How to Know if You’re Selfish: A Pattern of Not Giving Back

The word "selfish" painted in red paint on a white background. The paint is dripping down from the letters like it has run down before it has dried
Image by wonderferret / CC BY

I am a long-term recovering people pleaser. Growing up in a house with difficult family members, I learned quite young to set aside my own wants and needs for others.

This pattern followed me into my adult relationships. I shoved aside what I wanted and focused on what my partner needed. Most of the time, this worked quite well, at least in the short term. But I was left with a lingering feeling of unhappiness that I couldn’t quite place.

And occasionally even with my accommodating nature, I’d run into conflicts that challenged my ability to ignore what I wanted. And I’d have to say no. Or ask for something wildly unpopular.

And it really did not go well.

I’m sure it didn’t help that I hadn’t built up those skills of advocating for myself.

And invariably? Partners would react very poorly to this deviation from my normal pattern. Say something like, “That’s so selfish!”

But it isn’t advocating for your own wants and needs that is selfish.

It’s doing so consistently without ever considering the wants and needs of the other person.

Being Selfish Isn’t About Wanting, It’s About Not Giving Back

There will come times when we must place ourselves first. But what is truly selfish is not understanding that other people will occasionally need to do the same.

As Hauck writes:

The selfish person wants his or her way without considering the desire or needs of the other person. These are transactions are all one-way streets…Being self-interested, however, is healthy. It places you and your desires above those of others at times. But it never does so without your realizing that a favor will someday have to be repaid.

One self-focused desire does not a selfish person make. Instead, selfishness is a pattern of being concerned with your own needs and wants and unwilling to similarly accommodate the needs and wants of the person you’re with.

Hauck has a handy following test to check whether or not you’re being selfish:

Are you willing to (a) return the favor, (b) or allow a privilege similar to the one you’re asking for? If you are, you need not feel the slightest bit of guilt, because you can always claim you are being completely fair and just. If you can’t say that, you probably are being selfish.

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