9 Signs That You Might Be Selfish

by Alisa on June 28, 2011

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of the word “selfish” for a while, ever since various people hurled that insult my way. This post is about some conclusions I’ve reached. I believe it applies to marriage, friendship, family life, and online interactions.

But first, two definitions.

Selfish = Focusing on one’s own needs, wants, desires and pleasures. Not focusing on the needs, wants, desires and pleasures of others.

Selflessness = Having little to no concern for one’s own needs, wants, desires and pleasures, but showing lots of concern for the needs of others.

Now for the list.

  1. Everyone is selfish sometimes. Unless you are a canonized Saint or an enlightened being, then you are probably a lot like me. Sometimes you behave selfishly. Other times you behave selflessly. Refusing to admit this is both selfish and misguided.
  2. If you think you deserve to be canonized as a Saint, then you are selfish. The desire to have others know you, revere you, and recognize you is a self-focused desire. You will be truly selfless if someone offers to canonize you and you turn down that offer by saying, “Oh, no, this other person deserves it and would benefit from that a lot more than I would. Please give this other person the honor. I do not deserve it or need it.” This holds true for any title of recognition.
  3. It’s selfish to call someone else selfish. By accusing others of being selfish, you are attempting to bring others down and peg and yourself up a peg. This is, by nature, a self-focused action. You are motivated by concern for your own reputation and not by your concern for the well-being of others.
  4. Selflessness breeds happiness. Selfishness breeds unhappiness. If you are angry, worried, guilty, frustrated, depressed, envious, or jealous, you are probably focusing on yourself and your own needs and not on the needs of others. As soon as you stop focusing on yourself and start focusing on others, you will find that your negative feelings evaporate.
  5. Selflessness can be scary. That’s why so few people manage to act selflessly all of the time. It requires a huge amount of trust and vulnerability. We are often our most selfish when we are terrified.
  6. If you think some people deserve your help, but others don’t, there’s still a lot of selfish in you. It’s only once you can love every living being equally—no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, or political party—that you will have completely transcended selfishness.
  7. Sometimes it’s selfless to be selfish. If you completely neglect your own needs and drain yourself dry, there will be no you left to focus on the needs of others. It is selfless to make sure you get enough rest, for instance. It’s easier to be selfless when you are rested, healthy, fit and well fed.
  8. Sometimes it’s seemingly selfish to be selfless. In focusing on the needs of many others, you might have to neglect the needs of a few. The few who are neglected might selfishly accuse you of being selfish. As long as your actions were focused on helping others, this is not true. The ones who accuse you of being selfish are actually the ones who are selfish as they are the ones who are concerned about their own needs.
  9. It’s selfless to forgive people for calling you selfish. After all they can’t learn how to be selfless unless they have role models like you to emulate. Also, as I mentioned, they are scared. If you respond to their show of selfishness with selflessness, you will show them what true courage looks like.

What do you think it means to be selfish? How do you use the word? Who do you accuse of being selfish and why? Who do you admire as embodying “selflessness” and why? Why do you think humans tend to call other humans “selfish”? What motivates it? What can you do to foster more selflessness in your marriage and life in general?

A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Paula June 29, 2011 at 7:25 am

Not selfishness but self care comes first. Without being able to properly care for myself I wont be able to care for others.

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cece June 24, 2013 at 9:06 pm

people are calling me selfish and I just wanna give up on everything and die

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Abi March 14, 2014 at 9:16 pm

How are you today CeCe? Wondering how everything went.

mmsva June 29, 2011 at 10:37 am

I find that many people have a hard time knowing the difference between good selfishness (ie-self care) and bad selfishness. Maybe you can write about how to know the difference.

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Joanne June 29, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I have to say, that I am a bit miffed right now. Unless the people accusing you of selfishness know you really well, what in the world are they basing their opinion on. Here are some additional definitions of selflessness, I am sure you would recognize yourself in them.
1) Putting your family first in deciding to attempt everything within your power, some quite personally painful, to save your marriage when many others would toss in the towel.
2) After finding somethings that work, starting a blog to help others who may be in a similar situation long before your book ever comes out and knowing it would absorb your free time and energy to do it.
3) Taking time out of your book promotion, already tired, to break bread with a new friend who is going through a divorce and some pretty scary new self discoveries.
4) Being an empathic listener, which allows not just me (the new friend) but anyone you talk with to feel safe to be their true selves and be accepted as such.

Lord, I could go on and on but you get the idea. I think you pegged it when you said that people eager to point out when someone is being selfish may actually be reacting out of fear but I dare say they are also probably doing a bit of transference.

We all need to remember to take the log out of our own eye before we point out the splinter in someone else’s eye.

Just saying.

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Drummer Guy June 29, 2011 at 1:10 pm

AMEN!!!!!!! :-)

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Isaac Delmas RSA January 5, 2013 at 2:37 pm

i want to know exactly that am selfish when i say my wife cannt go to the workplace Christmas party, because i know that she will be laying intimately into another mans chest? Than after going on her return you find evidence in the form of photos.

Alisa June 29, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Drummy Guy– You have such a good memory. I actually agree with you. I just wasn’t thinking of that particular situation when I was writing. Hurling “you are so selfish” is selfish because it’s all about your own self interest. But pointing out someone’s selfish behavior kindly so they can fix it and have a better life (in other words, for their own good) is definitely selfless.

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Drummer Guy June 30, 2011 at 6:32 am

Me???… A good memory?….. That’s a good one…:-) Just kidding with ya.

It reminded me that lately I have been having HUGE memory problems. Senior moment maybe?…lol

I was trying to talk about this with that woman I married . Now if I could just remember her name….HA!!!! :-p

LOVED the post Alisa. Have I ever told you that YOU ROCK? :-)
Ron

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melissa June 30, 2011 at 8:21 am

I needed this post this week. Needed. Thank you. Especially number 4…so I am remembering this and I am trying to make choices thinking of the happiness of others right now. I have been feeling frustrated, jealous, depressed…etc. Maybe trying to be more selfless really can help with that.

I had a very selfish moment yesterday morning with a friend and I justified it by telling myself that she tends to get her way all the time so its her turn to bend for me…but now I’m putting her first and asking for forgiveness for the way I handled things. I feel so much better now.

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Julie June 30, 2011 at 9:52 am

Being selfish is only thinking about yourself without regard for other people. Selfless is the opposite which is putting others’ before oneself. It is selfish to not think about how your actions affect others, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are selfish if you put your own needs.

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Kathleen July 2, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I just read this post today. Not out of selfishness or selflessness but simply crazy times around here! You ask us to say who we think are selfish people. I am sure you don’t mean to name names as that would be selfish. I think that it is human nature to be selfish. We are concerned with survival and that means we need to take care of our needs. But at the same time that can be selflessness (as you pointed out) because others may depend on us for their survival.

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Kathleen July 2, 2011 at 8:09 pm

i accidentally (I guess)clicked before I was finished. I was going to end with the idea that the most selfish people I know are those who profit on the exploitation of others. Whether that be a criminal enterprise (just read a recent article on the Mexican drug cartel) or people who defraud the Welfare system by not working when they could be.
The everyday selfishness of humans (to me) is nothing compared to these types of selfish acts!

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Sophia September 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I thought I would read this and try to peg myself in one or the other but found i am guilt of both and sometimes at the same time case in point I often buy my husband gifts while hoping that the outcome will be that he will be happy enough and it will lead to the bed.. I know that it is wrong because after i feel like i had to pay for it. I have not told him this and I am sure that if I did he would say that i do not need to do this, however i have tested the theory several times. Then there was the time i gave my old car to someone who had mentioned that they had car problems and did not have transportation i was happy until i found out that person sold the car the very same day i gave it to them at no charge. i have not mentioned it to this person who is a co-worker but it stings. I am happy to say that had I known this before I gave them the car I would still have given the car away however it would have been to someone else and if it had the same outcome I would continue do overs until one stuck.

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me December 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm

I have to disagree a little. People in abusive relationships are often very selfless but end up feeling depressed, angry and guilty due to the treatment they receive. True clinical depression has nothing to do with being selfish.

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Anna July 25, 2012 at 6:46 pm

True, true…but to add: My experience has taught me that I should be careful not to be too selfless as lots of people are ready and wiling to take advantage. Be careful who you connect yourself with or u may become selfish and bitter very quickly.

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diana October 8, 2012 at 5:10 pm

My husband thinks that God is selfish. I believe that he is so much the opposite!!!!! What do you think?

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Marrey November 29, 2012 at 12:07 am

Why would anyone NOT want to be selfish or for that matter be ashamed of being selfish(aside from fearing punishment from imaginary friends in the afterlife)? I can understand the disdain for selfishness if people neglect their kids or exploit others, but exploiting others is foolish as they tend to eventually take revenge for being exploited. I used to feel that way(selfishness=BAD/evil!!! and feeling guilty for being human) until I realized that only by being selfish do we take care of ourselves(eating right, brushing our teeth, taking a shower, etc), have families(take selfish egotistical pride in our children and push them to make US look good as we don’t push our neighbors children like we push our own blood, granted a normal law abiding citizen will report a pedophile who is following their neighbors kid in a car when they walk home from school to protect their OWN kids as they don’t want a pedophile in the neighborhood period and then lie to themselves about truly caring for someone else’s kids as much as their own when if it were life or death they would gladly let the other kid die in the place of their own blood while trying to feel guilty about it), make a name for ourselves by ambition which is rooted in envy and lust. Even acting selfless is rooted in ego gratification which is selfish. We can’t bear the thought that we truly do only care about ourselves so we make up fictitious stories about ourselves instead of embracing our “darkness”. I for one got sick and tired of being brow beat for being selfish when I erroneously believed in the fantasy of “selflessness” so now I revel in selfishness. I acknowledge that groups like the Mafia for instance ARE rooted in selfishness, BUT they invite destruction on themselves when other selfish people take revenge on them for being exploited not to mention our secular laws which protect US from the “bad” people which is also rooted in selfishness. That is REALLY how the world works. No one joins hands with others singing coombuya unless they get some kind of emotional gratification rooted in the ego out of it(even having that “light” feeling in their chest IS part of the ego as it is part of their identity as a “good” person). Might DOES make right, BUT when a tyrant rules, people tend to eventually kill that tyrant which is still rooted in selfishness(survival of the fittest). We didn’t turn the other cheek after 9-11 which was also rooted in selfishness. Ergo selflessness is non-existent. Cynical and proud of it…

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paul December 12, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Well why is it when I need help .my friends.are always busy.when they need me I’m there 98% of the time. When there at my house and I’m cooking.I always feed them ask if they whant something. They never ask me or offer .they cook only for themselves. And eat wright in front of me all the time.how would that make you fill. If I invited you over .they always have me fixing there cars or remolding there house. And no I don’t ask to money .I’m just very handy. And I like helping people. But I don’t like filling like I’m my welcome in your home.

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donna January 22, 2013 at 7:27 pm

There are some people in this life that you have helped but then they start taking you for granted. They bleed you dry. These are the kinds of people to avoid. They are vampires of life and they feed off your kindness. If you stop helping them does not make you selfish, it makes you tired an used up.

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Diikgetse Sepenyane February 25, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Donna, for you to help other people doen,nt mean that you must create a syndrome of dependency. People take advantage of your good offering heart and think that whatever you are doing for them out of goowill is due to them. it is not selfish to withdraw your help from those who think it is due to them. I’m very sorry for what you are going thrue, i was once in the predicament that you find your self in right now, i withdraw completely. I’m unnpopular to those who were unfairly bennefiting from me but my life has progress to greater heights. in life you must decide, unfortunately other people will hurt but it is better to do waht is best for you other wise you will become a living pauper then they will laught at you as if you never existed.

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Natasha July 17, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Believe it or not, this is something that has happened to me. I became a living pauper, thinking that being selfless with my money and time meant that I was helping people. I had to withdraw my help after staying broke and tired, not to mention bitter. I am slowly building myself up now, realizing that I liked the glory of helping someone out of a jam but at the same time being selfish when I expected them to do the same for me. That is one of the best lessons learned in my life…so far.

Chris February 24, 2013 at 10:26 pm

If i ask for nothing, I get nothing, I give nothing. It’s like being dead. So are dead people selfish. I ask you all go on with your lives and stop screwing with people. The minute you demand something from someone you are selfish. I have money. I buy what i need. So don’t come asking for stuff unless you can give something of equal value.

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Blessing March 16, 2013 at 9:59 am

I needed help desperately and my two sisters didn’t assist me with a penny even though I didn’t request help from them and they knew what my situation was.I spent all my savings on getting help for my problem. My eldest sister didn’t give me money but she’s always more than willing to offer material help and connections for.My second sister and her husband only calls me every now and then but I got tired of it because I might be meditating when they call me. She called me today on phone and i asked if she called our eldest sister and She replied me by saying everyone is selfish. This statementreally hurts me to my bone. What do u reckon guys? Am I Selfish? Just wondering….

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Lizzy April 9, 2013 at 12:13 pm

For years I had been neglecting myself to take care of others. My body suffered from all the stress and emotional pain. When I decided to evaluate myself, I realized how much I was giving to people who didn’t care about my well being.

The first steps I took was to end all unhealthy relationships. I broke up with my boyfriend (emotionally abusive) and my best friend of more than a decade (also emotionally abusive, manipulate and controlling).

It was very hard. They both begged me to come back to them, but I knew that all my efforts would go to the wind. I stuck to my decision even though I missed them, and even worse, was ridden with guilt.

I learned that I had an inner strength and that it was all right to say “no”. All my time and love go into people (who aren’t self centered) and animals now. I am healthy and happy. It is okay to look after yourself first, otherwise you will have no energy to look after others.

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gloria April 9, 2013 at 7:28 pm

i need to know, right now im in a love situation……the situation is that im in love with a 20 yrs old guy who’s living in India, im a 45 yrs old mother woman, soon will divorce, the thing is this guy wants to leave my daughters (i have 2 daughters 14 and 16 yrs old) he said that im a selfish, because i told him to come to USA, but i never told him to not talk or visit his parents….he said that i have an ego…..at my age and because i look for love….im confuse,,….called me crazy, but it’s true…..i never imagine that i will love this guy so much…is painful what he asked me to do…..any help will appreciate it,….thanks

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Lizzy April 10, 2013 at 7:17 am

Dear Gloria

A divorce can leave anyone (including children) feeling insecure, scared and lonely. It is understandable that you are looking (and holding onto) any form of love and acceptance during this stressful time.

But the worst thing you can do is get involved with another person right now. I do not know why you are divorcing or how your marriage has been like, but I would suggest that you spend the next few months after the divorce to heal yourself. This is a great opportunity to bond with your children and to find your inner self. You will also feel better if you take control of your life and become independent.

I understand that you are in love with this guy, but what will he do to your self esteem in the future if he is already treating you as his inferior? This relationship will not only damage you, but will destroy your daughters’ lives. You will be a very selfish person if you leave your daughters for this self-centered man.

I cannot tell you what to do, but I suggest that you end all contact with him. You are worth more than this, and you will find people who will love and value you for the person (and mother) you are. But for this to happen, you must love yourself first.

Lizzy

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gloria April 10, 2013 at 11:05 pm

dear Lizzy,

you are right, but i dont know how am i doing with this pain and love for him….my husband since we married he always have cheat on me, maybe not all the time knowing that woman, but along of these married yrs, i’ve come to know that in one or other way my husban had cheat on me….i was just living my life until this 20 yrs old guy came into my life….is funny how things have developed, i know this guy on facebook, last year i went to India and each other came to know in person….

gloria April 10, 2013 at 11:10 pm

yes i agree that he is the selfish and self centered, he already told me that he want me only for himself, and in future when he is more established we can get my daughters, but i was thinking that my daughters are not a merchandise….i understand him because i know is young and without experience, but what he told me to do, I can not please him, you are right to say that i will be more selfish and will destroy my daughter’s life if i left them behind…..thank you very much for your advice….
i will pray to God that he helps me to be strong and give me strenght to continue with my life……
thank you again.. God bless you Lizzy.

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Lizzy April 11, 2013 at 7:22 am

Dear Gloria

I am very sorry that you had to go through that with your husband. This must have left you with a broken heart and self image. People who have taken such a blow in life usually do not value themselves and fall in love with people who treat them just as bad, or even worse than their (cheating) partners did.

The reason why I called your lover a man and not a boy is because many people are very mature and wise at the age of 20. Our youth knows how one should treat another human being. Do not use his age as an excuse for his actions, for he is old enough to know that he is abusing you emotionally.

I understand that you are in love with him, but you have to let him go. He will control you completely while you are in this fragile state. Learn to love yourself and gain self respect before entering the dating world. You will find someone worthy of you once you see your own self worth.

Lizzy

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Shay April 22, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Selfishness is always a very confusing topic, and i’ve been struggling to balance my life right now. My housemate told me today I was selfish because I was not catering to her needs and our friendship. I have been focusing on my academics, my formerly rocky relationship, not loving myself, and sickness in my family. I neglected her while I was attempting to sort out other aspects of my life, and I feel terrible. However, I do want to mend the relationship. Thank you sharing your thoughts and for providing some great written insight.

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Michael Nolan May 20, 2013 at 7:31 am

This particular little article flys in the face of not only most accepted psychological models, sociological models and spiritual models. It is badly researched, badly presented and badly written. It is this sort of self indulgent, excuse ridden, delusional arguments I have ever had the misfortune to read.

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pei August 5, 2013 at 2:18 pm

This is really just an opinion piece. One person’s definition of selfish will be different from another’s. There are parts I can agree with, parts I can’t.

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Me....... August 8, 2013 at 3:09 pm

God, I am such a selfish *****. And it just makes me feel worse that I’m telling people that I’m selfish – making myself seem even more selfish. I’ve hurt all my friends so much… And then eventually feel guilty… But I still determine to put the blame on someone else. Even when I’m in the wrong. I’m so selfish and stubborn and such a bad friend. If they can call me that. And I admire them so much for forgiving me and helping me out so much… They’re such good friends… And I just seem like some attention-seeking *****… Sorry for the asterix’… And sorry for being selfish…

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MJ August 9, 2013 at 5:42 am

God yes Me i agree!! not that you are selfish but that thinking of being selfish must in it self signify selfishness! I can’t stand how much i think about myself and how whether the things i do for others are in fact just to make me feel better about myself. Its been driving me a bit crazy lately. I don’t know if i actually do anything for pure good reasons for others. I feel i need to do more but just agonize over it.. and don’t do anything.

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Dan November 6, 2013 at 11:40 pm

It’s good, I think, that you are aware of your selfish behavior. Hopefully it will lead to making better choices about thinking how you could make some else besides yourself feel better or feel like you cared about them and not yourself. ( I battle with this myself)

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ash August 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm

i dont think i am but my mom always calls me selfish…so i dont know so i was typing on google and ended up here to try to figure out if i really am selfish and so far i still dont have a clue.

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Amy October 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm

I do not know if I were to consider my self selfish, however my mom calls me selfish… but I have no intention to be selfish. I am in a program at school that allows students to visit external sites to learn more about being a veterinarian and animal based careers. However I had wanted to spend an extra hour at a site- a vat clinic to help with a surgery. To this my mom says I’m selfish and never consider anyone else… Am I selfish?

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Amy October 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm

*vet… yeesh typos

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Azda October 29, 2013 at 7:51 pm

selfish is being alone thinking about our own problems and not counting our blessings, or reaching out to others, although we know they exist we feel as if we are the only ones and are so absorbed in our own lives talking about our selves, because others talk about themselves and just ask about our selves but don’t start deaper discussions. they are encouraging our selfishness.

selfish is giving into our own desires when others are trying to get our attention we ignore them, and feel guilty but somehow we put ourselves first hopefully we will be better people.

selfish is only helping someone when there is a hidden agenda. selfish is buying a cake and eating it all and not sharing it,

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