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It’s important to take care of ourselves and ensure that all our needs are met. These needs go beyond just food and shelter to include experiences and connections that help us thrive as individuals.
Self-care is important, but when does self-care and making sure our needs are met take precedence over caring about others? Or basic decency?
At what point does a person go from being healthily concerned for their own well-being to only thinking about themselves and what they want or need?
What makes a person selfish?
Below is a list of telltale signs that “selfish” isn’t just your middle name, it’s a massive part of who you are. It’s not a complete list, but if you’re a selfish person, it’s likely you’ll recognize several of these traits in yourself—either because you’re self-aware enough to see them or because people have accused you of them.
So, strap in as we look at self-centeredness in from all angles.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you shift your selfish mindset and behavior to something more caring and kind. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.
15 signs that you are selfish:
1. You know goddamned well that you are.
You know you’re a selfish bastard, even if you’ve been in not-so-deep denial about it. You do things how and when you want to, and that’s the end of it. In addition, you want things to play out exactly how you want them to, and you tend to go ballistic if they don’t.
For example, you might insist on being the one to choose takeout options every time because you refuse to compromise. You’ll draw from the joint bank account for items you want but insist that your spouse or other family members pay for theirs from their own savings.
Even when it comes to something as simple as putting on music or choosing a film, others around you will have to listen to or watch what you want, or you’ll make it difficult or unenjoyable if what everyone else decides on isn’t to your specific taste.
2. Your needs and wants come first.
You rarely, if ever, factor in other people’s wants or needs, unless of course they help to further your own plans, or directly benefit you.
For example, let’s say your partner says that they really want you to attend something they’re involved with. Maybe they have art being displayed at a gallery or they’re having an album release party for their band. You might initially roll your eyes at the inconvenience, until you remember that there’s a great craft beer place nearby where you can stock up.
THEN, suddenly the event is worthwhile, especially since you can slip away as soon as possible.
Or perhaps your spouse has talked about wanting a fancy kitchen gadget. Even though you’ll never use it, you might get it for them solely for the fact that they’ll be cooking great things for you more often. It’s a perfect example of “selfish altruism.” Superficially, it looks like you’re doing something nice for them, when in fact you’re looking out for your own best interests. They’re merely the conduit to make tastiness happen for you.
3. “My way or the highway.”
Since you don’t compromise, if other people don’t see the wisdom of your preferences and desires, then you don’t bother with them at all. You know best in every situation, and what you want to do is always more fun, more important, and of a higher caliber than what anyone else might like.
Furthermore, if you all go out and do the thing that you want, then you may have the opportunity to advance your own interests, depending on who you might run into. Because of course, that takes higher priority than actually ensuring that those you claim to care about are having a good time too.
This kind of selfishness is seen in parents who indulge their own desires ahead of other people’s needs. For instance, you might see a parent buying themselves something expensive instead of paying for a teen’s dental care or school supplies. Then if the kid complains, the parent will say that if they don’t like the way things are, they can move out.
4. You see people as tools or stepping stones, not human beings.
In your eyes, people are more like objects that have potential uses for you, rather than sentient beings with individual emotions, dreams, and needs. You don’t see them as individuals or relate to them as peers, but rather determine their value based on whether you have a use for them or not.
When you meet someone new, you’ll likely ask them what they do for a living, what their hobbies are, and so on. This isn’t because you’re actually interested, but are looking for aspects that may benefit your career, skillset, or social circle. In fact, you may go out of your way to associate with others specifically for what they might be able to do for you.
Then, once they’ve outlived their usefulness, you’ll simply redirect and move on. This is your frame of mind, and anything else is seen as quaint. You’ll humor others’ perspectives if you think you can get something out of them, or if they’re perceived to have a strong social position. It’s common for selfish people to be incredibly cruel to others whom they feel hold no value to them.
Take stock of how you treat others when they’re no longer beneficial or useful for you. If your partner is getting too old for you to find them physically attractive, would you simply replace them with a younger model? If your hard-working spouse broke their back at work, would you complain about their thoughtlessness and how much they’re putting you out?
Consider where your loyalties lie, if you have any. Then examine why you feel that loyalty. Is it out of love, respect, and duty? Or have those people merely not finished playing their part in your story yet?
5. Everything is all about you.
Basically, when you’re interacting or dealing with other people, all your thoughts center around how they might affect you, not who and where they are.
I came across a perfect example of this recently: a woman was lamenting the fact that her young teenage daughter wasn’t developing at the same rate as her peers. Rather than being concerned as to whether the girl might have a hormonal imbalance, she was asking how she was supposed to cope with the fact that her kid wasn’t “normal.” Do you know how that affected her?
How was she supposed to shop for bras and personal care supplies if her daughter was so inconsiderate as to be behind schedule like that?
Ask yourself if you’ve ever been in a situation where, instead of expressing concern about someone else’s struggles with their health or able-bodiedness, you’ve simply gotten frustrated or annoyed with how they’re inconveniencing you.
6. You’ll never do a favor without knowing you’ll get something in return.
Does your friend need help moving? Well sure, you’ll lend a hand… but what’s in it for you? If they can’t tell you immediately what they can offer you in recompense, you’ll be sure to let them know that they owe you—and you’ll try to squeeze everything you can out of them, even if it’s several times more than you did for them.
You’ll call them in the middle of the night to pick you up from the airport and remind them of that time that you did that thing for them. And heaven help them if they try to ask for more of your time and effort before offering what you consider to be adequate compensation for the inconvenience. After all, your energy is so much more valuable than theirs, right?
7. You don’t keep your promises.
You might make promises when you’re trying to get someone to do something for you, but then you don’t hold up your end of the bargain. You’ll say whatever’s needed to get what you want, but when it comes time to make good on what you said you’d do in return, well… something else has come up and you simply can’t. Sorry-not-sorry.
In fact, you likely get irritable when someone calls you out on this and reminds you that you promised that you’d do that thing. Don’t they understand that you have other, more important, and better things to do with your time?
Much like the personal problems situation mentioned earlier, however, if someone else breaks their promise to YOU, then all hell will break loose. You trusted them, and they gave you their word. How could they be so awful as to cancel out on doing something that means so much to you?
On that note…
8. You don’t do your fair share.
Maybe you complain that your partner keeps “nagging” you all the time to do various chores, or gets upset with you that you forgot to pick the kids up from school again, and so on. They might do 95% of the cooking, cleaning, and childcare, but that 5% that’s your responsibility has to be wrung out of you like blood from a stone.
Whatever you’re involved in takes precedence over what needs to be done, and you get resentful and grumpy when you’re either guilt-tripped or forced to hold up your end. You don’t WANT to pause your movie to take out the stupid garbage. Why can’t someone else do it? And so what if there’s a parent-teacher interview about your kid on Friday. Your friends have invited you for a weekend getaway, so you won’t be able to make it.
This might happen at home or at work, but either way, other people are continually forced to pick up the slack caused by you. You might weaponize incompetence (such as intentionally burning meals or turning laundry pink) to get out of having to do those chores again. Or you’ll be conveniently absent when the bulk of the work needs to be done. They can sort it out just fine on their own, right?
9. You hold grudges.
The phrase “forgive and forget” isn’t part of your vocabulary. Not unless you’re encouraging someone else to forgive you, of course.
If someone does you dirty for some reason, you’ll hold onto the hurt, anger, and resentment they caused indefinitely. It doesn’t matter if they’ve apologized, done all they can to make it up to you, or if what happened was accidental. They did you wrong, and you’re not going to let that drop.
In fact, you’ll use it to your greatest advantage. You’ll mention it when you want to get your way or if you know they’re feeling happier than you are at that moment. In simplest terms, they need to know that mistreating you like that was NOT OKAY and never will be ever again.
Twenty or thirty years down the road, you may still mention it at the holiday dinner table, just to make sure they know they’re still in the doghouse.
10. You’re so self-involved that you don’t notice other people’s suffering (and their struggles don’t really matter to you).
You may be so utterly self-involved that you don’t even clue in when others are hurting around you. Furthermore, if you do notice that there’s something wrong, you want them to stop griping about it so you don’t have to deal with it.
It’s hard for you to muster up any sense of care for what they’re going through. In fact, hearing about their issues annoys you, and you’d rather avoid them. The exception here is when and if showing (fake) compassion and offering to help them will benefit you in the long run, such as pandering to a sickly elder relative who may cough up an inheritance in your direction.
When the shoe is on the foot however, it’s a different situation. If that’s the case, then the world should stop and refocus its actions on your suffering. This is you, after all. Who cares what anyone else is going through when you’re ill or injured!
It doesn’t matter that your friend might have broken a leg or your sibling is mourning another miscarriage. You’re hurting, so they’d better bloody well get over themselves and help you!
11. You rarely if ever feel remorse.
It’s likely that you treat other people like complete crap on the regular, but if they get upset about it, well… that sounds like a “them” problem. In fact, if they’re going to be such downers, they can sod off.
Everything you do is for a reason, and if others don’t understand that reason, then there’s something wrong with them—not you. If you break something that belongs to someone else, whatever: it’s merely an object, and they can replace it if it’s really that important to them.
On a similar note:
12. You rarely apologize, and if you do, you don’t really mean it.
If people get hurt or upset by things you’ve said or done, that annoys you. Whatever it was you said or did, it was undoubtedly for a reason. You were just being honest, so they’re probably oversensitive and will get over it as soon as they decide to stop being dramatic about it. Besides, if they decide to keep griping about the thing you supposedly did, then they sound a bit too needy and precious to keep in your life.
In your mind, instead of apologizing for treating others badly, it’s easier to replace them rather than wasting your time pretending that you’re making amends. After all, there are always plenty of other (smarter, hotter, more popular, wealthier, higher-value) people who are clamoring for your time and attention. If the downers don’t value you for your countless admirable traits, others will.
Once the naysayers and complainers are out of sight, they’re out of mind. Why on earth would you feel remorse for hurting or betraying someone or letting them down when they needed you?
13. The consequences of your actions rarely concern you.
Generally, whatever may unfold as a result of your action doesn’t really weigh on your mind. In fact, it’s rather beneath you to even consider what the long-term effects might be.
You’ll see this a lot in some of the older generations who don’t care much about how their actions might affect the environment. For example, your grandparents might burn their garbage or pour chemicals down the drain, and then they say that whatever may ensue is “someone else’s problem.”
14. People tell you straight out that you’re a selfish prick.
If you’re selfish, it’s likely that people tell you so on a regular basis. Furthermore, it’s not just people whom you believe are trying to manipulate you, or whose intuition and awareness are “off.” Rather, this feedback is coming from people you respect, or at least in whom you have confidence in their awareness and disposition.
You may get told that you’re selfish by your grandmother, a capable colleague or manager, a good friend of yours, and so on. These are people who have spent enough time with you that they’ve been able to gain a full appreciation of your life habits and personality. As a result, they may try to approach you gently and obliquely about your selfish behavior or tell you outright that maybe eating the whole cake three times in a row before anyone else could have some is a bit much.
15. You do what you want regardless of how badly you may hurt others.
This touches upon several of the aspects listed above, but emphasizes the fact that ultimately, you don’t care about how your actions affect those around you. You’re the most important being in your universe, and if you find out that something you’ve said or done has hurt someone else—even if it’s quite badly—you just don’t care.
Furthermore, you probably don’t even think about it.
Why are you selfish?
You may be wondering what causes selfishness. Well, there are a number of contributing factors as to why a person might be selfish, and many of them are the same as those that lead to narcissism.
Generally, people become selfish when their basic needs aren’t met in early childhood. Maybe their caregivers didn’t give them enough attention, affection, food, shelter, or resources when they were children.
In other situations, a person might become selfish after they’ve been continually used and mistreated by others and never given anything in return. When they’ve been taken from time and time again, they may snap and become jealous and guarded with their time and energy.
A perfect example of this is a parent of several children who sacrificed everything to tend to their brood, and now that the kids are older, they do nothing for the parent in return. In fact, they might not even talk to them unless they want something. That parent may turn to selfishness as a means of finally getting and doing what they want for a change.
Whatever the causal factors, a selfish person has learned that their needs would only be met if they took matters into their own hands, and that the energy they put into others will never be reciprocated. As such, they feel that they must now place themselves—their wants, their needs—as their highest priority, because, quite frankly, nobody else will.
Furthermore, on a fundamental level, they feel like they never have enough. They have been exposed to so much scarcity that now they demand and hoard whatever they lacked.
Can you learn to be less selfish?
Like every other inclination out there, selfishness can also be overcome. You can learn how to be less selfish. It’ll take time, effort, and some rather uncomfortable self-reflection. It will undoubtedly come with the painful awareness of how much harm you’ve done to others in your quest for personal fulfillment. But you can stop being self-centered if you put your mind to it.
Maybe you’ve noticed that people in your life aren’t showing up for you anymore. You’ve proven to them that you don’t keep your word, and that their kindness and generosity won’t be reciprocated, so why should they? How does it benefit them to be at your beck and call?
If you’ve reached a point where you know there’s an issue and you want to do something about it, then that’s a great sign. In fact, if you’re reading this article, something has probably been a catalyst for this kind of personal soul searching. Maybe someone told you flat-out that you’re too selfish to associate with anymore, or you’ve recognized that your actions have had negative effects on people you may actually care about deep down.
Remember that, ultimately, the root of selfishness is fear. You may fear not getting what you want or the emotional or physical attention that you need. You may in fact be receiving more than what you need, but the wounded part of you feels like that might be taken away at any moment, so you grasp onto it.
As with anything, it’s important to determine your own motivations when moving forward. There’s a massive difference between getting your needs met and being a selfish prick. You don’t have to suddenly turn into a submissive doormat, making everyone else’s wants a priority and putting yourself last. Rather, learn to find the middle ground.
If you think it would benefit you, consider booking some time with a therapist. They can help you get to the root of your selfish behaviors and offer you advice on how to break through your current feelings. Furthermore, they might help you to fully understand how your actions affect others and why it’s important to have more empathy and compassion toward them.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome their selfishness but never get anywhere. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
Remember that it’s also important to be discerning about the company you keep, as well as the people you choose to give your time and energy to. This may sound like an awful thing to say, but there are those who will deserve your kindness and generosity and those who won’t. Some people are simply going to be sucking black holes, wanting more from you than you’re willing (or even able) to give.
If you decide to do uncharacteristically nice things for folks who are either too stupid, too uncaring, or too self-involved to appreciate them, then after a while, all this is going to do is reinforce your belief that being selfish is actually the way to go. This is exactly why it’s so important to surround yourself with good people.
Be polite yet distant with those who are clearly trainwrecks, and focus on cultivating stronger, healthier relationships with those who are worthy of your trust and generosity. My guess is that when you shift perspective a bit and start to give as much as you receive, you’ll be able to see how great connections with sincerely great people can be.