I’m often confronted with the conundrum of whether it’s okay to carve out a little bit of “me” time each day instead of focusing on only meeting the needs and wishes of others, particularly my special needs son. Living a life of complete selflessness can take a significant toll on your mental health and well-being and perhaps leave you feeling taken advantage of. I believe it’s critical for your own sanity and happiness to identify a generous balance of both selfish and selfless in your daily life. I know I need it!

Give and take — distinguishing the difference.

Webster defines the word “selfish” as lacking consideration for others; being concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure and “selfless” as being concerned more with the needs of others than with one’s own; giving things up for another’s benefit.

Selfish people are often viewed as takers and selfless individuals are identified as givers and therefore perceived as being better, more thoughtful people. However, I’ve come to realize that selfishness nor selflessness is neither good or bad. In fact, the two concepts are intricately linked.

Think back on the times you may have felt the need to be alone — maybe you needed to take a quiet walk or read a book to escape the multitude of demands being asked of you and give yourself a necessary break from feeling overwhelmed. Do you believe the request for alone time illustrates selfishness? Perhaps you’re a parent or caregiver and that was the only hour you had in the day that wasn’t consumed with attending to the needs of someone other than yourself. It is all about perspective and understanding that observing time alone to rejuvenate or gather your thoughts can often provide the peace you need to continue caring for others and being your best self.

Instinctively, parents usually put the needs of their children first, but in my experience, it’s just not sustainable over the long term. Regardless if your child relies upon you to assist with every task because he/she has a disability or developmental challenges, it is critical that you set aside even a small fraction of time to pause and ask for help. Without the ability to take care of yourself and your own needs before worrying about everyone else’s, you jeopardize the most important person of them all: you. In my opinion, that’s not selfish, that’s smart!

Avoid the ugly side of selfishness.

Investing time and energy into yourself and tending to your emotional fulfillment is vastly different than being inconsiderate and deliberately hurting others with selfish words or actions. We can be so self-absorbed with our own life and our own plans that we forget to look around and realize how many people are suffering and could use a little help. Sometimes without thinking, we comment hateful things to strangers on social media accounts, scream at people for driving too slow for our own liking or express anger at a restaurant employee because our food order is incorrect or took too long to arrive. We are all guilty of doing something that we aren’t necessarily proud of. We completely forget that we are human and can be selfish in those ways too. Being mindful of your words and actions at all times allows the extraordinarily selfless person that is within each of us to shine through and demonstrates a good lesson in kindness to those we interact with.

Always remember that a healthy balance of selfish and selfless is needed in our daily lives. However, one must ensure their cup is full before pouring into others – what help can you be to someone else if you aren’t helping yourself.