Should You Really “Put Yourself First”?

You’ve heard it time and time again. It appears in self-help books, motivational speeches, and all over social media. The phrase “put yourself first” has become undeniably popular advice and is rarely challenged. Women are told that prioritizing ourselves over all others will lead us down the path to a joyful and fulfilling life, but is this really the right approach?

By Abigail Hanley3 min read

Our culture has made it easier than ever for women to eliminate all distractions from our lives and focus on ourselves. Most people seem to agree that putting ourselves first is the way to achieve success in every aspect of our lives. However, many women may find that their friendships, relationships, and life satisfaction can improve dramatically by adopting the opposite approach. When these parts of our lives begin to deteriorate, women are often told that we must repair the damage by practicing self-compassion and focusing solely on our own well-being, oftentimes at the expense of others. But perhaps it would be more helpful to extend compassion to the other people in our lives. Could the problem be that we think of ourselves too much? Could putting others first be the key to a truly fulfilling life?

Life Satisfaction and Purpose

In the midst of a national loneliness epidemic, recommending that women put themselves first seems counterproductive. As women, we are social beings who tend to be empathetic and derive joy from caring for others. Because of this, focusing solely on ourselves for long periods of time can be an isolating experience. Caring for something outside ourselves can greatly benefit our mental health and provide us with a strong sense of purpose each day. Putting others before ourselves can be a great way to grow our empathy and become kinder people. By focusing on other people instead of tuning them out, we can teach ourselves to listen more often, to have compassion even when it’s difficult, and to recognize the needs of others. 

There’s a reason why community service and volunteer work tend to bring us joy. As a whole, human beings benefit from working in tandem, rather than as individuals abandoning each other in the name of self-preservation. We are meant to care for one another and rush to each other’s aid when a member of our community is in need. When we choose to focus solely on our own lives, loneliness can set in and rob us of our sense of purpose. Our culture teaches us that we should be “enough” for ourselves, but what if we channeled more energy outward toward our communities and less toward ourselves? What if we made an effort to add beauty, kindness, and truth to the world? This could have a stunning effect on our communities and our sense of purpose.

Sacrifice, compassion, and selflessness have the power to save relationships and friendships. 

Love and Friendships 

It’s no secret that our society could use some help in the relationship department. One glance at the current divorce rate will tell you that what we are doing is simply not working. With “put yourself first” becoming such a popular mantra, could selfishness be creeping into our relationships, marriages, and even friendships? How would our society be impacted if married couples considered their spouse’s emotions and well-being before their own? How many fractured relationships could be repaired with a bit of empathy and grace? Sacrifice, compassion, and selflessness have the power to save relationships and friendships. These things are difficult, but they are worth practicing and should not be forgotten or left behind by our society. Relationships improve dramatically when we choose to adopt selfless habits. 

The Difference Between Selfishness and Self-Care

Although it’s easy to confuse these two concepts, there’s a significant difference between selfishness and self-care. Selfishness is to preserve our own self-interest over the needs and well-being of other people, whereas self-care is a series of steps we take to improve our physical or mental health, without harming anyone else. When we think of self-care, our minds conjure images of cooling sheet masks and relaxing bubble baths. However, self-care can also look like choosing an apple over a donut, rising early for a morning workout, or deciding to get some sleep when we would rather stay awake, scrolling through Instagram for hours. There’s no need to feel guilty about engaging in self-care. When done properly, self-care helps us to become happier, healthier people. Selfishness, on the other hand, has the opposite effect on a person’s character. One helps us to flourish; the other sabotages us and harms the people in our lives. 

It’s crucial to note that rejecting selfishness doesn’t mean rejecting the act of self-care. Putting others first doesn’t mean refraining from taking care of ourselves or feeling guilty when we do. It simply means considering the effect that our actions have on the people around us, asking others how they feel, and doing our best to help when we’re needed, even when we don’t necessarily feel like being helpful. This is no easy feat. It takes much more work and intentionality to focus on others than it does to think only of ourselves, but it’s well worth the effort!

Putting others first should never mean compromising your morals and values to cater to another person’s desires. 

Realistic Ways To Put Others First

There are several ways in which you can put others first in your daily life. Try something as simple as asking a friend about their day before venting about your own. This shows that you care about their experiences and are eager to listen to what they have to say. Show kindness by lending a hand to the people in your life without expecting favors in return. The next time an argument erupts between you and a loved one, try to prevent yourself from holding grudges and focus instead on practicing forgiveness. If you’re looking for something more hands-on, it’s always a great idea to venture into community service! Volunteering your time or special skills can be an excellent way to help others in a selfless way. Take a few minutes each day to consider what you can contribute to your community. 

Being Selfless vs. Being a Doormat

It’s important to draw a distinction between putting others first and allowing ourselves to be treated poorly. Concerning ourselves with the needs of other people is not equivalent to being a doormat. Putting others first simply means practicing compassion and reducing the amount of time we spend thinking of ourselves. In many cases, compassion is the antidote to bitterness. It helps us understand one another and softens the hearts of everyone involved, strengthening bonds between friends and family members. If you show kindness to a person in your life who chooses to take advantage of it, there may be a deeper issue that needs to be dealt with. Remember: Putting others first should never mean compromising your morals and values to cater to another person’s desires. 

Closing Thoughts

It’s much easier to focus only on ourselves than it is to put other people first. However, many aspects of our lives may change for the better when we choose sacrifice over selfishness. Instead of putting ourselves first, should we be putting our families first? Our friends? Our communities? It’s never been more vital to consider the effects our actions have on others. Compassion and selflessness may have the power to dramatically change the world around us while also improving women’s relationships, friendships, and life satisfaction. 

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