Is Self Help Selfish?


According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary:

Self Help: 1. The theory that individuals should provide for their own support and improvement in society. 2 the act or faculty of providing for or improving oneself

Selfish: 1 Deficient in consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure; actuated by self-interest

I was recently part of a conversation where someone shared their belief that self-help can lead a person to become self-centered and selfish. Have you heard this sentiment before? I think it’s based out of fear. And I’d like to explore it here!

Does self-help make a person selfish?

The answer could fill a book (now, would that be a “self help, self help” book?…lol!) I have a few thoughts to share, and I’d love to hear your’s as well. For starters, what is self help? From Oxford’s definition, it sounds like it’s a method, an act of learning how to provide for/improve/support one’s own self. I would add that to help myself, I am really learning to lead myself in better ways of living. It goes beyond learning how to cope. From my personal experience, this has involved stretching out to my past (facing and getting rid of a lot of old garbage and lies) and also getting to know my deep passions and goals for my future. Both dynamics are helping me to live whole and alive in my present.

Beneath all of that, I think this is key: what drove my whole process of recovery was that I wanted to be me, the real me. I wanted to live my own unique life to the FULL, and I was willing to go through the pain, years of counseling, financial investment, and time commitment to find that life. I wanted to know my purpose for being on this earth (which has a lot to do with the question: how can I impact the world through being me?) Yes, I wanted to find relief and healing from my own pain. But I also wanted to learn how to live in a healthy outward way. I wanted to be a healthy, contributing, thriving part of this world. I believe this deep desire is at the heart of any person’s pursuit of self help, whether they realize it or not.

Some stages of my recovery do involve varying degrees of self care and inward attention, which might appear to be selfish.  And, as I become more of the real me, others might feel like they have to relate to me differently, which is uncomfortable for them (I think that’s where the fear comes in). The thing with recovery is that we can’t know exactly what we’ll be like throughout the process. Our real selves may turn out to be very different than what people were used to before. I can understand how disconcerting that might be to others. But does that mean we’re selfish?

The big truth for me? I feel far less selfish now than I used to. I am less needy and more interested in engaging with the world. I have never been as free as I feel today. I have never understood what it means to give of myself with no strings attached, to be excited about other people’s lives as I am about my own life, to exercise my gifts and abilities in ways I was totally afraid to do before. I judge others less; I judge myself less. I’m learning how to speak my truth in ways that benefit others and myself equally.  I take good care of myself because if I don’t, the real Carla won’t be as vibrant as she’s meant to be in this world! In gaining peace and fulfillment for myself, I find I naturally want to help others find that for themselves. I’m no saint, but I have grown. And I wouldn’t be becoming all these things now if I hadn’t self-helped myself.

I know one things for sure: if I hadn’t learned how to help myself, I would not be writing on this blog! So I think my answer to the question is pretty clear! But what do you think? I’d love to know.


9 response to "Is Self Help Selfish?"

  1. By: David Posted: 7th February

    I think the “self-help being regarded as selfish” phenomenon particularly affects people who are accustomed to relating in codependent ways, as the “beneficiaries” of their weak boundaries are, of course, going to be inconvenienced when that person becomes more healthy. People who feed off of others’ non-self-loving behavior are bound to feel disappointed and abandoned when someone takes a stand for self-love. But that is their problem, not the problem of the person who is choosing life over a toxic interaction. A side effect of choosing truth and life is that it’s an unpleasant confrontation for people who are still choosing to be unhealthy.

    • By: Carla Dippel Posted: 7th February

      Hi David- you make some really great points here. Your wording, “”beneficiaries” of their weak boundaries” is really eye-opening. In a codependent state, it is easy to mistake taking advantage of one another as love. Real love doesn’t take advantage of others, or feed off of them to build ourselves up (the toxic interaction you mentioned later). Darlene expands on this too, in her most recent post, which is most excellent!

      Thanks so much for visiting and leaving your comments David!

  2. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 5th February

    Jeanette- I’m sorry for spelling your name wrong in my first response! I should know by now… I like how you say you are “already starting to feel the chains loosen a bit”. What a great way to put it. Onwards towards more and more freedom! Freedom to be our true, loving selves… I agree- the process is worth it, as difficult as it can be.

    Hugs to you!

  3. By: Jeanette Posted: 5th February

    You are completey on target with the self judgement emminating outward vs. self love emminating outward. I still struggle with the self judgement and then tendancy toward judgement of others, it’s a very hard pattern to break. But I’m getting better at it. The more I heal inside, the easier it is to spot all this junk and do a mental reverse. Such a long hard process to undo all this stuff! But it’s going to be such a freeing experience in the end, I’m already starting to feel the chains loosen a bit. 🙂

  4. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 5th February


    You make such a great point here when you mention love for ourselves. This was a huge thing for me that kept me in the fog for a long time. I just felt so guilty for everything, felt that I was not good enough, and didn’t know why my judgement level was so high! I guess in a way I did love others as I loved myself… which was NOT at all and full of judgement! I knew how to serve others… but that was under the system of obligation, not from a heart that grew out of mutual love. This could be a whole other blog post from me!!


  5. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 5th February

    Jeannette, I totally agree… For a long time it felt so DIFFICULT to care about other people, and I would despair about it because I wanted to care about others. What you say is so true- now that I am cultivating more love for myself, it is easier for me to extend that to others too. Thanks so much for contributing Jeannette!

  6. By: Jeanette Posted: 5th February

    Boy I sure have heard plenty of this in my life as well! I came from a very backward thinking religious background, where just about anything you did for yourself was considered selfish. ‘Too self centered’ was such a running catch phrase for years in those circles. One thing that changed my mind over this was the directive ‘love thy neighbor as thy self’. Hmmmm. What if I couldn’t find love for myself, would I be able then to love my neighbor? Love is not something you can give if you are empty of it. I had to try to figure out why I found it so difficult to love myself and had nothing to give to those around me in turn. If I was going to be able to have an overflow into the world around me, I had to start with me. Most people overlook that little nugget of truth (well, actually HUGE nugget of truth!) when they throw that directive around. It starts WITH me and flows outward. It took me 40 years to ‘get that’!!! Better late than never though. 🙂

  7. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 4th February

    I look forward to reading your post Darlene. I agree with your point about some people trying to change others around them instead of focusing on themselves- I’ve seen self help used in that way too and it misses the point, unfortunately. I also definitely have seen the positive ripple effect that you’re talking about in your own life. It is very very cool. Our recovery impacts others, no doubt!

  8. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 4th February

    Hi Carla,

    I have also heard comments like this one. I wonder where such thoughts comes from? A woman told me once how she loved to read, but her husband didn’t like it when she did, so she didn’t. Some people (like him) think that doing anything for yourself is selfish. I suppose self help can be a problem when a person is reading a self help book and decides to try to change all the people around them, instead of just looking at what is wrong in their own life.

    I view self help as an act of love to all those around me and the positive changes ripple out to the rest of the world. The greatest thing that I have ever done in my life is get help for myself. I had three children when I hit the worst bottom of my life and I had plans to leave them and run away from dealing with anything anymore. What would have become of them, had I done that? My life has changed 100% and therefore so have the lives of each person in my family.

    I am going to make my next post about this subject! Thanks Carla for bringing this up!


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