Do I Take Care of Me First or Is That Selfish?

Nearly everyone has been confronted with the question about whether they should focus more of their time, energy, and emotion on personal healing or for helping others. It is almost always a difficult question to answer. We have limited resources, and there doesn’t seem to be enough to go everywhere we think is important.  We have two competing voices in our minds, one telling us to take care of ourselves first, and telling us to help others and to not be so selfish.

Even though it may not feel like it, this tug-a-war between these two forces is quite good for your sense of humanity and morality. It means you care about others and you care about you. It also means you believe your contribution to others is important. But it is also a challenge because you have to make a decision that prioritizes one or another, and you know someone will be disappointed.

Each side of the tug-a-war, the “I need to take care of me first” and the “I’m responsible for those I love,” enter the debate in your mind with its own set of evidence. The first attorney gets up and enters into evidence the flight attendant speech, or the one where adults have to put on their own face masks before helping their child. Why? Because if they take care of themselves first then they’re more likely to help their child, and if they place the mask on their child first, then the chances of that child getting the proper care now declines. The second attorney then enters the following moral dilemma into evidence, “Life is less about flying than it is about living. There is ALWAYS something we need, and if we think we have to take care of our needs first, we will always be first and others will always be last. People need you.”

You, serving as attorneys for both sides of the debate, jury, and judge, finalize the process by considering three questions.

  1. Is my “need” really a want?    2. Who will be hurt by me focusing more on me, and in what ways?
  1. Will those dependent on me be okay if I focus more on me?

Many of us take this circuitous and painful route for making a decision. But I think it misses the mark, and it’s also why so many of us feel incredibly guilty when we do make a decision. It is a “no-win” situation, no matter which way we choose.

In my upcoming book, it offers a much richer way for choosing whether we focus more of our energy, time, and other resources on self-healing or if we devote those resources to helping others, and I’m excited to share it with you by next summer. Of course, I can’t leave a post with an answer like that, and will try to condense the hundreds of interviews I’ve conducted to create a useful way of answering the question, “At what point do I know if I should spend more time and resources on me rather than on others.”

In my upcoming book, our “needs” are categorized into one of five different types. The most basic needs, in order, are feeling safe, have influence, and feeling of value. If you don’t feel safe, in any way or with any one, then I submit to you that is the most basic need and being able to help others will be incredibly difficult until you meet that need. Do you feel you have a sense of Influence or feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and voice? Do you feel of value? The more your basic needs are met, the more likely you should choose to invest more of your time and energies in helping others meet their needs. In contrast, the less your basic needs are met, the more you should use the time you have for self-healing.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t help others at all if we are struggling, but it does show that how our help for others will be most effective as we move through these need stages.  It’s important to ask, “Can I improve another person’s potential by improving mine?” rather than “Should I take care of me or someone else?  There are millions of different reasons for taking care of you and taking care of others, and I encourage you to be watching for my upcoming book which will offer a great many more real-life examples and stories to help you.


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