Nobody wants to be thought of as selfish – but can selfish behavior sometimes be a good thing?

What Is Selfish Behavior?

Being selfish is nearly always seen as criticism. It means putting yourself first, not prioritizing other people, and generally being unkind and uncaring.

Traits of Selfish People:

  • Manipulating situations to your advantage
  • Always considering what is in it for you
  • Never being prepared to do a favor unless you are getting something in return
  • Not caring about others, or being unable to empathize
  • Being conceited, and valuing your opinion and benefits over all others
  • Not being willing to share
  • Finding it hard to accept any kind of criticism
  • Always believing your needs are most important

None of these sound like good things; but what is the difference between taking care of yourself and being selfish? Surely, it is better to be a confident individual than a pushover who says yes to whatever is asked of you.

The Different Stages of Selfishness

Selfish behavior isn’t linear – there are certainly some completely selfish people who have no regard for anybody other than themselves and are generally unpleasant to be around.

But everyone is a little bit selfish from time to time, aren’t they?

Good Selfishness

Looking after yourself isn’t always selfish. Indeed, it can be beneficial to other people, in which case it could be recognized as ‘good’ selfishness. For example, taking care of your needs such as making sure you have eaten and taken your medication makes you better able to help your family, take care of your children, and generally, be a positive and functioning member of society.

If you are being asked to tend to somebody else’s needs over and above your essential requirements, then it would be foolish not to practice a little ‘good selfishness’ – which I think is the same thing as self-care. None of us would expect that to be a negative character trait, after all!

Neutral Selfishness

I think that ‘neutral’ selfishness is just common sense. If you make choices that mutually benefit you and somebody else, then this isn’t selfish at all. It is choosing the most beneficial outcome for everybody involved.

For example, if a friend asked for a suggestion for a local service to use, and you belong to a loyalty scheme that you would recommend, then referring your friend works well both ways. They receive your contact and have the opportunity of using a service that their friend has had a great experience with, and you gain your loyalty points or bonus. Win-win situation!

It seems that sometimes we are so keen to be seen as selfless that we make choices that aren’t the best outcome for anybody.

Bad Selfishness

Unlike the other two categories, bad selfishness is the only true selfish behavior. This is when you put yourself first to the detriment of others. For example, choosing to take the last dessert when you have already eaten enough, and know that others will go hungry because of your greed.  You benefit, even though you didn’t need to, and others lose out as a direct result of your actions.

When Can Selfish Behavior Be Good for You? 3 Examples

Sometimes, you need to be selfish; after all if you don’t look after number one, who else is going to?

  1. Prioritizing Your Growth

Believing in yourself, committing time to your personal goals, and being assertive in your beliefs could always be perceived as selfish. These are powerful ways to support your development and progress towards your life aspirations. For example, refusing to commit to a regular engagement to focus that time on developing your career, attending a course, or learning a new skill, is good for you.

  1. Communication

Creating a strong flow of communication in a relationship means being open and honest with your feelings and your needs. Recognizing what you need to be happy and having the confidence to communicate those needs is a way in which being selfish can have positive outcomes all around.

If you can tell your partner where you feel disappointed, and what needs to change in your relationship to make you happy, then this bodes well for the future for you both.

  1. Positive Mental Health

Many mental health problems are caused by factors which selfish people – even if only just a little – rarely suffer from. Selfish people recognize their worth, they establish their own needs as a priority, and rarely allow themselves to become overly impacted by other people’s behavior. Standing up for yourself and recognizing your value and the contribution you make are healthy traits to be encouraged.

3 Examples of Toxic Selfish Behavior

Undoubtedly, there are plenty of examples of negative selfish behaviors. It can damage relationships, careers, and social connections.

  1. Lack of empathy – not being able to show care and concern for your close relations when they need you is incredibly damaging to your future relationships.
  2. Manipulation – skewing circumstances to your benefit, and the detriment of others, is very likely to make you somebody others consider as untrustworthy and a person they will avoid in the future.
  3. Self-centered – not recognizing when other people need you, or when their need is greater than yours can lead to being blinkered, and not realizing an impending disaster until it is too late to fix it.

Conclusion

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live.

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live. It is asking other people to live as one wishes to live.
-Oscar Wilde

We can all be selfish and this is not necessarily a bad thing but is an important and necessary way to protect our needs and practice good self-care.

If you are experiencing selfish behavior, then the best course of action is to communicate how this is making you feel and try to open up those communication channels to repair the situation.

If you find yourself dealing with ‘bad selfishness’ regularly, then perhaps it is time to practice some ‘good selfishness’ of your own and put in place boundaries and restrictions to make sure you are looking after yourself first.

References:

  1. Huffington Post
  2. Psychology Today
Lauren Edwards-Fowle, M.Sc., B.Sc.

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