care of yourself is necessary.

Here are some of those times:

1. You need help

Everyone needs help from time to time, but we often avoid seeking it. Whether we acknowledge it or not, sometimes asking for help can make you feel incompetent, weak, or needy — even if not asking for help means adding unnecessary stress.

But asking for help when you need it is important. If the stress of a work project is getting to you, ask a co-worker for assistance or delegate tasks. If you need companionship, ask a friend for support. If you need an unbiased outside voice, seek therapy.

2. You need to rest

When you’re feeling tired — it doesn’t matter if it’s emotionally, mentally, or physically — it’s time to rest. Sometimes, that just comes down to sleep.

There are a number of consequences to not getting enough sleep, including trouble focusing, a weakened immune system, and memory issues. Skipping too much sleep can even have a negative impact on your relationships. But we often feel like we have to keep going. Sometimes sleep isn’t at the top of our priorities.

But the fact is we need rest. If you’ve been working late and skipping sleep, it’s time to find some work-life balance. And the next time you choose to go home and sleep instead of grabbing drinks with friends, that’s OK. If that’s called selfish, it’s the kind you want to be.

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Resting doesn’t always mean sleeping, either. Whether your brain is feeling off-balance or you have a health condition flare up, consider it a sick day and take the time off. And don’t feel obligated to do the laundry since you’re at home. Read a book in bed, binge-watch a show, or take a nap.

If you’re feeling fatigued, exhausted, or in pain, it’s time to get some extra rest and not feel guilty about it. Rest is essential to any type of recovery.

3. You just need alone time

Some people might not get it when you choose staying home over going out. If that’s what you’re in the mood to do, don’t feel selfish for wanting to be alone.

We all need alone time sometimes, and some people need more than others. Social interactions can be exhausting for some people. There’s no shame in taking time for yourself.

If you’ve been going nonstop, your mood is all out of whack, or you need to reevaluate your relationships, now may be a good time to plan some alone time.

You don’t need to fill your calendar with social events unless you want to. Run a bath, unplug, and have that “me time” you’ve been craving.

4. It’s time to end a relationship, job, or living situation

It’s never easy breaking up with a significant other, moving to a new city, or quitting a job. If you feel bad when you interact with someone or dread encountering them again, it’s time rethink your relationship.

We often stay in friendships or relationships because we’re scared of hurting someone. But when it comes to relationships that are damaging, sometimes you need to put yourself first.

It’s not self-sustaining to continue a relationship — or job or anything, especially one that’s in any way abusive — that no longer…

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