Why It’s Not Selfish to Put Yourself First

I am mine, before I am ever anyone else’s.

George J. Ziogas
Feb 25 · 10 min read
Photo by Ava Sol on Unsplash

To say the odds were stacked against the late American self-help author and motivational speaker, Wayne Dyer, would be an understatement. He was an orphan who spent his childhood bouncing between foster homes.

Nonetheless, he was able to earn a Ph.D. in educational counseling and become a professor. He then wrote his first book, Your Erroneous Zones, which eventually sold a whopping 35 million copies.

But his journey from orphanhood to best-selling author wasn’t a smooth one. At first, his book sold only 5,000 copies, which he considered a failure. But rather than give up, he decided to buy all of the unsold books from his publisher and go on a cross-country adventure, visiting bookstores in person to convince them to sell his book.

To market his book, he also tried to appear on national television, only to be rejected by the producers of every show he approached. But once again, he refused to give up. Instead, he drove from station to station and promoted his book face-to-face. Thanks to his tenacity and prioritizing himself, he was able to take his initial sales numbers and multiply them by 7,000!

It’s selfish. How can you even think about putting yourself first when you have a spouse to love and children to look after?

That’s a myth that society has sold us. The very idea that looking after yourself is a selfish act is dangerous. You prioritize the interests, desires, and needs of the people that you love. That only makes sense because you want the best for them, you want them to be happy, to feel understood and heard.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t love yourself. In fact, we should be trying to cultivate more of those feelings in ourselves rather than always doing it for others.

But what does that really mean?

By taking care of your needs first, you allow the care that you offer others to come from inner abundance. It means that you can be a more giving person by putting yourself first.

Perhaps the myth has been perpetuated by the fact that most people believe that they have to forget about themselves to truly love others. So we allow resentment to build, we feel frustration and don’t discuss it, which then results in hurt for ourselves and the people around us.

Making You A Priority

To be your best and give your best, you have to prioritize yourself, over everything and everyone.

Let’s take a look at the reasons and benefits of doing so:

Love is All Around

You know how you want the best for the people in your life? Well, they want that for you too. So just imagine how much better your relationships will be when you put yourself first and feel your best mentally, emotionally, and physically. Just think about how much better you feel after a full night’s sleep, when you eat well, exercise, and socialize. When you don’t do those things, you feel irritable, and that’s generally taken out on the people you love. Looking after yourself is looking after others.

Avoid Burn Out

Everything feels like a chore when you’re overworked, stressed out, and on the brink of burn out. Even if it’s sitting down to take a break or meeting a friend. Things that should be fun feel like too much work because you’re exhausted. You can’t give it your all and fuel it with your positive energy when you’re all out of fuel. Burn out depletes serotonin, and without this happy hormone, it’s difficult to push on. Your brain chemistry is working against you and literally stealing your joy. Sometimes you need to just say no in order to prevent burn out, even if you’re saying no to something that sounds fun.

The Requirement of Rest

Rest and recreation seem like a treat, but it isn’t optional, it’s a requirement. With a never-ending to-do list, it’s vital that you learn to rest. It’s easier to say yes, because saying no creates conflict, and as people-pleasers, we naturally want to keep the peace. But that’s only going to fuel burn out. Your body will kick into survival mode if you don’t rest enough. A lack of sleep will increase your stress hormone levels and just fuel your stress. When one area of you is overextended, every part of you suffers because your brain will drag reinforcements in from other areas.

Overextending Yourself Makes You Sick

Don’t underestimate how exhaustion, stress, and anxiety affect you physically. Think of stress as an alarm system. It’s telling you that you’re on thin ice. Stress is your body’s fight or flight response and it’s preparing you for a challenge by drawing resources to help you survive it. When your life is on the line, stress is a great thing. But when you live in a chronic state of stress and anxiety, your body is overworking itself. The chain reaction it causes steals resources from other parts of you, wearing you down and inviting disease and sickness into your life.

An Energy Imbalance

It’s often said that animals (and babies) can sense your energy and anxious owners make anxious pets. When you’re happy others notice, just like they feel your anger and frustration. It doesn’t require an extreme emotion for others to absorb it. For example, when you walk into the office in the morning and your boss is in a bad mood, you can feel it immediately. The best thing that you can do for yourself then, is to learn how to manage your stress, which means putting yourself first. So learn to listen to your body.

What Putting Yourself First Really Means

Putting yourself first means that you have the energy and the mental strength to support others when they need it. But you’re probably still feeling as though prioritizing yourself is selfish. So start by thinking about selfishness on a scale. On one end there is 100% selflessness and on the other 100% selfishness.

You don’t want to be at either end. So rate yourself on the scale. Where are you right now? How can you move yourself on the scale to create more balance? You mightn’t think of yourself as selfless, but when you think about how much you do for others versus how much you do for yourself, the picture will become clearer.

Moving Forward

To move forward, you have to reframe what selfishness really means. Extending compassion to yourself isn’t selfish. You must believe that you’re worthy of happiness and self-care. You deserve pleasure and you need to make it a priority.

Life is short, so it’s important that we enjoy it and have as much fun as physically possible. To enjoy things like a meal with friends or kick back with a massage, make yoga class, enjoy a date night with your partner or to say no to something to give you time to do nothing, you must manage stress. And the key to stress management is in putting yourself first.

You leave yourself unhappy, exhausted, and depressed when you don’t put yourself first. Sometimes you say yes because something sounds fun, but you don’t have the time or energy to truly commit to it and it ends up being a chore. Saying no might be difficult, but it could be the biggest favor you ever do for yourself.

Saying yes to everything can leave you in a state of anxiety. As you try to be absolutely everything to literally everyone, you make yourself ill. You take on extra responsibilities at work because your boss relies on you and you want to impress them.

But you can’t do it all in working hours, so you take that extra work home. Suddenly, you’re snowed under with work and it’s impacting your home life. You’re setting yourself up for failure and starving yourself of the self-care that you deserve.

You’re always tense, your body hurts, and even though you feel like you’re in desperate need for a massage, you feel guilty about taking time out to book one.

Every single second of your day is accounted for and it’s attending work, running errands, visiting parents, grandparents, dealing with kids, shopping, cooking and cleaning.

But what about you? There’s no downtime and you’ll eventually reach a breaking point.

You Can Heal And It Starts By Putting Yourself First

You might be thinking that things aren’t that bad for you at this point, but they can quickly spiral out of control if you don’t learn to practice self-care and put yourself first.

When you put yourself first there’s more time, there’s more energy, more freedom, more happiness, and you can actually enjoy life again.

When you consistently put yourself at the bottom of your list, it’ll affect your health. When it does eventually impact your health, it’ll impact your job, business, and loved ones. If you continually refuse to slow down, then your body will eventually turn on you and fuel chronic stress, which can kill.

You also lose your identity when you put yourself last. This is something that often happens to women, particularly mothers. It’s easy to lose yourself when you constantly prioritize your children. It can make you feel lost and resentful.

In fact, you may feel like a doormat. But you can’t blame others for treating you this way when you failed to create boundaries for others to follow. Others will treat you how you treat yourself.

For parents, you know the pressure. You’re a role model to your children and you don’t want them to ignore their needs. If you were to watch your life play out for your children, would it make you happy or would you be mad at the position they were in?

If you have a romantic partner, then you’ll know how much your relationship suffers when you burn out. Your partner needs you to put yourself first. They need you to look after yourself in order for your relationship to prosper.

Are you now starting to understand just how important it is to put yourself first?

Well, let’s take a look at how you can do that.

Choose a couple of things from the list below and implement them to see how much freedom and energy they provide you with:

Better Boundaries

Boundaries are important and it’s up to you to set and enforce them. Teach the people around you that you have boundaries and you won’t accept people overstepping. It’ll take time, but don’t give up if it doesn’t go well from the start. It’s a change for them too, so it may take time for them to take heed of your new demands.

Be Assertive

Do you assume someone knows what you’re thinking or feeling? That they know what you need or want. Well, no one’s a mind reader so you need to improve your communication skills and learn to be more assertive. You have to tell people what you need or want and let them know how they can help you achieve that.

Stop People Pleasing

Are you a people pleaser? You need to learn how to say no and let go of the guilt it makes you feel. Don’t accept guilt trips from others, put your foot down when you need to.

Me Time

You schedule everything else in your life so why wouldn’t you write yourself into your calendar? Just ten minutes is a great way to start the process. Carve ten minutes out of your day to engage in an activity that you know recharges your batteries. It’s non-negotiable. Just treat it like an interview or an appointment that you can’t miss.

Cut Toxic Ties

Nothing consumes positivity and energy like toxic people. If you know any, distance yourself or cut those toxic ties. It’s more difficult to do if they’re related to you, but just because they’re blood doesn’t mean you should allow them to drag you into their negativity. You can’t fix them, so instead, aim to minimize your exposure to them.

Selfish Versus Selfless

Since society tells us being selfish is bad, there’s a stigma associated with the word. When someone calls you selfish it stings. It’s one of the worst insults anyone can hurl at you. When society talks about selfishness, they’re saying you don’t care about others.

Looking after yourself is not the same as hurting others or stealing their joy. You’re merely protecting your own joy, and your “selfishness” is allowing you to do more for others. While others may say it’s egotistical to practice self-care, the rest of us recognize how important it is to do for yourself as well as for others.

Naturally, we take on more than we can handle because we feel the need to help others. It’s nice that we want to help others and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But when it’s draining us of all our energy, we’re doing no one any favors.

You might continue to maintain relationships that are traumatic or harmful. It might be that you feel depressed or angry because you struggle to say no. You might take on other’s disputes or feel guilty about putting yourself first. But you can’t live like that, at least not happily.

With self-care becoming increasingly popular, now is a good time to have a full and frank discussion on prioritizing yourself. It flies in the face of the concept of selfishness. When a plane runs into distress and the oxygen masks drop, you put yours on first before you attempt to help anyone else. That’s an extremely appropriate life lesson.

How can you help others when you’re incapacitated? It’s more than just taking an hour out and slipping into a bubble bath. The key to self-care is recognizing when it’s appropriate to put yourself right at the top of your list, and for others to do the same.

Sometimes the most appropriate course of action is to go see the latest superhero movie or rom-com on your own and splurge on a delicious healthy breakfast, instead of something basic and boring.

There are small acts of self-care, as well as major ones. For some, it’s as simple as balancing the budget, for others there’s more to it. Ultimately, self-care is exercising your power by putting yourself first. How can you function properly in the world if you don’t allow yourself to be a priority in your own life?

Final Thoughts

No matter what you think of selflessness versus selfishness, you’ll eventually reach a point where you must look after yourself. If you don’t do so proactively, you’ll have to do so when you’re left with no other choice.

You wouldn’t demand your car to go when the gas tank is empty, so why do you expect any different from yourself? If you want to be a truly selfless person, then you have to start with yourself. When you take care of yourself, you’re more capable of taking care of others.

It isn’t selfish to put yourself first, it only makes sense. So don’t allow other people to accuse you of selfishness, and don’t accept that it’s egotistical to put yourself first. There’s an unselfish side of putting yourself first, and it’s all about striking a balance.

Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm…


How to be your best self.

George J. Ziogas

Written by

OHS Consultant | HR Professional | Personal Trainer | Manners will take you where money won’t |


How to be your best self.

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