Why Are Some People So Selfish? (+ How To Deal With Them)

Disclosure: this page may contain affiliate links to select partners. We receive a commission should you choose to make a purchase after clicking on them. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Selfish people are all around us.

They are our friends, coworkers, family members, and spouses.

It’s hard being around self-focused people because they don’t tend to grasp – or care – about how their actions affect those around them.

They can be frustrating and emotionally draining when you’re trying to have a healthy connection or positive interactions with them because they often take more than they are willing to give back.

That unbalanced dynamic can wear down your emotional health and well-being.

Everyone is a little bit selfish at times. That can’t be avoided and can be a good thing in small doses.

Selfishness crosses into dangerous territory when a person disregards the needs and desires of other people for their gain.

They don’t tend to look at relationships as mutually beneficial. Instead, they are more focused on what they can get and how the other person can benefit them.

Why are some people so selfish?

Selfishness is a learned trait.

In many cases, the selfish person grew up in an environment where their emotional needs were overlooked or unmet.

Their family may not have acknowledged or cared about how they thought or felt, so they became accustomed to putting themselves first because everyone else in their family was doing the same.

The fact that they were subjected to such a ruthless environment at a young age has caused them to develop selfishness as a defense mechanism.

They have a hard time understanding and valuing the thoughts, needs, and experiences of others because they did not learn how as they grew up.

These people tend to be low in emotional intelligence, whereas empathetic people tend to be much higher.

Emotional intelligence is a spectrum of knowledge and ability. Some people are just more emotionally intelligent than others.

And like traditional intelligence, it can be improved with learning and self-work if the selfish person chooses.

Sometimes people are just selfish because it’s the easier thing to do.

Being kind, unselfish, and understanding requires emotional labor that some people don’t want to put forward for whatever reason makes sense to them.

Sometimes they don’t see a benefit, think it’s unnecessary, or may not care.

And some people are selfish because they developed a scarcity mindset when they were growing up.

They see resources such as time and money as limited and so are less willing to be generous with theirs.

And they are more likely to act in ways that may be of detriment to others in order to acquire more of these resources.

Can selfish people learn to be less selfish?

They can with counseling and devoting some serious time and effort.

Unfortunately, getting a selfish person to realize that they should want to change is a different problem altogether.

It’s difficult for a self-absorbed person to conceptualize that they are at the root of their own personal or relationship issues.

Everything is about what everyone else did wrong and they have a hard time accepting any blame.

People who are locked into a reality they are comfortable with often need to be jolted out of it before they can realize that there is a problem.

That may require personal loss, losing relationships, or facing repercussions for selfish actions in their professional life.

And even if they do realize that there is a problem, they have to want to fix it, which is another challenge altogether.

Connecting the dots from one’s selfishness to a need to change may be too abstract for a person with low emotional intelligence. It’d be like trying to figure out quantum physics with only a few science classes.

Emotional health is complicated, even for people with high emotional intelligence.

You may also like (article continues below):

How to deal with selfish people.

Should you confront selfish behavior?

It depends.

The problem with confronting selfish behavior from a person with low emotional intelligence is that they rarely think they are the problem. What they are doing is normal to them.

By confronting them, they assume that you are a hostile or aggressive person who is trying to cause a problem with them. That can devolve into anger and arguing that’s not going to go anywhere.

Do you want to waste emotional energy on calling out these behaviors for no gain?

Is it necessary for you to call out those behaviors in the moment?

Sometimes it is, particularly if the selfish person is doing something harmful to you or someone else.

It’s natural and reasonable to be angry at selfish behavior, but you don’t want to fall into the trap of dumping out your emotional energy for no reason or gain.

Avoiding unnecessary conflict helps one to preserve their peace of mind and well-being.

However, it is helpful to allow that person to feel the natural consequences of their selfishness.

Don’t shield them from the repercussions of their choices and actions.

Don’t give them more time than you feel is necessary or comfortable.

No one wants to spend time around someone selfish and perform the emotional labor required to maintain that relationship.

That’s perfectly okay.

What if you’re in a relationship with a selfish person?

Ideally, you’d want to avoid getting involved with selfish and self-absorbed people to begin with, but that’s not always possible.

Paying close attention to how a new person relates to and acts toward other people can give you a firm idea of whether or not they are selfish.

Do they frame things from their perspective? Do they focus on what benefits them most? Do they focus on their own opinions and thoughts primarily?

But, if you do find yourself tied closely to a selfish person, it may be worth working on the problem with them if they realize there is a problem.

Addressing that type of selfishness will require a certified mental health or marriage counselor. It’s simply too large and deep of a problem to change solely through self-help.

Often, you’ll find that you can only minimize your interactions and avoid being too close to them for their selfishness to cause problems in your life.

People can change, but a lot of times they won’t. It’s just a lot of time, effort, and work that they don’t want to put in.

You have to find your way to step around those people to preserve your peace and happiness.

How to identify a selfish person.


Selfish people do not like the word, “no.”

They are always looking for ways to use other people to meet their needs or accomplish their goals.

A person who tells them no is someone that can’t be used or manipulated to greater ends.

Anyone with healthy boundaries is going to say no from time to time. The world demands a lot from us and we can’t always do everything that we need or want to do. That means saying no when someone asks for things that will overburden us.

A selfish person will typically respond poorly to “no.”

They may try to cajole, convince, or bully you into doing something you can’t do because they are more interested in meeting their own needs.

It will usually make them mad, which is fine. Let them be mad, but stick to your boundaries.

It’s a simple litmus test that can help you avoid selfish, overbearing people who do not have your best interests in mind.

Practicing kindness with selfish people.

A selfish person is not necessarily a bad person.

Many selfish people come from rough backgrounds that required selfishness to survive and thrive. They didn’t choose that for themselves.

People want to connect, to love, and feel loved, and some people have a skewed perspective of how to function with other people.

Boundaries and the ability to say no can help a selfish person understand that what they are doing isn’t healthy or sustainable.

In many cases, boundaries that are enforced hard will cause unhealthy people to wander off and look for softer targets.

Boundaries can also create a jolt that causes that person to think about what they are doing, which may spur their personal development.

Neither is a bad thing. Sometimes people need to face hardship to realize that they need to change.

It is not your responsibility to save other people from themselves either, so don’t make yourself their martyr.

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.