6 Times It’s Perfectly OK to Be Selfish

Prioritizing yourself is a good thing.

woman laying in a hammock

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The word “selfish” often conjures up negative connotations, and in many cases it’s best to steer clear from self-centered behavior. At the same time, there are numerous instances that call for us to look inward and prioritize ourselves above those around us. 

“If we’re constantly giving our time and energy to others without being intentional about giving time and energy to ourselves, we run the risk of becoming so drained that we put our physical, mental, and emotional health in jeopardy,” explains therapist Michelle Felder, LCSW.

What’s more, avoiding self-care can also cause us to lose sight of our own needs and makes it more difficult to give to those we care about most. Felder says that if we want to provide patience, compassion, kindness, and warmth to others, then we must show ourselves these things first. 

Sometimes it can be difficult to know when to lean into “selfishness.” Ahead, we’ve outlined six times when being “selfish” is actually a boon to yourself.

1

You Haven’t Had a Moment to Yourself in a While

Alone time plays a key role in our mental health. It allows for personal exploration, can foster creativity, and can help us refuel our energy tanks when we do spend time with others. If you haven’t taken the time to focus on yourself in a while, carve out an evening, a weekend, or even a few hours just for you. 

Felder says, “I suggest creating this time regularly so that you can be sure to avoid depleting yourself before you realize you need to fill yourself up.” 

2

You’re Feeling Socially Burnt Out

Enjoying events, get-togethers, and social bonding are all wonderful. However, over-investing in social activities can cause us to feel burnt out. Sometimes we may even betray ourselves by saying yes to something when all we want to do is say no. In these conflicting moments, it’s OK to be selfish and say something like: “That sounds like so much fun, but I’m not able to join this time.”

3

You’re On Vacation

The literal definition of vacation is "an extended period of leisure and recreation." Whether you're enjoying a staycation, enjoying a quick local getaway, or traveling for a longer period of time, it's important to step away from work and home life responsibilities. 

“It does not serve us to accumulate earned time off to not take it,” says Chimere G. Holmes, LPC. “Make sure you take time away because you earned it and can only recharge and refuel after stepping away from the daily grind.” 

A 2018 study found that even short vacations can improve stress levels. Participants in the study noted that after three days, they felt better physically, had better sleep quality, and had an improved mood. Interestingly, these benefits were still present five weeks later.

4

You’re Working Toward a Goal

It’s common to feel selfish or narcissistic for striving toward a big goal, but self-development and self-improvement are integral to our well-being. Maybe we’re putting more energy into our career, looking inward toward family versus social friendships, or working toward a health goal that requires an hour or two of our time every day. 

“When you advocate for your emotional needs, you are empowering yourself,” explains Hillary Schoninger, LCSW. “It is not selfish to ask for that raise or advocate for whatever you require. If what you seek will help you while not harming others, you’re practicing ‘healthy selfishness.’”

5

You’re Celebrating an Accomplishment

Speaking of goal-setting, another perfectly normal time to practice “selfishness” is when you’re celebrating a major accomplishment. Schoninger says that, looking from the outside in, we might think of people celebrating personal milestones as narcissistic. 

However, we don’t have to view our own (or others’) achievements in this light. “When we can celebrate beautiful things in our lives we show our authentic presence, which does not have to be labeled as being an unhealthy narcissism,” she says. 

What's interesting is that studies have found that celebrating our own successes "out loud" can have a positive impact on others. When cheering yourself on, it gives others permission to do the same.

6

You’re Dealing With a Life Challenge

Challenging moments will occur throughout our lives, and these are moments when practicing self-care are critical to our well-being. This is not limited to experiencing loss, entering or exiting a relationship, having children or going into “empty nest,” dealing with a diagnosis, or going through other significant changes. 

Practicing “selfishness” in these moments might look like stepping away from our responsibilities, leaning on others, asking for help, and taking more solo time to be introspective. Communicate your needs and do what you need in order to work through confusing emotions such as grief, strife, or frustration.

A Word From Verywell

Taking time for yourself allows you to find greater balance across all aspects of your health and well-being. Selfishness can help you tune into yourself so you're not only aware of your needs, but also able to meet them in a healthy way. In doing, so you ensure your cup is full and that you have plenty to spare for those you love most.

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2 Sources
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  1. Blank C, Gatterer K, Leichtfried V, Pollhammer D, Mair-Raggautz M, Duschek S, Humpeler E, Schobersberger W. Short vacation improves stress-level and well-being in German-speaking middle-managers-a randomized controlled trial.

  2. DeSteno D. Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2018.