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How To Be Selfish – In a Healthy Way

Lori Freson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

What do you think for when you hear the word selfish? For most of us, images of some jerk we know instantly come to mind. We think about someone who never thinks about anyone but himself and goes through life doing whatever he want with no regard for how it might affect others. But what if I told you had it all wrong? What if being selfish was actually a good thing? defines selfish as “devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.” With a definition like that, it’s no wonder that it holds such a negative connotation. But I think being “healthfully selfish” is important and healthy, even necessary, for one’s well-being.

Most of us know that if you’re not okay, you really are useless to others. You cannot perform well in your job, you cannot be a good partner, and cannot be a good parent if you neglect yourself and are not well. Much like when you are sick in bed with the flu, you aren’t able to function at your best, so it is true when you neglect your mental health and overall sense of well-being.

I’d like to offer my definition of “healthfully selfish”. Healthfully selfish means: devoted to or caring for yourself; concerned not only with everyone else, but also your own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., in order to be better able to also help others. Maybe this is a better approach to how we think about being selfish. Perhaps we can change the stigma to something for positive. After all, being selfish is not the same as being a narcissistic ass.

According to, a narcissist is “a person who is overly self-involved, and often vain and selfish”. I think it’s important to differentiate between narcissism and selfishness. As far as I’m concerned, being selfish is just a way of taking care of yourself, seeing to it that your needs are being met, and remembering that you are at least as important as everyone else. Narcissism is a way of being in the world where literally everything revolves around you and is about you. They just aren’t the same.

So, you might be asking how can you be healthfully selfish without seeming like a total jerk? Here is a list of ways to put yourself first sometimes in a healthy way.

  1. Learn to say no. Say no to your kids, say no to your friends, say no to being on that committee. Every time you say yes and commit to another thing you don’t really want to do, you’re melting away what little time you might carve away for yourself. Only say yes to the things that are truly meaningful to you.
  2. Take the easy way out sometimes. Yep, that’s what I said. You don’t have to be the parent that bakes everything from scratch or packs elaborate bento box lunches. But the cupcakes at the store, and send your kids to school with a sandwich. Use that extra time to relax.
  3. Leave your partner or mom or babysitter in charge. You don’t have to do it all, all of the time. Get away for a date night, time with friends, or a manicure.
  4. Live a healthy lifestyle. Make sleep, diet, and exercise non-negotiable. You will feel better if you make these priorities in your life, and everyone around you benefits from that.
  5. Find time for things you love. Even if it’s just a few minutes a day, read that book, take a bath, go for a walk, call a friend, watch TV or knit. It doesn’t really matter what it is, just that you value it and make time for it.
  6. Take a vacation. There is never a perfect time to take a vacation with work and family obligations. Do it anyway. It’s good for you and your family for you to get away and recharge once in a while. NOW is the perfect time.
  7. Indulge yourself once in a while. You work hard, so not every penny has to spent on others. Once in a while, you deserve to treat yourself to an outfit, a handbag, a massage, or something of the like.
  8. Stop doing everything for everyone. Do not continue to do things for others that they are capable of doing themselves. You do want to be able to launch our kids one day, and you are not your spouse’s parent, you’re their partner. They can all do their fair share.
  9. Ask for help when you need it. You do not need to be a super hero. Everyone needs help sometimes, and other people cannot read your mind. Ask for what you need, whether from your partner, your friends or your co-workers. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Nor should you.
  10. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Lighten up. As long as everyone’s basic needs are being met, you’re doing a great job. Nobody dies if your son’s shirt has a stain on it, or if you miss a birthday party. Enjoy life and don’t sweat the small stuff.


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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.