How to Tell if You Are Being Selfish

effective communication people pleasing people-pleasers self-improvement Nov 03, 2023
How to Tell if You Are Being Selfish

What scares you? Does being thought of as selfish scare you?

Let's talk about selfishness--what it is and how to tell if you are being selfish. It’s a concern I frequently hear from my clients.

The difficulty with figuring out this question is that it is not an either or proposition. It’s a balancing act. Essentially, you need to balance your needs with the needs of others. Sometimes you need to choose in favor of you and sometimes you need to choose in favor of others.

But if you almost always choose in favor of others for fear of being selfish, you have a problem. You aren’t living in balance. You aren’t getting your needs met. Your boundaries are not being acknowledged and respected (likely because you aren’t voicing them). You’re out of balance and you’re not living your truest life.

As people we want to foster healthy, harmonious relationships. As women we are taught to be agreeable, nurturing, and self-sacrificing. Often we come to believe that if we aren’t these things, we don’t deserve to be in a relationship. We believe we have to earn the right by being agreeable, nurturing, and self-sacrificing. 

Let’s talk about how to balance things out a bit so things aren't so one-sided, so that life is just as much about you as it is about others.

To do this we need to understand about self-care. Self-care is taking the time and energy to take care of yourself, to nurture yourself, physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually. Self-care is not checking off an item on your to-do list, such as getting a facial or buying a new dress for the wedding. Self-care is taking the time to listen to what you need, knowing what you want, having the skill to ask for what you need and want, and being able to choose yourself in a way that balances your needs with the needs of those you are caring for and you care about. 

The truth is that no one can take care of you like you need to be cared for unless you can tell them and show them what you need. Also, you need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. 

What is selfishness? Selfishness is a pattern of not considering others. It’s consistently putting your needs ahead of other people’s needs. It is not one instance of choosing yourself over others, it is a consistent pattern.

What are some signs you might be selfish?

  1. You consistently put yourself first. If you almost always make decisions that favor you and not others, you might be selfish.
  2. You don’t consider other people’s feelings when making decisions or asking for things. 
  3. You consistently neglect your responsibilities to others, especially at their expense.
  4. You manipulate others for personal gain. It is no big deal to you if you are deceptive in service of getting your way. 
  5. You justify that your way is good for others, too. You believe you know better than others.

The last point is a justification selfish people use that makes them feel as if they are considering others in their decision-making process. The fact that their decisions always favor them is a dead giveaway that they aren’t actually considering other people, they are just saying that as a means of making themselves look as if they are.

To balance out our discussion of what being selfish is, let’s talk about what is not being selfish.

What are signs you are not being selfish?

  1. You take care of yourself in a way that works for you. Self-care is not a to-do list item. Consider what you need for your mental health and well-being.
  2. You can give to others without expectation of what they will give to you. You can also receive from others gracefully.
  3. You can say no when necessary for your own self-care needs. You feel able to say no so as not to overextend yourself.
  4. You can communicate with others openly about your needs and boundaries.
  5. If you disagree with someone’s decision or opinion and it is appropriate, you feel okay with expressing your disagreement.

Remember, we all need to strike a balance between taking care of ourselves and taking care of others. Sometimes you might get the balance wrong, but if it is not a consistent pattern in one direction or the other (selfishness vs. people-pleasing), you are not a selfish person and you’re not people-pleasing.

If you tend to be a people-pleaser it’s even more important to work on striking a balance between taking care of yourself and taking care of others. Taking care of others comes so naturally that it becomes hard to take care of yourself. And the littlest thing that is not about another person becomes a worry that you are being selfish. 

Read through these signs and decide for yourself whether you are being selfish or taking care of yourself. Keep in mind that taking care of yourself makes it easier for you to take care of others.

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