This was posed in class last week by one of our students and it is a valid question that always bothers us.
Our first responsibility is towards us. Only after we are taken care of are we capable of helping others.
The dilemma comes from our conditioning - but we are supposed to help others? The idea is that we can help others when we are secure. If we are continuously looking to help others at our cost, we will not be able to truly help them. We will only be avoiding helping others because we have too low a self-esteem to help ourselves and hide it in the garb of helping others. This is not selfless service - it is our discomfort at helping ourselves, at our feeling deep inside that we may not be able to hep ourselves.
Selfless service comes from a clear space. Someone who has been able to help themselves be on firm ground - mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially (even any one of those) - can help others. So first crack the code with yourself and then turn to others.
How do we find the balance?
We will find the balance because once we are secure it is easy to be compassionate. We look to develop or grow the other person in a genuine manner and not keep them tied to ourselves because it serves us and our low self esteem. This is toxic for both. Focus on yourself. It is OK to be tough sometimes on others. You will help at the right time in the right way.