One of the fears people considering improving their self-esteem and boundaries struggle with is about being “selfish”. They’re so not used to taking care of their own needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions (rather than expecting others to do so), and they worry that others won’t manage or will feel neglected.

Taking responsibility for our own feelings and behaviour puts us on equal footing with others. So ironically, this fear we have of being “selfish” is basically a fear of being equal. It’s not wanting to recognise that everyone has their own life to lead and also has their own needs, desires, expectations, feelings, opinions, motivations, experiences and purpose.

When we don’t put ourselves on equal footing, we come from a place of inadequacy and dependency. We’re essentially reliant on people to “do the right thing”, take care of us as a result of us putting everyone ahead of ourselves, and also live up to our ideals.

When we worry about being selfish, we also have to acknowledge that on some level, we think that people who consider their own values and boundaries are selfish. We believe that if they don’t want to be and do as we would like, that they’re selfish. Because we’re willing to extend ourselves to such a degree that we lose and forget ourselves, we can feel perplexed and, in fact, shortchanged, by people not wanting to do the same. We effectively want them to pay the debt created by us not having our own back.

Selfishness is about lack of consideration for others. It has nothing to do with healthy self-esteem and healthy boundaries.

It would be fair to say that the people pleasers of this world are too considerate because they over-feel. They worry excessively about and, in turn, make themselves responsible for other people’s feelings and behaviour. They don’t honour the separateness that we all need in order to retain a sense of self and have healthy boundaries. People pleasing, then, is an attempt to influence and control other people’s feelings and behaviour.

Of course, taking on this unnecessary responsibility means that when people pleasers feel bad, they conflate improving their own feelings with others amending their behaviour. When these people don’t, they feel shortchanged because, on some level, they’re thinking, What? After everything, I’ve been and done for you, and you won’t just do this thing that will take away my pain? And then they feel that they haven’t been “pleasing enough”, which just reinforces the sense of inadequacy.

People pleasing is not a selfless pursuit; it’s a transactional one with an underlying expectation about what we will receive in return.

Considerateness, like compassion, is a full circle kinda thing. You can consider others and consider you too. You can care about yourself as well as care for others. It’s not mutually exclusive. However, if you focus purely on considering others, not only will it result in you doing things for the wrong reasons, but you’ll end up filing for emotional bankruptcy.

When we have healthy self-esteem, we are coming from a place of love, care, trust, and respect.

And actually, when we come from that place, healthy self-esteem and better relationships are a by-product. When we don’t, we are operating from a place of self-interest. We either make everything about us because we see everything in relation to our worth and assume too much power over others, or where we just don’t give a eff and see it as our right to try to aggressively or passive-aggressively force people to do what we want by hook or by crook.

Every human has their selfish moments, but don’t conflate self-esteem and healthy boundaries with selfishness.

When you have healthy self-esteem and boundaries, you can co-exist with people. When you try to rule others in order to get what you want etc, that is selfishness.

If you have negative associations with self-care, as in literally, taking care of you in the day-to-day of your journey that is life, it’s important to note that improving self-esteem and having healthy boundaries is not a selfish pursuit. It’s not about navel-gazing or being too caught up in yourself, and it’s not purely for your benefit.

Yes, you will feel better as a result of self-care but so will the people you engage with. Why? Because you’re no longer crossing their boundaries and looking for them to be and do things to fill you up. You’re not stuck in re-runs of old patterns trying to make them play roles to right the wrongs of the past.

You will know exactly what I mean if, like me, you’ve bumbled around in various relationships and situations repeating a pattern and looking for these people to ‘fix’ things from your childhood.

Don’t get things twisted. There are plenty of people out there who do things for others and also take care of themselves.

It’s not because they deprioritise their needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions, though. Instead, they remember that they have to take care of themselves and know their limits so that they can do what they set out to do. They also operate from an authentic and so boundaried place. This way they don’t end up feeling owed due to underlying expectations about reward and fixed ideas about how others ‘should’ behave. They are and do stuff because they have it ‘give’, not because they hope that it will create a tipping point. It’s also the age-old wisdom of knowing that in an emergency situation, you put on your lifejacket or your oxygen mask before you help others.

How the hell are you going to help somebody if you’re compromising and even endangering you?

By recognising your duty to consider you and as a result, putting you on equal footing, you also learn that you can do so without bulldozing and decimating everything and everyone in the vicinity. Boundaries and knowing yourself are not about trying to rule others; they’re about knowing and living your own line.

‘Putting you first’ doesn’t mean that you are selfish. It means that you recognise that you cannot ignore or deprioritise you and expect to have a self left.

You cannot enjoy healthy relationships with others or have anything left for you if you’re drained or broken down. Before you write off your endeavours to improve the way you treat and regard you as “selfish”, remember that if you don’t learn how to treat you with love, care, trust, and respect, you will find that even when others try to put you on equal footing, you will always be coming from a less than position. You must be for yourself before you can be for another.

Your thoughts?

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.
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Knowing the line between putting yourself first, and being selfish - One of the fears people considering improving their self-esteem and boundaries struggle with is about being “selfish”. - Natalie Lue, Baggage Reclaim.png
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