PMH 74 | Being Selfish


In this episode you will learn how being selfish is grounded in our human need to survive. We show you how to reframe selfishness to self-orientation and how being self-oriented is really about prioritizing the relationship to yourself.


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Why Being Selfish is Absolutely Okay and Necessary for Your Wellbeing

In this episode, we are talking about being selfish. It’s okay to be selfish. You know that, right?

I know that. I don’t like the word selfish. Obviously, there’s this negative connotation. We’ve talked about social construction here on the show and how words create worlds. I understand it’s good to be selfish, but I can’t get behind that word, so I’ve come up with a reframe.

You have come up with a reframe. Before we get to that reframe, I want to make sure you guys know being selfish is not a bad word.

Selfish is not a bad word Share on X

I know.

Do you?

That’s why I’m going to reframe it, but we’ll get to that in a second.

We can get to reframe it. I think it’s important that, as a society and dear readers, we realize it’s not a bad word. It is just a word that we have bastardized and we have made into a pejorative, but it’s not a pejorative.

Can we talk about some of these words you’re using?

You’re welcome. It’s early and I’m very caffeinated. This is part of that, but it’s not a bad word. I know it’s something that we talk about. You don’t want to be selfish and there are all these bad connotations with it, but it’s not. I know we’ll get to the reframe here in a minute, but it’s something that we already do. In fact, every altruistic act that you do is a selfish one. You think that you’re giving money to a homeless person because you’re a good person. No, it’s because you’re selfish and want to feel good about you being able to give something. It’s all about you all the time.

It’s true what they say. There is no selfless act.

There isn’t. Selfish is not a bad word. However, we will reframe it to help our readers and Melissa right now.

It’s mostly for me.

That is fine. If reframing helps you get into the mindset of doing more things for yourself, I’m all for it then.

That’s absolutely why I wanted to reframe it because if we’re looking at finding ways to be more, dare I say, selfish, it’s hard for me. I did some soul-searching and came across the term self-oriented. If I say I’m looking to be more self-oriented or it’s okay to be more self-oriented, I feel like I can get behind that.

What do you think self-oriented does for you as opposed to the word selfish?

It’s the negative connotation that we talked about. For me, it sits wrong with me. Coming back to that social constructionism where words create worlds, if I was trying to say, “I’m a selfish person,” that’s hard for me. If I say, “I’m working to become more self-oriented, or the things that were activities or people that I’m engaging with are a gift to myself in me becoming more self-oriented,” it’s that different shift and mindset.

PMH 74 | Being Selfish
Being Selfish: Words create worlds.


If I were to say you are already self-oriented, how does that sit?

That absolutely sits fine for me.

You are already selfish.

I don’t like that. No, don’t say that.

You are already self-oriented, and dear readers, so are you. All of us are already self-oriented. We just don’t want to recognize it.

The thing is, it’s ingrained in who we are. There’s this author Bob Rosen who says, “It’s in our nature to put our own needs first, and it’s grounded in our need to survive.” If you look at our ancestors, the instinct was fight or flight. As humans, we’ve developed higher-order needs, and as a result, we’ve become a much more community-oriented being.

If you look at our history as humans, we’ve moved from nuclear families to tribes to villages, and we would hunt and gather together. We would defriend our resources together. Actions that weren’t in alignment with the community were considered shameful. Rather than looking at things like you’re either community-centered or self-oriented, it’s both end of what you were talking about.

I think part of the difference or issue that we need to recognize is that in American culture, we are very individualistic. We don’t like to consider ourselves part of the group or herd or things like that because we totally are. In fact, we’re better at that way because when you have these individualistic tendencies, which are again very ingrained in our American culture, it does land for people to be more selfish and take more resources than maybe would be allotted.

It was interesting because I came across this research on overfishing, and there are communities throughout the world where they have figured out, “Fish is our precious resource. This is what we outlive off of in the community. We need this. It is going to be bad if one person takes all the fish.” One, you can’t eat all the fish. It’s going to go bad. Other people are not going to have enough food. What they’ve figured out is that the way to not overfish and still have this sustainable precious resource is to get the group together and talk about a solution, as a group, with all people involved.

What if one family has a bunch of kids? They’re going to need more fish than the single dude that’s fishing. It’s the way it works. They’ve been able to figure out through the community and talking with each other and all of the stakeholders, which is something that I know you do a lot in AI, to come up with a fair solution that is still self-interested. They’re all wanting to keep the fish, but it’s a community resource and something that individuals need. I’m like, “You can still be selfish, but in a way, for it to benefit the group.” That’s the key distinction. Being self-oriented in a group mentality is going to help you be able to stretch things, maybe in ways that you didn’t know you could.

That’s a great perspective. I never thought about that in terms of how being self-oriented could play into the work that I do with appreciative inquiry. I think, again, social constructionism is huge and appreciative inquiry. When I’m reflecting on why I have such a negative connotation, it is like if you look in psychology, selfishness is often a key characteristic or associated with narcissism and sociopaths.

This is my perspective. When you’re saying a person is selfish, it’s like, “That person is exhibiting narcissistic behavior.” For me, that’s why that self-oriented word resonates with me better. I know it’s on a spectrum, just like boundaries are on a spectrum. You have the narcissist and the sociopaths on one side, which are completely selfish, and then you have people-pleasers that maybe put the needs of other people before their own. I’m doing “selfless” acts that they’re putting everybody’s needs, wants, and desires before their own.

That is something that we do see with a lot of different people putting that other relationship with others ahead of the relationships with themselves. What I would invite our audience to do is to prioritize that relationship with the self. That’s what being self-oriented is about. It is indeed about being able to prioritize the relationship with yourself. When you look at your to-do list or things that you want to get done or if you’re taking care of others, usually the last person on that list is yourself. When you’re being self-oriented, it is about being aware and consciously putting your relationship with yourself at the forefront of your life.

It is indeed about being able to prioritize the relationship with yourself. Share on X

As a recovering people-pleaser, it’s very hard to even understand or take steps to be more self-oriented. I came across this great quote that basically talks about by being self-oriented, you’re operating in the spirit of generosity. I was like, “What?” This is from Psychology Today and the quote says, “When you feel like you’re lacking, the answer is not always to give others to affirm your trust and abundance.”

“Often, the best thing you could possibly do for yourself when you’re depleted is to be selfish. The point is not to do this, so you never help others. The point is to give to yourself first so that you’re able to help others. Not out of obligation, resentment, or a force to believe in abundance, but in the true spirit of generosity.” It’s being able to look at it in that way. We’ve made the metaphor before where it’s like if you’re constantly pouring into other people’s cups, at the end of the day, you have nothing left in your cup. It feels good to give, especially around the holidays.

It’s self-oriented.

It absolutely is, but I like what you’re saying, which is in order to be able to give, you also need to give to yourself.

A big part of this self-help movement is don’t pour from an empty cup analogy and the oxygen mask. You hear that a lot. Put on your oxygen mask first before you help anybody else. They’re all the same concepts, but it’s all about where you are putting yourself in your relationship. Sometimes, when people are thinking, “I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t want to be self-oriented,” there are three ways to look at how that can be.

I’m glad that you brought up the narcissist and the sociopaths because if you were asking yourself, “Am I a narcissist? Am I a sociopath?” the answer is no. It’s very simple. True narcissists and sociopaths do not have the capacity to reflect enough to ask themselves that question. We all may have some of those tendencies, but we have the full range of the human experience. Yes, it’s something there, but if you have the capacity to ask yourself those questions.

I probably wouldn’t be listening to a wellness show such as Pivotal Moments.

No, you’re not doing that. When you think about selfishness or self-oriented, you’re talking about three different things. There’s good selfish, which is where it’s a win-win for everybody. That would be you volunteering somewhere to clean up trash, for example. You win because you feel like you’re good and you’re doing something. The community wins because you’re cleaning up trash at the local park. That is a good win-win self-oriented act.

There are neutral acts, which are the ones that are good for you, but they don’t benefit anybody else directly. If you decide to take a long shower, that’s for you. That doesn’t harm or benefit anybody else. The people around you will like that you smell nice, but it’s a neutral act. A lot of self-care items can be considered neutral because they’re good for you, but they harm nobody else and don’t benefit anybody else. There are selfish acts, which are bad. It would be manipulation where you’re getting your way at the expense of somebody else. It reminded me of somebody who had a story that they were sharing with me.

PMH 74 | Being Selfish
Being Selfish: A lot of the self-care items can be considered neutral because they’re good for you, but they harm nobody else and don’t benefit anybody else.


Who could that have been? Not the person sitting next to me. Basically, when you have the manipulation, that is you using your position of power to get your way. That is being the traditional “selfish” that does not get us anywhere. It is the one that we don’t want to embody or encourage in anybody. It doesn’t help society. It does not help us. Frankly, if you know that you got your way because you manipulated your way into it, I don’t know about you, but I feel dirty afterwards. It’s like, “What?” Even in the process, so I try to avoid that.

I still lament things that happened six years ago, so I can completely understand and relate to what you’re saying right now. As you’re talking, it brings up a question for me. Why do you think we feel guilty when we need to take a step back and put ourselves first?

I think part of that has to do with that social constructionism. We have been taught, especially as women and women of color, that you have to give, and it is your obligation to do so when you get into certain positions that you have to give of yourself. That is the way and how women are. We are not mothers, but mothers experience this to another degree where your needs no longer matter because now you have given birth to this little creature, and they must be your priority at all things. If you are not or you take an evening to yourself, how dare you?

It’s funny you should say that. Growing up, my mom was a single parent. She wore this tattered button-up red dress, the thinnest cloth, and the siblings and I would always say, “Go buy yourself something,” but she felt that every dollar she made needed to go back to her kids. Her kids wanted her to spend a little money on herself but she neglected herself. I see that a lot with parents. They neglect their needs for the needs of the kids. I understand that we don’t have kids, but I also know that as a child who grew up with a parent that gave everything, I wish my mom did more for herself. I think kids pick up on that.

I think they do. You also learn that this is what it is to be a good parent. This is what it is to give and provide for others. It’s running around in tattered clothing or being the last one to eat to make sure everybody is fed. In those things, there may be a certain level of income, poverty and other things that we’re not addressing, but once your basic needs are met, you’re safe. You start moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There are other things that need to happen there. Part of that has to be you taking care of your own emotional needs. Sometimes, you like getting your nails done. That makes you feel good. It doesn’t benefit anybody else, but it’s okay for you to do that. Do you feel guilty getting your nails done?

No, not at all, because my bills are all paid.

It’s something that you take the time out for yourself to do, and you enjoy it. The hallmark of being self-oriented is you enjoy it and show up in the world the way that you want to show up, which is the best version of yourself. Going back to your quote, that is what enables you to be more generous because now you feel good about yourself. It’s like, “I did good. I went for my morning walk. We worked out.” They’re good for us but because we’re taking time to be self-oriented and do these things. Nobody cares that we lift weights. We care. That’s it.

The hallmark of being self-oriented is you show up into the world the way that you want to show up, which is the best version of yourself. Share on X

I care because I want to make sure that when I’m old, I have stability and structure in my bones and muscles. Nobody else cares. Who else cares? It makes me better when I show up in my group settings, society, or anything that I want to participate in if I’m taking that time. I’ve certainly done this where I’m like, “I can’t believe I skipped that workout today,” and then I’m mad that I did that to go to the thing that did not fill my cup.

You make a good point, though. I know that by taking some time for myself to become more self-oriented, I have noticed a shift in several things in my life. There are benefits to being self-oriented. One is it improves your mental health. The price of people-pleasing is self-neglect. When you aren’t focused on other people’s feelings, emotions, and needs, you’re better able to identify how you feel and what emotions you’re going through your feelings.

Once you start to identify it, then you can provide the space and set up structures that enable you to explore that further, whether that’s journaling, meditation or exercise, like what you were talking about to make sure that you’re doing okay. Another benefit I’ve noticed, and feel free to chime on, is that my relationships are better.

Pouring from this empty cup, I wasn’t able to give my full self, but I’ve noticed by spending some time for myself, I’m able to be fully present with people because my cup is full, so people are able to benefit. This has also enabled me to not only establish but reinforce boundaries. What Siria was alluding to earlier, I did have an incident with my mother where a boundary was crossed. However, because I enforced that boundary, we were able to talk it out and got a lot further. I would say that the relationship was a lot better. It was absolutely because I’d been putting in the work.

You and I had talked about going to therapy. That’s a self-oriented act. You’re putting in the work as I put in the work with my mom by reinforcing those boundaries, which resulted in a deeper and more meaningful relationship with my mom. I guarantee you, we would not have been able to talk like we did as adults in the past.

I think you make a good point with that one. I’ll throw in my mommy issues here.

The season of Pivotal Moments.

That’s the season we’re in right now. When I use my filter, it’s either fuck yeah or fuck no, like the 90% rule. When she texted me before Thanksgiving, she was like, “Do you want to grab lunch?” I was in a good mood and was like, “It’s not fuck no, so sure, why not?” It was being self-oriented. It was checking in with me. Do I want to spend this time? Do I want to be in this space? Do I feel like I have the emotional capacity to be around this person? That was self-oriented. That was me checking in. I had the power to say yes or no. I tend to usually say no. In that moment, I was like, “I feel like I’m in a good place to say yes to show up and do the thing.” Did she want something from me? Yes. It was not money, but it was something from me. That puts a damper on things a little bit but it was her also being self-oriented.

Bridging off of my mother and I’s argument, another benefit is doing more things that you love. The reason why my mother and I got into a disagreement was because I said no to a certain thing. The reason why I said no to a certain request that she had of me is because there was something that I wanted to do. I get seasonal depression. I decided I was going to make an effort to decorate my house for Christmas, and that was going to take some time. The request that she had of me was going to impact doing something that I love, which is decorating. I said no, but by saying no and being self-oriented, I was able to engage in an activity that I love. I’m glad that I did that.

When you’re being self-oriented, it gives you space to do things that you love and get back to things that maybe you neglected with yourself. For me, I had such a crisis when the lockdown was happening because I thought I was not going to be able to be creative anymore. My old life of working all the time and having legal suck up my whole life is going to make all of this go away. It was hard. I was ugly crying in my living room.

It was real because I felt like here was something that I love so much that I enjoyed being in this space. It wasn’t even like one creative thing. I was cookie decorating, painting, drawing, and starting to play with video content creation. I had to be self-oriented in that moment and say, “No, I’m not giving up these things that make me feel like my full self in service of something that I feel like is not doing it for me anymore.”

You bring up an excellent point, which is when you become more self-oriented, I feel like you’re able to live with greater intention. When you’re focused on you, you’re able to find things that you enjoy doing, but you also can begin to take steps towards some of the goals you have. For me, my boss doesn’t know this, but good thing she doesn’t read this.

PMH 74 | Being Selfish
Being Selfish: When you become more self-oriented, you’re able to live with greater intention.


I started applying for jobs, and I realized that maybe the reason why I stayed was comfort and the status quo, but it was also to appease my boss. I had this huge sense of loyalty. Again, It’s people-pleasing and staying in places that maybe no longer serve me. I was like, “This is no longer serving me. I have financial and life goals that I want to accomplish and I can’t accomplish them here.” I’m taking the initiative and being more self-oriented, and I’m applying for jobs.

Can we get a round of applause there?

That’s huge.

I think that even getting to that point of realizing, “I have goals and I have things that I want to accomplish. Damn it, I deserve to be able to do that.” That’s huge.

I found that through this process of self-orientation that I’m starting to unearth my self-worth. It allows me to explore things of why I matter, which, as Siria knows, is big for me. I’m always looking for people’s acceptance and stuff like that, but when you’re a people-pleaser and you’re looking for people’s acceptance, that’s an external stimulus. It led me to distress and anxiety, but I realized that I need to do things for me and do what makes me happy. Because of that, I’m able to find my voice, amplify it, and engage in things that I normally wouldn’t have. I have built my self-worth and that’s because of the self-orientation path I’ve been on for a couple of years.

It’s a beautiful thing to witness, that’s for sure. I do think that increasing your self-worth and self-orientation does help you be firmer with your boundaries, setting time aside for things that you want for yourself and paying attention to what your triggers are. What are things that are getting you out of alignment? Reframing selfishness to self-orientation, if that is what’s going to help you embrace the fact that you fucking matter and what you love matters. It doesn’t matter if it benefits anybody else. If it’s just for you, that is okay because you’re going to be happier and that is going to have ripple effects through the rest of society. I’m all for It.

I know that there are several ways that we can become more self-oriented. What works for me isn’t going to work for you, dear readers. You have to find what works for you. Siria, if you had maybe one suggestion to give people in terms of how maybe you’ve become more self-oriented, what would you say that is?

I would say my threshold, my 90% rule. I go back to that one because it’s a pretty high standard and then you can decide how you want that standard. If I’m not 90% excited about this, the answer is no. That filter has helped me throughout so many different things. Sometimes you feel like you can’t say no. I get that but then that’s a moment for me to do some introspection. Why is it that I don’t want to do this? What is the exchange here that I’m making? For me, being 90% excited about it is another way of saying, “Am I self-oriented here? Is this 90% excited Siria?” If not, the answer is no.

I would say for me, it would probably be unplugging and spending time with myself. Not in that fun way, though. I’m trying not to feel obligated to fill empty space. I’m trying to be good about not working outside of office hours. I’m taking time to recharge. If you’ve read previous episodes, I talk about how I always feel the need to have to do something, and because I’m always doing something, I’m neglecting my own needs. It’s been so nice to put in an Audiobook and play Sudoku. Nothing in particular. I might not accomplish anything, but that sense of peace and fulfillment I have after I’m done completing the book is so rewarding to me.

We were not put on this Earth to accomplish a bunch of tasks. I don’t know what we were put on here for, but I know it’s not to be these productive machines and constantly doing. Being is a big part of being a human being.

Being is a big part of being a human being. Share on X

One tip that I would like to work on myself is saying no. I did that one weekend. It didn’t go as well as I would’ve liked it to go, but it was definitely a learning lesson. One thing as a people-pleaser is that no is a complete sentence. I was like, “No, I can’t do it because of so on and so forth.” If you’re looking to be more self-oriented, you have to prioritize yourself, as you said. I find that no is good.

No is fantastic. There are a couple of different ways that you can learn to say no without saying the word no if that would make you feel better. It’s like, “I’ll have to get back to you on that. Thank you so much for thinking of me. I’m not able to attend.”

I’m going to have you send out all my correspondence.

There are a couple more. I’m thinking off the cuff. I’m trying to think of other ways that I’ve said no. If I find myself trying to explain why I can’t do it, I have to shorten it. Nobody cares about all of the reasons. They want to know, are you in or are you out? Can you do this or can you not? It’s like, “It’s bad timing. No. Maybe next time.” Maybe next time is one of mine. I was like, “I can’t do lunch this time. Maybe next time. Keep me in mind in the future,” as long as we’re keeping that door open. At some point, some people are going to think, “You’re avoiding me,” and they may stop reaching out. There is that consequence, but being aware that that’s something that could happen.

What is it that you’d like our readers to walk away with? It’s okay to be selfish.

Selfish is not a bad word. It’s okay to be self-oriented. We’re talking about prioritizing yourself. Where are you on your to-do list? Are you even on your to-do list? If not, you need to re-evaluate that and make sure that you are at the top of your list today, tomorrow, and always.


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