It’s Healthy To Be Selfish

By Sofie Desforges-Bell, Naturopathic Doctor

Say no to others, say yes to yourself! 

For some reason, the word ‘selfish’ has acquired a bad connotation in today’s society while being selfless is seen as such an admirable quality. Well, I’m here to change that perception and to tell you that we’ve got it all wrong! 

Spend time surrounded by beauty.

Selfishness is on a continuum, with selflessness at one end and self-centredness at the other end. Both extremes are undesirable. If you are self-centred, then you are consumed by your own self with complete disregard for others. If you are selfless, then you are only focused on helping others with complete disregard for your own self. That’s why caregiver burnout is a real thing. Being selfish enables you to achieve a balanced state of mind, body, and spirit.

Still not convinced? Imagine you are on a plane flying down south for a vacation away from this crazy Canadian winter. All of a sudden, the cabin pressure drops. The oxygen masks drop from the ceiling above your seat. You’re sitting next to a young child. What do you do? From watching the in-flight safety videos, you should know that you always put your own mask on before helping someone in need. Makes sense right? Then why do we fail to apply this simple and straightforward concept of selfishness in our daily lives?

Being selfish means caring for and loving yourself first. It means putting your needs above those of others. We are only capable of truly being there for others, if we show up for ourselves first. That’s why learning to say ‘No’, and not feeling guilty about it, has been one of the best lessons of my life thus far. 

When I was in my second year of study at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, I was juggling being a full-time student, working a part-time job as a receptionist, while being in a new relationship and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life. I was stretching myself too thin and I started to experience some physical symptoms. Like most people, I chose to ignore those symptoms until my body would no longer let me. That’s when I had my first panic attack. I realized my lifestyle was no longer sustainable and I needed to change my priorities:

  • I decided that sleep was more essential than trying to pull an all-nighter. 
  • I decided that I could say no to picking up more shifts at the clinic. 
  • I decided that I should start seeing an intern at my school clinic to address my health. 
  • I decided to pick and choose the social engagements that energized me rather than saying yes to them all. 
  • I started saying no to the people that drained me. 
  • I made a commitment to surround myself with a tribe of people that were loving, supportive. and encouraged me to put myself first. 
  • But most of all, I started to say no to others, and say yes to myself. 

All of this just reinforced the notion that being selfish was the answer. By being selfish, I was able to truly show up and be present in all aspects of my life, whether in my professional practice with patients, or in my personal relationships with my partner, my friends, and my family. I am far from having perfected this skill and find myself wavering off the path every now and then and that’s okay. I do my best to come back to myself as often as I can, and to honour my self-care process.

Find activities that energize you.

This February, the month of love, I encourage you to be selfish and focus on self-love. Try scheduling a ‘Me Day’. If somebody asks if you’re free that day, tell them you’re busy. You’re busy taking care of yourself. You’re busy doing whatever it is that energizes your mind, body, and spirit. Do the thing that feeds your soul. On that day, and every other day, just try to remember to put your oxygen mask on first.