I was wondering what is the best way to describe an action taken for one's self without a negative, or positive connotation behind it?

Such as in the action of someone recusing themselves from an activity, the action of recusing is neutral.

I know that an action against one's self that is negative, such as suicide could be described as self-destructive.

  • 1
    'recusing' is not an action taken against oneself. It is removing oneself temporarily from a position of judgement (usually because of a conflict f interest. Also, any action against oneself might have the connotation of negativity, eg self-defeating.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 19:30
  • taking an action FOR one's self
    – lbf
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 20:11
  • My apologies, Ibf is right, I meant FOR, not against. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 20:29
  • 1
    . . . . reflexive ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 6:46
  • 1
    @NigelJ I think that works quite nicely. Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 18:29

6 Answers 6


Each word or phrase seems to have a +/- connotation one way or another: 'self-interest' comes off as selfish; 'in one's best interest' suggests someone else may be shorted or ignored; 'self-preservation' implies that there's a threat, and if you're self-preserving in the absence of a threat, that's neurotic; 'meaningless' definitely has a negative connotation; 'recusing' can be strategic and useful, or noble and fair, but is used in a legal setting where the law forces you to stand aside. The only truly neutral word here is 'reflexive,' which I think of as a type of verb that has a different form in Spanish, for example, meaning not 'reacted by reflex' but something like the person does this thing to him/herself -- we rarely consider this in English because our verb use is the same in both cases. But I don't think you were looking for an answer in the grammatical sense. The word that I feel best about is 'sustenance' - whether it's food, or hydration, or yoga, or psychotherapy, you take action, are engaged in activities that sustain you across many different domains. I note that as I try to describe its neutrality I am 'selling' it with positive attributes. What does that tell me? Should I balance it with negatives; would that make it neutral? I don't think so: that would make it mediocre. Sustenance is about doing simple things, basic acts to keep at a productive level, with a slight implication that once refreshed by these acts, you will be better able to help others.


Self-interested might be the word you're looking for.

  • Hello Linda! Good suggestion. Please could you edit in the definition of self-interested from a dictionary for people who aren't sure what it means? Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 5:03

To my sense, a self-preserving action/thought seems to have a neutral connotation. OED

Characterized by, motivated by, or having an instinct for self-preservation



(of an emotion, statement, or activity) directed at one's self.

(of an activity) under one's own control.

Lexico Dictionary

Self-Starting came to mind too but it might have a positive connotation to it.


An action that is self interested would suggest a limited scope of consideration, I would suggest an action taken in your best interests holds no negative implications


Well, first let's define self-destructive:

destroying or causing serious harm to oneself.

And the antonym self-preserving:

preservation of oneself from destruction or harm.

Using your example of recusal, from the dictionary:

the withdrawal of a judge, prosecutor, or juror from a case on the grounds that they are unqualified to perform legal duties because of a possible conflict of interest or lack of impartiality.

If you run the definition of recusal through Stanford's Sentiment Analysis tool you get a 69/100 negative sentiment score. This makes sense because recusal serves in the negative interest of the party being recused, hence the recusal.

I would say an action without positive or negative meaning would simply be a meaningless action. As in: "His behavior was seemingly meaningless."

An example of truly meaningless behavior that comes to mind is the AI strawberry farmer tale Elon Musk and Eliezer Yudkowsky like to tell. The story roughly being:

If an AI were to develop human like intelligence with a simple objective of maximizing strawberry yield on a strawberry farm, it would need more and more sources of carbon. It doesn't specifically have a consciousness so it's not really self-preserving or self-destructive. It simply is. On it's quest to maximize strawberry yield it could discover that humans are a great source of carbon and utilize 100% of it on the planet. It would continue doing this for as long as it existed.

I would simply call that behavior "meaningless" on the part of the AI. (Not for humans though.)

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