How To Be Healthy Selfish

By Exoticdoc


This is a very important topic for the givers of the world, because “healthy selfish” is about setting boundaries with yourself and with others. It is about making sure that your “cup” is being filled, and when it starts to run low, you have the ability to recognize it and the proper coping skills to refill it. Now stay with me, we will re-visit the “cup” theory soon. If you are the type of person that can easily say “no” to others with a healthy motivation behind it, congrats! Gold star for you! However, If you find yourself more often than not wanting to make others happy, emotionally overwhelmed and/or drained, you might just need a quick lesson in healthy selfish.

We hear the word “selfish” and automatically equate it with unpleasant behavior. The word itself has a pre-existing negative connotation because the definition of selfish is as follows: chiefly concerned with one’s own interest, advantage, etc, especially to the total exclusion of the interests of others. So why am I promoting displeasing behavior? Well…I’m not exactly, there are some distinguishing qualities that separate someone from being “selfish” vs “healthy selfish” such as motivation, confidence, and consequences.  I cannot stress the importance of motivation in the case of healthy vs unhealthy selfish.

Let’s revisit the cup analogy. Imagine a nice full cup, I personally like to imagine that mine is full of whisky, but pick whatever fluid best fits you 😉 Now because you’re such a kind soul, you enjoy sharing your whisky…or what have you. You offer it up to your friends when they need comforting, your lover when they have needs, your children because someone has to take care of them, your boss when they don’t want to do their own job. Basically everyone is taking turns sipping at your cup, and if the cup runnith over and you have all of that to give, super duper!!

Now let’s say your significant other, boss or friends aren’t sipping from the cup, but rather taking shots from it like they’re lil john at a strip club. You find yourself in an uncomfortable position. You don’t want to rock the boat, or hurt anyone’s feelings so you allow them to keep taking. You find your cup is now very low. You’re exhausted, maybe you feel like a failure, maybe you because angry and slightly resentful. Don’t these people realize you are doing everything you can to quench their never-ending thirst?! Not likely, no. Sadly most people don’t realize this, and some people just downright don’t give a shit and will happily take advantage of your cup, and they’ll blame you when it’s empty. They are, dare we say *gasp* selfish?! Some of them, yes, but the worst reality is that they are right.

It’s your responsibility to tell people when you’re running low and don’t have much to give. The exciting part is you don’t have to be an asshole about it. You can simply say “no,” “not right now,” “unfortunately I can’t,” “I need some time for myself,” as well as a long list of other options. I was and still have the tendency to be a people pleaser, but I found the more people took, the less happy I was. Please note, I didn’t say “the more I gave.” There were times I gave and times I was being taken advantage of.

It is vital to be aware of the toxic people in your life. I’m not saying everyone is bad. Some are unaware, some have no idea that they are taking, but some people will prey on your kindness like it’s a sport. This is a very disheartening experience, I found myself hurt because part of me expected others to be nice, a little appreciative…hell maybe even be there for me if I needed it, and some were/are! However, having the expectation that someone will be nice to you in return, or be there for you is a set up. Not only to them, but to yourself.

I’m not saying don’t expect anything from anyone, but understand that kindness is a good deed, but reciprocation of a good deed makes it a job.

So what can we take away from healthy selfish?! It’s ok to say no. The more you take time to fill up your own cup the more you can give to others and feel good about it. When that cup is low, the quality of what you have to give will not be at it’s finest or coming from the best place. Don’t give all of yourself and then become disappointed or upset when it’s not returned, although completely understandable. Take care of yourself, and when that cup gets low, do something about it!! Find out what will help “re-fill” your cup, and fucking do it! Learn how to set boundaries with people, and avoid being a doormat. It’s incredibly empowering and this awareness and ability can change your relationships (good and bad), and it will also make you feel more confident and help bring more positive people and healthy relationships into your life.




  1. I like the cup analogy and I feel like its very true that a lot of women need to learn how to be more selfish, in a healthy way. So many times we are afraid of being selfish and go too far in the opposite direction. Its so, so easy to fall into the trap of feeling taken advantage of by men and some of the time its our own fault for giving too much.

  2. This idea was a defining moment for me. I used to be such a people pleaser because I thought it would gain respect and admiration, but it definitely didn’t. What people really respect is when you set boundaries for yourself and behave in a way that is in line with how much you value yourself. When people know that you don’t mind giving so long as they know what lines not to cross, that is when people will follow suit. They see that you respect yourself, that you are a nice and giving person but not someone to be trifled with, and they find that most admirable.

  3. I think it (good practice of boundary-setting) is a universally attractive trait, regardless of gender. We are social creatures and it’s in our nature to need to know where we stand with each other. Anything you do that detracts from this clarity is discordance and has an unsettling effect on those you interact with.

  4. I agree with much of what you say but I think you are confusing selfishness with being self involved. One should always act in ones own self interest. You add to the definition “…to the total exclusion of the interests of others.” One can be totally selfish (a good thing) but not at all the exclusion of other’s interests. Let’s say that a friend asks me to borrow money but I was going to use that money for a planned vacation. I must decide what I value more…my planned trip or helping my friend. Whichever I pick (so long as I do so without being manipulated or guilted into something I don’t want to do) is a selfish act as it is the greatest value I have chosen. I SHOULD always choose the greatest value to me. This is the reason that altruism doesn’t really exist. There is always a payoff of some sort. One can extremely generous and NOT be at all altruistic.

    I would argue it is completely irrelevant if that friend would have done the same for me. I do (or don’t do) because I want to do (or not do) something and for no other reason.

    My final point is on being “taken advantage of.” It is a phrase people with a victim mentality use to excuse their own poor choices. If I REALLY wanted to go on that vacation and I let my friend guilt me into loaning him the money instead of taking my trip that is MY fault not his.

  5. @Dawson- the point here is that women frequently have difficulty with valuing themselves and putting their own needs before others. We are socialized to put others first, vs men who are taught to look out for themselves first, from the beginning. Its why, especially, when women become mothers they often neglect their own needs.

  6. @Lovergirl
    Oh come on. I would argue the complete opposite. Men are taught from a young age to put the needs of their family ahead of their own. Provider. Protector. Be a gentleman. Women and children first. Happy wife = happy life. Men are still the primary provider in 75% of households and women initiate 75% of divorces. Both moms and dads usually put the needs of their child(ren) ahead of some of their own time and material needs AS THEY SHOULD since they decided to bring child(ren) into the world and provide for and protect them. In my experience I am much more likely to encounter a woman with an entitlement mentality then I am a woman that doesn’t know how to put herself first.
    I have a daughter of my own and she hasn’t been socialized to put others first. Not by her mom and me. Not by her friends. Not by her school. Not by the media. She has VERY high expectations about how her partner will treat her and has zero issue looking out for her own needs. Where is this socialization you speak of coming from?

  7. Dawson, let’s not turn this into the age old argument of who does more or is more of a victim of society, men or women…I have a feeling we could argue all day on that one and never come to a resolution. The point is that it is very typical for women to play the doormat role in a relationship or in general, letting people take take take from her emotionally. Men don’t seem to suffer from that nearly as often, for whatever reason. Women have a tendency value “being nice” and looking out for others feelings, more than taking care of their own emotional needs and while the intent may be good, the result is doormat syndrome.

  8. @Lovergirl
    There is a huge difference…I am not putting men up as victims as you are of women. I was refuting that women are socialized to put others first any more than men are. I think it is just a huge cop out. PEOPLE sometimes mistakenly put others needs ahead of their own. I know plenty of men that do it. I know plenty of women that do it. Usually to their detriment. On that at least we can agree. But you are making this a gender issue when it simply is not and it does women a disservice. As if they have somehow been hobbled by societal programming. You statement that women are doormats more than men is based on nothing but a feeling that the statement is true.

    By point of comparison, people (mostly women) take it as a fact that the VAST majority of intimate physical violence between men and women is perpetrated by men. If you asked 100 women, I bet the vast majority would say over 90% of violence is perpetrated by men. But the FACTS simply don’t support this assertion that most women (and a significant percentage of men) take as fact. The reality is that women are as likely as men to initiate violence — a finding confirmed by more than 200 studies ( of intimate violence.

    I don’t say this just to argue (in fact I won’t comment on this further because as you say we may not ever agree) but the point you make is IMO inaccurate and making this a gender issue when it is not. It is a self-esteem issue. Men with low self-esteem will accept relationships and treatment within those relationships they should not. Women with low self-esteem will accept relationships and treatment within those relationships they should not. By making it a gender issue you are partially taking the locus of control out of the women’s hands and laying it at the feet of “society” and how these poor female victims are socialized from a young age to be people’s doormats. I guess you could take the position that women on average have lower self-esteem but I have no reason to believe that is true. It just amazes me that so many women (feminists in particular) seem to hold women in such low regard. “Doormat syndrome?” I mean, please.

    OK. Officially off my soap box now.

  9. Dawson, this site isn’t intended to help men with their dating problems, so much as it is meant to help women. So quite naturally we are going to focus on issues that women tend to face. Wanting everything to be non gender specific, is really kind of counterproductive (and ironically, much more “feminist” than I would consider myself). If men also face those problems, then great, maybe they can get something out of the article too.

  10. I am well aware of the purpose of the site but you missed my point entirely.

    It has nothing to do with wanting things to be non-gender specific but that attributing something to gender when it is really a self-esteem issue (there are genuine issues that really are gender specific) does women a disservice in my opinion. Calling it a socialization issue of women being taught to be doormats as the excuse for why women might accept being treated badly is simply putting the blame in the wrong place and therefore makes it much harder to remedy.

    Since the goal of the site is to help women, in order to do so effectively, one needs to focus on the real underlying issue (low self esteem) and not just parrot feminist rhetoric.

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