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Why Self-Care is Not Selfish

Doing what is best for you is best for others, even if they don't agree

woman with flower
Photo by Erriko Boccia on Unsplash

I hate driving to LA. It's a long trip and as someone not used to LA freeway traffic, it's a jarring, anxious, and irritating experience. So when an extended family member asked for a ride to and from LAX, I cringed. I legitimately couldn't pick them up on the return, but I was available for the trip down there. What to do? On the one hand, they had done a lot for me and I would love to return the favor. On the other, a round trip to LA on a Friday night sounded like hell.

"Suck it up! Do something nice!" part of me said. But the other part was shaking her head.

"Remember the last time you drove to LAX when you didn't want to?"

I had gotten a flat tire and a lot of panic from my friend who nearly missed her flight.

The people-pleaser in me squirmed but I said no, offering to do whatever else they needed instead. Water plants? Check mail? Feed the cat? No problem. Yet almost as soon as I sent the text, I felt bad. Like really bad. I felt selfish.

But what does it mean to be selfish? Was it selfish of me to say no?

It occurred to me that "selfish" is one of our human judgment words that is used to impose a moral standard. It is a way we condemn one another (and ourselves) for prioritizing our own happiness.

Is it actually a bad thing to put our needs first or might "selfish" be an old concept reeking of judgment that doesn't have a place in our new world? If so, what concept might replace it?

The flaw of judgment

Would it have been nice to take them to the airport? Sure. But did it make me a bad, cold, uncaring person for not taking them? No, it didn't. In the same way that someone who feeds the homeless every week isn't automatically a saint. That is the flaw of judgment. It extrapolates meaning from behaviors and events and builds a story around it. It seeks to define and draw conclusions about someone and their character based on things they do or don't do.

Judgment is a lazy mental shortcut to label people and treat them as separate (and usually less than).

I was doing it to myself. I was condemning myself based on stories other people have told about me that I had believed and apparently not fully let go. Take my family. They made up their mind a long time ago that I'm a "cold fish," as my dad once said. They think I only care about myself and view everything I do through that lens no matter the actual circumstances, reasons I might have had for something, or positive outcome derived from it. Because I prefer not to be relentlessly judged and misunderstood, I keep clear of my family, which further strengthens their view.

Being triggered by this ask was an indication that there was still some part of me that saw me as my family does and was judging myself for it. If I was truly over it, the fear of being viewed as selfish, cold, or unkind for saying no wouldn't have entered my mind. I wouldn't have made this about anything other than me not wanting to go to LA. That I did load this up with stories and yet still said no, being honest about why I was saying no, represented progress.

Saying no was a rejection of the need to be deemed acceptable by others, the tendency to go along to get along, and the old labels I had gone into resonance with.

It was an act of self-care and self-kindness, which I rarely used to allow myself. It doesn't mean I only care about me, but it acknowledges that my happiness and wellbeing matter.

Rejecting redemption

Religion teaches us that it is morally superior to put the needs of others above our own, which is ironically rather self-serving. Cast as sinners from the day we are born, we are always seeking redemption for our inherent unworthiness. One of the ways we redeem ourselves and earn a spot in heaven on Judgment Day is to put ourselves last. Throwing some bills in the church basket doesn't hurt either. After all, only the selfish and greedy (another judgment word) keep what they have for themselves, which is convenient if you are in the business of taking donations or encouraging people to work for free. Or if you want to shame people into complying with state orders, like mask and vaccine mandates. Being labeled as selfish in our society is one of the worst stains and those in power use it to induce compliance. That should tell us something.

I am not speaking against acts of kindness, generosity, and goodwill. We all can recognize the benefit of such things and want to see more of that in our world. Nor am I suggesting there aren't behaviors that are detrimental to others or that we should be indifferent to the consequences of our actions. It is to draw a distinction between things we do out of obligation, a sense of inadequacy or unworthiness, or out of fear for being judged by other people or a god, and what comes from genuine love and a desire to be helpful. One feels heavy and burdensome, and is likely to lead to resentment when the reward one expected doesn't come the way he or she hoped. The other is uplifting and energizing. We may not love the activity, like helping a friend move, but we feel good about it because we haven't made it about anything other than helping out.

Agreeing to be the airport shuttle primarily would have been a redemptive act to try to prove my worthiness and prove my family wrong. I would have made the best of it, but I'd be bringing a frequency of lack into it, like I had some moral debt to pay, which can be an invitation for trouble. From a physics perspective, going against what is best for me and forcing myself to do something I strongly dislike lowers my frequency, which makes me a match for something else I don't want. Like that flat tire.

The universe (or quantum field) finds a way to honor our true intentions. Frequency can't be fooled.

Shining our light

But there are other reasons to practice self-care. First, we all came here for our own experience, which is the only thing that's real for us and within our control. Our primary purpose is to expand into greater awareness and knowledge of our ourselves and all that we are. We learn through relationships and external situations, but the richness of our life is based on our internal experience. It is our unique reality. Committing to our own growth and development so as to find happiness, peace, and fulfillment is not selfish—it is a service to the greater good.

Wouldn't a world full of happy, peaceful people be a happy, peaceful world?

Just as we're instructed to put on our own oxygen mask before assisting others, we are most able to be of service when we are grounded in our own wellbeing. Only when we love ourselves, do we truly have love to give. Only when we have peace in our hearts can we offer peace to the world. When we shine our brightest light, we add to the light in the world and inspire others to shine too. In contrast, when we come from lack, unworthiness, fear, that is what we are pulsing out to the collective, even if cloaked in good deeds.

Coming back to physics, our frequency is our contribution to our blessed human collective. More than anything we do in the physical world, what we contribute to our collective (and beyond) is our energy, down to the thoughts in our head and feelings in our body.

If we accept that everything is frequency, we understand that dwelling at the highest frequency possible in every moment is the greatest gift we can offer our world.

That is why I prioritize my joy—whatever that looks like in the moment. It's why I will choose self-care and self-love over meeting someone else's definition of being nice, particularly when doing so would come at my expense. When we remove moral judgment from the equation, we see that whatever we can do to love ourselves is also loving to others, whether they recognize it or not.

Love is our true nature

Fortunately, the more we bring love and compassion to ourselves, the more we feel toward others. Part of the journey to higher consciousness is the understanding of the interconnectedness of all things. It is seeing the divine in everyone. This naturally fosters benevolence, caring, and generosity. In such a world, where the freeways are full of patient, considerate, and friendly drivers, I probably wouldn't mind a trip to LA. But anyone who's been on the 405 lately can attest we aren't there yet.

And judgmental words like selfish and greedy don't help. In building a false sense of moral superiority, they just divide us. What if we thought in terms of kindness instead? Not kindness as in making other people happy at the expense of our own needs but in honoring each other. Saying no to my relatives didn't dishonor them, nor was it unkind. It was simply something that wasn't in my best interest to do. I was honest about how I felt, knowing they wouldn't want me to do something I hate when they had plenty of other options. And I suggested several other ways I was willing to be helpful to show that I do care. They weren't the ones making it a big deal, I was.

As we move into higher consciousness, we also start to realize that it will never be a kindness to ourselves to be judgmental, hurtful, or harmful to another. Such behavior always has fear at its root and fear is the antithesis of love.

We start to see that we are most loving to ourselves when are loving to others.

Not because it's morally superior or it redeems us in anyway but because it brings us closer to our true nature. Allowing more love expands us and delights us, which is why we're here. Where can you honor yourself today with greater self-love?


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