Self-interest vs Self-ish

Written by Lydia | April 2, 2015

There is a big difference between acting in your best self-interest versus being self-ish. I remember it really hitting home for the first time by a counselling psychology professor of mine at Florida State University. Wish I could remember his name!

Consistently acting in your own best self-interest can only be good for others. I liken it to filling your cup first, before pouring yourself into caring for others. It is far easier to pour if you ensure your cup is always full; and you have more to give when your cup is always full. If you wait until on empty before replenishing yourself—then you risk tipping over as you attempt to pour out last drops of your cup.

It’s a fine line sometimes, as another may feel disappointed, inconvenienced, or worse, by your actions (of self-interest). If another person’s happiness depends on you over-extending or undermining yourself, however (as long as you are not wilfully and knowingly causing harm), then that is their problem and not yours. You might be sympathetic and even care deeply about their reaction, but you are not responsible for how they feel about it (see my article on making the distinction between being responsible to and responsible for another).  In fact, you would not be doing them any favours by compromising yourself.  You would, in fact, be depriving them of what they need to experience to better themselves.  You would be enabling their deficiency.


Then there’s this notion that being self-less is somehow virtuous?  Being self-less is not a virtue if it means denying your essential needs— it will inevitably and eventually lead to being toxic for you and/or for others. Too often the urge to put other’s needs before one’s own are based on misguided and distorted messages that we’ve internalised from faulty programming in our childhood.  It may have been deliberate, and it may have been inadvertent, but it is not healthy.  It may become “second nature” to put others needs first at the expense of our own?  But that is skipping step one—which is to operate more from our “first nature”*.  How would things be different if you acted upon the urgings of your First Nature more?

A basic question to ask whenever faced with a challenge, dilemma or decision–is to ask “What is in my best interests? and/or “What is in the best interests for all concerned?”  For it is often when we disregard this that we get ourselves into trouble and create (more) pain …  It is not always easy to determine the answer though.   Tuning into your inner voice that is your first nature, your intuitive self, is how.  It takes practice and courage of trial and error.  Only way to get better at it, is to exercise it more.  It is only when it gets distorted by fears or wishful thinking that we veer off track.  Think about it.  Most of you can recall a time when you disregarded a gut instinct, and came to regret it?  Use it or lose it!  It is in your best interests to develop and access your intuition more consistently.

In a nutshell, it is about being true to yourself, and true to others.  Living your truth. That is the essence of what self-development is all about in my view.  How we achieve that is our life’s purpose and greatest adventure.

*I picked up this turn of phrase from Petrea King. See for more.