The Difference Between Self-Worth and Selfishness

I love breaking down the myths, assumptions and definitions of the ways that we take care of ourselves and show ourselves love. This blog post is no different!

When we typically think of a selfish person, we think of a person that prioritizes their needs, and their needs alone.

Selfishness means to only see yourself, your needs and your wants without recognizing that others also exist in spaces to have their needs and wants met. For someone to be considered selfish, they usually:

  • Lack caring for others
  • Fail to recognize the needs of others
  • Use blame and shame to get what they want
  • Get what they want by any means necessary
three women sitting on bench

Photo by nappy on

Sometimes when we discuss prioritizing yourself when practicing self-care, the concept of selfishness is also thrown into the mix. There are also social, generational, gender-based and cultural implications that tie selfishness and practicing self-care together. For instance, I am familiar with many people from my cultural community who view self-care as not caring for your family and choosing to focus on yourself. There is history behind this perspective that impacts many people of color and their ability to practice self-care.

That’s where the definition of self-worth comes in. Valuing yourself means to identify your own needs and creating time, space and energy to take care of those needs. Finding yourself worthy of care also means setting and maintaining boundaries with others that may have different values.

Self-worth is recognizing that you and others have needs and have value. Self-worth includes understanding that there is space for all of us to take care of ourselves.

The biggest difference between selfishness and self-worth is the understanding that just because you care for yourself, does not mean you do not care for others. In fact, because you care for yourself, you are better able to care for others.

What are your definitions of self-worth and selfishness?


  1. Ali, The Mindful Gardener says

    Self-care is a very deliberate, thoughtful act. Being selfish often entails a lack of awareness and thoughtlessness, taking for granted what you have or can take. In my experience, the more privilege you have, the less awareness and ability to reflect on this. So it is interesting what you note about people of colour being less likely to practise self-care and to be criticised as selfish. When you don’t act according to you assigned place in the hierarchy, there is a backlash.
    Self care is so important to self esteem, and a sense of agency to change things. If you don’t practice self care you won’t have the energy to fight. Maybe that’s the fear too?

    • Michelle says

      Ali, I couldn’t agree more! I appreciate you noting how self-awareness, privilege and self-esteem all hold a place in our view of self-care and our ability to practice it. And absolutely, there are certainly fears connected our feelings about ourselves and our energy to care and protect ourselves. Thank you so much from reading! I hope to hear and learn more from you! 🙂

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