Does Having Self-Esteem Make Me Selfish?
With all this talk about self-care and self-esteem these days, and with all the various responsibilities stacked up, it is easy to feel like taking time to care for oneself is a blatant act of selfishness. But is this a good way to think about it? Does having self-esteem make me selfish?
In general, the concept of being selfish is most commonly believed to refer to the exploitation of others for one’s own benefit. Having a disregard for the feelings or needs of others. Additionally, being primarily concerned with one’s own welfare, needs, and desires. Influenced by our Western culture, most of us have been raised to believe that being labeled a selfish person is a negative personality trait. It is considered to be a part of one’s character that is undesirable, unattractive and best not acquired.
Most people do not want to be labeled as being selfish. It is also important to note that the term selfish and self-centered often get confused. This confusion can lead to misunderstandings of not only how we perceive others, but how we perceive ourselves as well.
According to the dictionary, selfishness is defined as someone who engages in the act of accomplishing a personal goal. Quite differently, self-centeredness refers to someone who accomplishes personal goals by manipulating, or ignoring the needs of others. The difference may seem subtle. However, these are important concepts to distinguish between. They get to the heart of the intention of the goal-directed behavior.
Additionally, the concept of self-esteem plays an important role in distinguishing between selfishness and self-centeredness. Self-esteem refers to our ability to respect ourselves, to meet our own needs and value ourselves. Through loving and caring for our physical, emotional and psychological needs, through these esteem-able acts, we learn to love and value ourselves instead of relying upon the opinions of others.
“Selfish & Self-esteem” vs. “Selfish & Self-centered”
We want to strive for being selfish. However, only if that selfishness is linked to having self-esteem. Not being self-centered. “Selfish with high self-esteem” is a desirable cross section of traits to strive to achieve. This means having a healthy, nurturing, caring and respectful relationship with yourself. It does not mean that you are the center of the universe or the center of anything.
There is an interesting paradox here. The more you value, respect and care for yourself, the more others actually benefit. When you are well-rested, well-cared-for and well-loved by yourself, the more available you are to give of yourself and share with others. In other words, the more selfish self-esteem you have, the more other people will benefit from being around you.
Conversely, being “selfish and self-centered” is the kind of selfishness that is harmful. Both to ourselves and to others. Being selfish and self-centered means that we put ourselves in the center of everything. Then require that other people meet our needs and demands. Being selfish and self-centered means that our self-esteem becomes based solely on how much and how often other people serve us. The irony here is that quite often, self-centered people give to others. However, the motivation driving that ‘giving’ behavior is very often driven by manipulation.
Often, self-centered people feel so empty and unloved inside that they manipulate others into caring for them. They want others to fill the void of emptiness and lack of love they experience, and are unable to fill for themselves. People are seen through the lens of their usefulness. Or, what they can provide relative to the self-centered person’s goals. When other people fail to emotionally and psychologically nurture the selfish self-centered person, they are cast aside and no longer of any use. There are rare occurrences where they may choose to give of themselves to others. However, they do so not to nurture someone else, but only to get their own needs met.
Selfish and self-centered individuals typically lack self-esteem, that is, they lack self-respect, and self-love. They often feel inferior, lack confidence, and feel empty inside. They don’t know how to ask to have their needs met in a healthy and respectful manner. For them, the focus becomes externalized on controlling and manipulating others into meeting their needs.
Eventually, other people grow tired of being manipulated and being made responsible for the needs of self-centered people. People begin to gravitate away from the demands of self-centered people. In turn, that may have the effect of leaving them feeling abandoned, alone, chronically disappointed. Perhaps even, let-down by those they are trying to manipulate. It is individuals such as this who give the word ‘selfish’ a negative connotation. Theirs is the type of selfishness that is undesirable and damaging. Not only to one’s self but to the relationships they have with others as well.
So then to return to the original question. Does having Self-esteem make me selfish?
The answer: Yes, but in a positive and healthy way. Remember: the goal of ‘being selfish’ is positive, as long as it is based on self-esteem, not self-centeredness.
How do I become selfish in a healthy way?
No one can love you, and take care of you, better than you. Identify what you want and what you need. Make yourself responsible for taking care of yourself. Remember, the better you feel, and the more love you direct towards yourself, the more genuine love and care you can give to others.
Building and maintaining self-esteem is a daily job. Every day we must sit down with ourselves, get honest, and identify what we need: be it rest, positive affirmations, time alone, kindness etc. We must make a commitment to fulfilling those needs for ourselves, and a plan of action, independent of relying on others.
If we begin to neglect ourselves, we can easily, slip into that dangerous intersection of being selfish and self-centered. Consciously or unconsciously we begin to hold other people responsible for meeting our needs that we are neglecting to give ourselves. This often leads to resentment of others for not being able to sufficiently meet our needs. Perhaps even becoming more resentful when they leave us.
In order to nurture the relationship we have with ourselves, and with others in our lives, is to strive to be selfish: to achieve a sense of selfish self-esteem.
When we are selfish and have a high sense of self-esteem other people are not able to easily disappoint us. As a result, we feel loved, fulfilled and well cared for. Because we are interested, engaged, and curious about the world around us, we actively shape our reality. We enjoy knowing and feeling that we are able to meet our own needs. We have learned that we don’t need to ask for what we have already given ourselves.
Taking the time to engage in a little selfish self-esteem creates a win/win situation for everybody involved. It may be time for you to take a personal inventory; to get honest about your unmet needs, and go about crafting a plan to meet them. Often a task such as this would be aided by the unbiased and professional help of a licensed therapist.
If you, or someone you know is struggling with a mental health related issue, please call us at 949-629-3730 or click the chat button on our site. We will be happy to talk to you about how we can help or help find resources in your area.
Self-esteem check: Too low or just right? – Mayo Clinic Staff