Growing up, we’re taught being selfish is wrong and being selfless is right – and for the most part, they’re good rules to live by. But in some circumstances, being selfish – that is, thinking of yourself before anyone else – is the best thing you can do, not just for you but for other people.
So often we hear that “self care” and “self love” are important – but isn’t selfishness valid, too? “People can get on board with self love and self care but as soon as you say selfish, people say that’s too much,” says Michelle Elman, author of The Joy of Being Selfish.
“And that’s because of the part of the definition that concentrates on disregarding other people’s needs. But in order for you to focus on your own needs, it’s actually essential to disregard other people’s needs.”
Elman gives the following example: if you’re feeling burned out and need to recoup at the weekend, you will have to place your need for rest higher than your boss asking you to do that extra piece of work.
“For too long, we have used ‘selfless’ as the greatest compliment to give a woman and this needs to come to an end,” she says. “A woman shouldn’t have to disregard themselves in order to be praised by society.”
Here are five times being selfish is good for you – and other people.
1. When you are burned out. “If this happens, it’s because you haven’t been selfish enough,” says Elman .“You need to actually realise you deserve to rest and that rest is important to actually be able to be productive.”
2. When no one can make a decision. You know when you’re trying to decide what you want for dinner and no one can make a decision? (Okay, perhaps not during Covid times, but you know what we mean). “Save your friends the hour long ‘I don’t mind’ conversation and actually say what you want to eat!”
3. When you decline an invitation. We often feel pressure to say yes even when we don’t want to, says Elman, but if you’re selfish and only agree when you want to go, it’s a higher compliment when you do decide to show up. “No host wants people to attend simply because they feel obligated to,” she says. Plus, everyone will have a better time if everyone involved is socialising because they want to be there – not because they feel they have to.
4. When you care for yourself in a relationship.“Being selfish in romantic relationships means it removes that job off your partner’s to-do list – to look after you or guess what you may ‘need’ to feel fulfilled,” she says. When you’re selfish, you take care of your own needs and you’re more able to communicate it. It’s that age-old foundation of not relying on others to keep you happy.
5. When you don’t take on a friend’s emotional load. Elman believes it is everyone’s responsibility to look after their own emotions. “You do someone a disservice when you take care of all of their emotions for them,” she says, “and it sends an implicit message they’re not capable of taking care of themselves. As a result they never learn how to cope and process their own emotions.”
The Joy of Being Selfish by Michelle Elman is published by Welbeck, £14.99.