Is Looking After Own Needs Selfish? It Depends.

When caring for a child, a mother gets to experience the joy of sharing her knowledge, time and energy, contribute to the child’s development in any way she can and give love unconditionally. She gets to achieve what otherwise only ‘purpose driven’ individuals experience. Becoming a mother has certainly taught me to be less focused on myself, to be less selfish.   


Whose needs are we meant to attend to first? 


Any aircraft crew on any plane will tell you: You ought to put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting anyone else, and yet we live in the society, which highly criticises self-focused behaviour. 

So whose needs are we supposed to attend to first – our own or someone else’s? 

It depends on who or what is actually being served in the process of receiving the benefits. It may seem obvious but it is not. Is it just one person - me benefiting, or are my (seemingly selfish) actions contributing to the greater good of others, too? This is the question we need to be asking.  


Who are the selfish types? 


1.  There are the ‘upfront’ selfish individuals, admitting their wrong doing. You hear them say: “I know it is selfish of me to not attend their birthday party or to be meeting my friend rather than my partner’s family, but….” Are they always selfish though? 

In my mind, there is a difference between a person catering for their own needs first in order to be then capable of helping others, and a person who is only concerned about fulfilling their own ego-driven needs. 

The first one is only seemingly selfish. Such individuals have enough self-awareness to know what they require to be of benefit to others, even if that means initially putting themselves first. They will nurture themselves and often say 'no' to others in order to later be of service and benefit to them. 


2.  Then there are those who impose their expectations on others to be (or do) in a certain way or otherwise they label those others selfish. You hear them say: "You should be helping your mother/sister/brother. If I had time I would be doing it, but I am busy. It is very selfish of you". In actual fact such behavioural demands of the person stating the comments are often the most selfish. 


3.  And finally there are those called selfless who heroically fulfil others’ needs, but in actual fact they only do it for their own benefit, to make themselves look or feel good, to have their own ego stroke. They will say: "I am working so hard to pay for your education so that you can get ahead in life and look where you are?! All my efforts are wasted."


How to recognise a selfish person? 


Before labelling someone selfish we need to look at the intention behind their actions. The intended outcome determines whether the actions are selfish or not.

If the intention is to serve own ego rather than a higher purpose, then their action is likely selfish.

If on the other hand, their action, seemingly selfish, as they cater for their own needs first, in fact serves a greater good and contributes to the wellbeing of others, then their action cannot be seen as selfish. 


So how do we recognise their intention? 


Sometimes we cannot tell what someone else’s intention is unless we ask. If we cannot ask, it should not concern us. Like it shouldn’t be our place to label them selfish or selfless. 

It depends what needs they are driven to fulfil too– their basic or growth needs. The former are egocentric and fulfil nobody else’s, but their own desires. The latter, whilst fulfil their own needs, also help inner growth and contribute to a purpose beyond themselves.

In my work I help individuals get on the path to fulfil their growth rather than just their basic needs. This is a much more fulfilling and lasting process to otherwise momentary satisfaction. 

I educate my clients that everyone is driven to fulfil their basic needs, however that brings only temporary relieve from anxiety and pressure that these cause. Using basic needs to work towards purpose beyond own good though, not only helps others,  but also indirectly, fulfils own needs.


How to achieve a selfless life on purpose?


Despite having awareness of what purpose we want to serve in the world, we are all triggered by situations and people and tempted to focus on fulfilling our basic needs. That is our ego’s job to divert our attention away from noble tasks, hard work, serving others and towards ‘poor me’ mentality.

There are two steps required: 

1. Self - Awareness, which provides a deeper understanding of what one needs to fulfil to be truly happy. That knowledge allows focus on what is truly important to find meaning and purpose and fulfil own needs at the same time.


2. Self - Regulation (achieved through Mindfulness), which allows keeping temptations to be self-interest-focused in check. It allows continuous return back on track in order to work towards fulfilling higher purpose for betterment of self AND others.


So before you call yourself or someone else selfish think about intentions behind yours or others'  actions. 

Try answering the two questions and see what emerges:

  • Are you focused on only serving your own basic needs OR would your actions also serve a greater good?
  • Would you feel that you expand as a person even though you help yourself first? 


Self Undersanding Module offers you insight into your own basic and growth needs. You get to identify what actions you need to undertake in order to fulfil your life purpose, which not only serves yourself but others too. Email me for more information.