On your journey of expanding your self-love, you might be concerned that you’ll become egoistic. A student asked after seeing my lesson on self-love: “What’s the difference between self-love and egoism?”
If you bump into the same issue, this post is for you!
There’s generally a very negative definition of egoism, most people think of it as some evil and purposeful tendency to serve one’s own needs at the expense of others. And yes, sometimes people do serve their own needs at the cost of others. But is it evil? Should egoism be shamed? Should we try to suppress his tendency in ourselves (for don’t we all have that tendency sometimes?)?
Egoism can also be defined more neutrally as the I-person being concerned about themselves. And that is actually a very important and beautiful thing.
Of course, we need to take care of ourselves! Just like we need to take care of our family, our planet, our body, and yes… our ego / ourselves! You are the one person who’s always with you, you are the first person responsible for your own being. You are the person who knows best what you need, and you’re also usually the person who can best meet those needs. It’s very important we all take good care of ourselves.
Egoism leads to altruism
And this actually leads to altruism (the opposite of egoism, the tendency to selflessly do good for others and the world around you), because once you’re able to meet all your needs, you have your hands free to help other people meet their needs. And this is something we as human beings very naturally do.
We all love to help.
When we help others, our brains make serotonin, our natural “happy chemicals”, the same chemicals as are the active component in XTC pills. Our brain even makes more serotonin when we help others than when we help ourselves. So ultimately, it’s in our biological nature to be altruistic because it makes us happy. You can see this in children too, they very often naturally like to help and give presents to others.
BUT we might first need to fill our own cup before it can spill over in an abundant flow for others.
For example, if we’re worried about paying our rent, it’s harder to feel happy giving to a charity then when we’re feeling abundant. And when we’re depressed ourselves, it’s hard to cheer others up.
Choose non-harmful egoism
Now here’s the problem of egoism: people might be so caught up with trying to meet their own needs, and they might have so many psychological problems, that they completely damage others in the process of doing so.
For example, there are business people who have never been loved enough in their childhood and who use having as much money as possible as a substitute for their feeling of self-worth. And they might be so caught up in that, that they don’t care about the damage the company is doing to the environment or the bad working circumstances the employees of the company have to endure.
Hence the negative feeling that most people have about egoism: they see this negative side-effect of it and they think all egoism is bad.
The goal, however, is to acknowledge that egoism is something good. It is important to take care of yourself. And at the same time, one should be considerate of others. It’s possible to meet your own needs without damaging others.
Of course the business owner with a lack of love in his life can go to a psychologist and get help, and find out how to have fulfilling relationships, and run a company that’s not damaging to the employees and the environment.
I’ll go one step further and say that
it’s actually even impossible to take good care of yourself without being considerate of others.
In the end, human beings are empathic beings. We have mirror neurons in our brain that for example make you yawn when you see someone else yawning, and that make you happy when you see someone else happy, and that make you sad when you see someone else being sad. If we hurt others, we hurt. And as said before, when we make others happy, we feel happy.
So people who commit egoistic crimes against others are just learning to find out that that won’t make them truly happy. Even if they don’t feel bad about it at the moment of the crime, they will probably start feeling guilty later. (Maybe except for a small number of people with very serious hard-wired psychological disorders, maybe psychopaths and narcissists, but I wouldn’t really know about that.)
For normal people goes: To damage someone else is to damage oneself too. And some people are so caught up in meeting their own needs that they haven’t learned the lesson yet that actually what makes one truly happy is a non-violent life, loving connections with others, helping others.
Being egoistic in a non-harmful way is a self-loving thing to do. And being altruistic is a self-loving thing to do too. Because both will make you happy.
In addition, you might like to watch a very related video I have posted on Youtube called “Scrap egoism out of your dictionary, why you can free yourself from egoism”. It deals specifically with being able to say no to others without needing to feel wrong about that.