Learning How to Be Selfish

I have a dear friend, and she has a serious problem:  she has no clue how to put herself first!

For a myriad of reasons, which I won’t disclose here, she has spent most of her life taking care of everyone around her.  At a fairly young age, she took on responsibilities that a lot of adults couldn’t even handle.  Through it all, she’s found a way to make herself a success—but at a cost to her personal health and general wellbeing.

When she came to me for help, my first thought was that she needed to learn how to tell everyone to fuck off. Well, not exactly in those words.  But as a friend, I’ve listened to her complaints over the years and—I’m just being honest here—a lot of her problems begin with the fact that people take advantage of her kindness.  They take more from her than they ever give.  And should she ever dare to stand up for herself, all hell breaks loose. Suddenly she’s a bad friend, or a horrible daughter.  My answer to that? Simple. Go to hell.

If you know anything about me, it’s that I’m pretty darn selfish.  I’m not selfish with my belongings. You can have some of whatever I’m eating, you can borrow my shoes (just try not to stretch them out. I have baby feet.), you can even have some cash if you need it and I have it to spare.  However.  I am extremely selfish with my time.  I do what I want to do, when I want to do it. I operate according to my own schedule, and I have little patience for people who cause me to deviate from that schedule.  This usually means that I carve out a lot of time to do the things that bring me joy: practicing yoga, reading, writing.

A lot of this attitude stems from my childhood. I was blessed with parents who really indulged me and gave me quite a bit of freedom to explore what interested me.  They exposed me to a lot and allowed me to continue learning what appealed most to me. I loved dance, but hated tennis. So they cut the tennis lessons and enrolled me in extra ballet classes.  I loved books, but detested dolls (don’t ask, they freak me out).  So they took me on weekly trips to the library, and ordered books for me on a monthly basis.  They let me just be myself.  They taught me what it was like to truly enjoy my time, so it became precious to me.  I guard it ferociously. This is why I don’t generally do OT at work, but that’s an entirely different story.

Anyway.  I have no problems figuring out what I need and getting rid of anyone who does anything, anything at all, to disturb the delicate balance I’ve created for myself.  Thus, I’m super happy that Jo came to me. I’m no expert, but I’m the perfect person for this job.


Step One


Believe, wholeheartedly, that you deserve to be put first.

It starts with the belief.

You have to believe that you deserve good things. You deserve to be taken care of properly. You deserve to feel good about yourself and your body. You deserve to get the rest you need.  You deserve to be pampered and loved.

Remind yourself of this every day.


Step Two


Determine what you need and what you desire.  Then make fulfilling your needs and desires your first priority.

So you know how when you’re on an airplane awaiting takeoff, and the flight attendants come out and pantomime what actions to take in the hopefully unlikely event of an emergency?  What do they always say?

 “If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your oxygen mask on first, and then assist the other person.”

Why do they say this? BECAUSE YOU ARE OF NO USE TO ANYONE (yourself included) IF YOU ARE DEAD.

You have to take care of yourself FIRST before you can take care of anyone else.  There is no other way to put this.

Figure out what you want in your life. Figure out what you need. Then go out there and make those things happen.  Exercise self-care. Make time for the things that soothe you.  Allow into your life only the people who show you how much they care.  People who truly love you will help you to do this. Because if they love you, they will want you to be happy and healthy.


Step Three


Learn how to say NO.

For someone like my friend, who is helpful to every human being, animal, and alien she meets, this is crucial.  (Are you listening, Johara???)

If you don’t want to do something that someone asks of you, don’t do it.  Don’t agonize about doing it. Don’t do it grudgingly and get mad at yourself for wasting your time doing something that you never wanted to do in the first place.

Just say no.

Practice it.


Just say it. “No.”  Feel the word in your mouth. It probably feels strange.  You’re not accustomed to saying it, I know.  Now say it again.  Say it loudly this time. Say it so that you feel its vibration through your ribcage. Say it so that anyone who hears you understands, “She just told me no.”

Also.  When you tell someone no, and they are not used to hearing that from you, they may be shocked into silence. This is good. They may also try to reason with you. Don’t let them. Look at them and say calmly, “I already told you no. This discussion is over.”


Step Four


Don’t feel bad for saying NO.

Remember why you said no in the first place. You didn’t want to be involved with whatever it was they asked.  Complying with the request would have seriously inconvenienced you, or worse, placed a significant strain on your health.  Whatever the reason, it was your decision. You said no because you were taking care of yourself.  Do not ever feel bad for putting yourself, your needs, and your desires first.

Furthermore, you are not responsible for coddling adults who have the capability to care for themselves.  Do not let anyone lay a guilt trip on you.



This is all I can think of for now, but I think I hit the important things.

Do you guys have anything else to add?


2 thoughts on “Learning How to Be Selfish

  1. Great advice. I would just add as sort of a corollary to step 2: Be open to receive support with whatever’s in alignment with your needs – learn to say “yes” literally, and spiritually, to what’s offered in support. I find those who have issues saying “no” when someone “needs” them also have issues saying “yes” when someone offers assistance. Self-care isn’t always going to be solo-care. This post is an example of just that.

  2. Pingback: Signs | Breathe. Write. Shine.

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