Skip to content

Between Selfish and Selfless

September 16, 2012

I have, at one time or another in my life, been called both  selfish (“lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure”) and selfless (“concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own”); I suppose both descriptions are true.  

SelflessAs a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, mentor, volunteer, head-of-numerous-committees over the years I know I too often have put the needs of others ahead of my own – and I have experienced exhaustion, frustration and near burnout as a result.  Being selfless is something I am very good at, and find it hard to pull back from practicing.

SelfishAs a human being with needs and desires of my own, however, I’ve also occasionally side-stepped (or outright ignored) what ‘other people’ have wanted me to do (and/or expected from me) in favour of doing what was ‘right’ for me (and me alone) at the time; in those circumstances I have often been accused of being selfish (usually with a dash of ‘How dare you?’ thrown in for good measure!)

WantingThe problem, as I see it, is that there is nothing ‘in between’ these two extremes. We have no way of describing the person (and I’m focusing here on woman in particular, although there are men who fall into the selfless vs. selfish trap as well) who is neither entirely selfless nor selfish – the one who believes in taking care of herself first so that she can better look after others. We all know that “in case of an emergency, passengers should put their own oxygen mask on first before assisting other passengers or children”; this act isn’t selfless or selfish – it’s good old fashioned common sense.  So why isn’t there a word to describe it?

To that end, I’d like to propose a new word be added to the popular lexicon: ‘selfful’ (as in ‘helpful’, ‘grateful’, ‘purposeful’).  The selfful person is one who understands that they can best help/serve others when they put their own wellbeing first.  They neither give too much or too little. They love and care for themselves as much as they love and care for others. Ultimately, they are happy, healthy, and fulfilled.  Selfful people are precisely halfway between ‘selfless’ and ‘selfish’ (and they make no excuses or apologies for it, either).

Being selfful is just one more goal I’ve set for myself now that I’ve reached … the other side of 55.

Giving Quote

  1. The Smile Scavenger permalink
    September 25, 2012 11:04 am

    I LOVED this post, thank you. “I too often have put the needs of others ahead of my own – and I have experienced exhaustion, frustration and near burnout as a result.” —this has been me for my entire life. I’ve always taken care of everyone around me at my own expense.

    I’m starting to try to learn how to become what my partner calls “self-interested”. But I like “selfful” better. I am just afraid to tug too hard in the opposite direction; I never want to be selfish. =/ Any tips?

    • September 25, 2012 12:04 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. As for tips – well, it starts with learning to express yourself (i.e., saying ‘No’ and NOT apologizing when you don’t want to do something; smiling as you say ‘Yes, it might look that way but I need to set aside some time for me’ when people tell you you’re being selfish by putting yourself first). I had quite a bit of guilt about the whole process at first but its gradually easing. Fortunately my husband is good at reminding me, “You deserve it” whenever I ‘worry’ that I’m taking ‘too much’ time for myself. It’s definitely tough to ‘let go’ when people keep pulling you from all directions but easing back slowly is the best way. Good Luck.


  2. September 21, 2012 7:53 pm

    Hi Margo–I wanted to let you know that I nominated your blog for the “Seven Things About Me” award. You can read the details on my blog. Hope you’re having a great September.

    • September 22, 2012 1:37 pm

      Thank you so much, Sylvia. Now I’ll have to think carefully about those seven things …


  3. September 17, 2012 10:58 am

    Very thoughtful post.. I think you hit it right on the proverbial head. We all should have this attitude.

  4. September 16, 2012 8:35 pm

    I like that word!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: