The Healthy, Selfless Act of Putting Ourselves First

The Healthy, Selfless Act of Putting Ourselves First
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Putting yourself first is a healthy, useful and necessary practice. It’s not selfishness, because having an unwavering love for the person we see in the mirror, no apologies or judgments, is self-care.

It’s investing in our own personal well-being and quality of life. And besides, only if you look after yourself like you deserve can you look after anyone else.

Interestingly, Socrates himself focused part of his teachings on the concept of self-care, or what was then called “epimeleia heautou“.

Later on, Michel Foucault would analyze the idea a bit more and come to the following conclusion. Only when a person manages to truly know himself, taking care of himself and appreciating himself, can he reach true freedom.

“If you do not have self love, what love can you aspire to?”

-Walter Riso-

The truth is that we don’t know when or why most of us were taught that this was a selfish attitude to have. Terminologies were confused, making us believe that altruism and respect for other people is not at all compatible with self-love or putting ourselves first as we should. This belief is just false.

And so, almost without realizing it, we’ve been building relationships based on sacrifice. Based on the idea that the more we give others, the more they’ll love us and appreciate us.

But w hat we end up doing is abandoning self-love by the roadside. We don’t look back and we think we’re doing things right, what’s expected of us.

We need to try to stop this unhealthy practice. Why? It’s essentially triggering many of our problems: frustration, anxiety, sleepless nights and even physical pain…

putting ourselves first

If we stop putting ourselves first, we’ll wear ourselves out

When we stop putting ourselves first and instead fill our head with thoughts like “I must do”,  “I have to help” or “they’re expecting me to go there”, all you’ll end up doing is draining yourself.

It empties you of your energy, identity, desires and most of all, your self-esteem. The hardest thing is that sometimes we do these things without even thinking about it. We never stop and wonder whether we really want to do that particular favor.

Psychologists explain that we fall into the trap of just automatically doing things, and then rationalizing these actions as natural and necessary. We think if we’re useful to others then we’re valuable. I f we’re needed by our loved ones, then they will love us.

However, this rule of three doesn’t always give the expected results; in fact, it rarely does.

What happens in these cases is as crushing as it is sad. When we perceive that our efforts and constant sacrifices are not valued, we develop a very critical view of ourselves. We blame ourselves for having been so naive, so devoted, so gullible.

That inner voice can sometimes be very cruel. Then when this happens, it doesn’t take long for somatization (Briquet’s Syndrome) to show up. Muscule pain, a gripping fatigue, digestive problems, infections, headaches, even hair loss…

Abandoning ourselves to the exclusive satisfaction of other people’s needs blurs us as people, dilutes us and drains us until we’re out of spirit, hope and identity. When this happens, the first thing we’ll experience is a deep physical fatigue and a dense mental fog …

Learn to “serve yourself”

There are many people like this, stuck in other people’s schedules, like trains travelling on tracks from other places, other worlds. They carry loads that aren’t theirs as if they were, and don’t get a single day off.  A day to be themselves, take care of themselves and do what they want.

Being in this situation for a long time endangers our psychological balance and our health. That’s why we recommend getting rid of this inertia and giving yourself a new focus.

a girl walking on the mountaintop

Putting ourselves first: how to do it in 4 steps

  • Time. People who’ve stopped putting themselves first just automatically say “yes” all the time. For any request, they find it impossible not to say this magic word. We have to curb this impulse.

So, when someone asks, suggests or demands something, the best thing to do at first is to keep silent. We should avoid giving an immediate response so we can reflect for a few minutes and honestly assess whether or not we want to do what they’ve asked us to do. Learn to say “NO”.

  • Perspective. In order to learn how to care for ourselves, we need to control our distance from our surroundings, either by lengthening or shortening it. There comes a time when a person is so used to doing absolutely everything that they lose perspective.

Therefore, saying “I don’t want to, I can’t, today I’m putting myself first” is not the end of the world.

  • Helpful phrases. It never hurts to have a small collection of phrases that can help us protect our own needs, identity or free time.

“I’m sorry, but right now what you’re asking me to do doesn’t work for me”, “I appreciate you thinking about me for that, but I need some me time”, “Right now I don’t feel like doing what you’re asking me to do, I need to spend some time alone.”

  • Stop certain conversations. We all know how these conversations start, the ones that always end in a request. The conversations go well until, suddenly, the enjoyment ends when the other person asks for a favor. Usually assuming that we’ll do it.

Now that we have some strategies in our toolbox, we know how to stop them as soon as possible. We’ll avoid exhausting ourselves and we’ll learn to be assertive.

Putting ourselves first matters

To summarize: you won’t learn these 4 steps overnight. If we use our willpower and make a firm decision to look after ourselves better, and understand that putting ourselves first is a really selfless and necessary action, then we’ll get better at it every day: caring for other people, but also ourselves.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.