Reframing Selfishness: How Putting Yourself First Defines Love

For most of my life, I’ve been asked to cook or help in some way at every family party. “Rebecca, por favor, corta los vegetales.” “Limpia la mesa.” “Ayudame con la compra.” I would selflessly peel potatoes, make sandwiches, or whatever was asked of me to do. I would help serve other’s plates (usually for my tios or primos) before finally getting down to finally serving my own. By the time I made a plate, I was barely hungry—snacking in the kitchen and the indifference I had towards cooking didn’t help.

At a certain point, I started doing these things because I felt like I had to—gone were the days of me actually wanting to help. When I noticed that every primo I had was able to sit back and have a cerveza while my tias were sweating over a hot stove or cleaning the house, an anger started to rise up inside me. By the time I was done preparing things for others, I was too tired to enjoy them for myself. Since then, I’ve made an adamant stance on balancing the workload, and have dragged my cousins into the kitchen to do their part. As women, especially Latinas, we are taught that we have to put other’s first, no matter the cost, and usually that involves taking care of and serving men.

I started dragging my cousins into the kitchens with me to put in the work. Not only was I trying to break those gender norms and push for the equality we so rightfully deserve in our own families, but I wanted to be able to enjoy my time there and have the other women in my family have the same experience. It was then when I decided that I would come first—and making the choice to love and place myself before others was a vital step.

Love, overall, starts with loving yourself. I know this redundant and cliché trope is reflected in every self-help book and inspirational movie, but I started to consider that maybe all of these books and articles had valid points. With the idea of self-care trending (also mindfulness and choosing happiness coming in under the same guise), self-love has gotten a bad reputation as it’s usually regurgitated as selfishness.

Selfishness has the worst connotation of them all. There is, however, something I like to call nurturing selfishness, and doesn’t it just sound easier to call it self-love?

Being selfish, and putting your own emotional, mental, and physical being first is a vital step in creating the life you want to live. You are able to prioritize your needs, listen to your intuition more instinctively, and understand the choices you are making are from a place of love, not doubt or to pacify someone else in your life. This allows for others to love you in return, without feeling that your affection is one-sided or, most importantly, just there to nurture the spirit of the other person. Love is a two-way street, but how can one receive when they are too busy only giving?

I started expanding on this idea in small ways every day. When I was faced with a choice or an option, I would quietly ask myself, “does this serve me?” It’s remarkable to see how your life can evolve when you’re able to be honest with yourself about choices you’re making. As someone who was taught to put others first, being able to take the idea of self-love and bring it to every part of my life opened my eyes to a reality that had always been present, but has never come to fruition due to my  limitations of serving others before making myself a plate.

Like Bauer states in his article How Being Selfish Can Make You a Better Person, “Healthy selfishness feels like taking a risk. It does not mean disregarding other people’s feelings and needs. It simply means we do not disregard ourselves to please others or to support others at our own expense. It means we take care of our body and value our needs, desires, feelings and dreams.”

How are you going to reframe the idea of being selfish in order to positively influence your life?

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