Have you ever found yourself being selfish? Have you wondered why someone else is so self-centered and everything revolves around them?
This behaviour may seem surprising and difficult to accept at first. Being selfish might not be who you identify yourself as and not who you want to be. Or it might be surprising to see the selfish side of someone you know or expect to be kind and generous and giving.
I have been observing, in myself and others, an innate selfishness that runs deep. When the self’s needs feel threatened and unmet, we, as humans, can act and behave from a very selfish perspective.
I then observe that it is very shameful and difficult to admit, even to myself, that I can be very selfish, and that someone I love very much can also be very selfish.
It almost seems wrong to be so.
What makes us selfish?
One of the possible causes we explore in this article is insecurity. Insecurity is defined as a sense of feeling like you don’t have enough or you are missing “something”. This “something” could be comfort, love, money, stability, power, trust and the list goes on.
How insecurity impacts our ability to go beyond ourselves
When I feel insecure, I feel a need to protect myself and to get validation from others that I am right, I am okay and I am on the right track. And when someone, anyone really, fails to provide this validation or ‘attacks’ me with criticism, I find myself getting defensive, angry and blaming the other person in return.
I also observe that when others feel insecure, in a critical or urgent situation, it is possible to lose touch with what is important for the situation and to lose touch with empathy for others’ needs.
Instead, one gets very focused on his or her own needs, and feels very agitated or uncomfortable or under threat of losing that ‘something’, and then tries desperately to secure a sense of security for oneself.
This could lead a person to express views and even make decisions that appear and seem very selfish with a lack of empathy and understanding towards others.
What to do when you find yourself being selfish?
If you are really okay with the selfishness and want to continue, this doesn’t apply.
If you wish to take the selfish incidents as a way to gain deeper insights and possibly change and make it better, here are some suggestions.
7 Steps to Gain Deeper Insights:
- Notice when you have a strong and repeated reaction to someone and find yourself behaving in a defensive and maybe, selfish way.
(usually it’s anger, feeling down, judgement, criticism etc.).
- Sit with these feelings. Notice what is it that you are secretly seeking from this person.
(example: common things we seek for are validation, approval, appreciation, love, stability, power security)
- Once you find what you are secretly seeking for (let’s call this the X-factor), consider if this has happened with other people as well in your life.
- Ask yourself why are you secretly seeking for this X-factor. Listen quietly and deeply to the answers that come to you.
(note: these answers might come gradually over days, weeks or months. It could be done alone, with the facilitation of a coach and reflections with a friend)
- Ask yourself, how are you perpetuating this missing X-factor in you?
(for example, not giving yourself any appreciation when you do something well, and expecting others to give you appreciation).
- Ask yourself, do you want to continue this pattern? If no, what can you try differently?
- Try the new perspective or way, and observe what happens.
Example: Gaining insights from reflections
I would like to share the above inner reflection process with a personal example.
Step 1: Recognising the situation
Here’s an example. With my mother, I have been feeling like I am not good enough and I will never be good enough. Whenever she gives suggestions, coming out of goodwill from her, it comes across as harsh criticism to me and reinforces that I am not good enough. When I have been trying very hard and my very best and I am rewarded with the ‘criticism’, I feel hurt, angry and even lousier about myself.
As a result, I react in a way to defend my own need for validation from her that I am good enough. I get agitated and start finding fault, for example. Or I feel like something is very wrong and I need to get away for a while. Meanwhile, my mother feels confused at why I am reacting in this way and why is it always about me and my emotional comfort.
I noticed a stark difference with my sister. She is confident of herself and her abilities, especially at home. When my mother gives her suggestions or questions, she is able to answer confidently on her point of view and deliver the work (example, cooking or housework). She doesn’t react with the same hurt and anger and feeling lousy. As a result, they are able to have a conversation and do things happily together. It is a fulfilling time and relationship for them.
Step 2: Reflecting deeper
When I reflected deeper on what is causing this discomfort, I found a part of me that first felt like “spoiled mushy mushroom”. On deeper insight into this part of me, it felt like a result of my own harsh criticism on myself over the years. I was unconsciously, constantly, punishing myself with a reminder that I am not good enough and not to be too cocky and let my guard up when things seem to be going well. When my self-confidence grew and developed along with the positive experiences in life, I found myself unconsciously putting myself down, all the time. Over time, a part of my soul, or inner self, was crushed and grinded to bits by this constant inner criticism. It became very difficult to try to build up a healthy sense of self-esteem when a part of me is getting crushed by myself at the same time. Conflicting, isn’t it?
Step 3: Realising the impact
Innately, this sense of ‘not good enough’ drove a selfish need and requirement for validation and appreciation from others. It became a condition on which relationships are built.
Step 4: Deciding to change
To change this condition, first I need to change myself and how I relate to myself.
I decided then, upon realising this, that I need to first stop grinding myself and putting myself down. Secondly, I want to let myself heal and give myself a break from this constant critic.
The change starts as an intention and conscious decision to do so. Then, let’s observe what happens to my inner confidence and relationships to myself and my mother (or figures like my mother).
When we find ourselves in conflict with others, especially our close and loved ones, it is often a window of opportunity. We can take this chance to reflect on what is it that triggers us so much, or we can dismiss it as the other person’s fault and continue on the same way.
While meditation can provide a space for reflection, it is sometimes used as a ‘panadol’ to relax and feel better.
It is good to remember and practice the mindful attitude, as it is also a door to further reflections that relate closely to daily life. The relationships with your loved ones, your relationship to work, performance at work, your purpose and motivation and so on.
I hope this musing and sharing on the topic of selfishness and insecurity is helpful for you. Feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me on more mindfulness topics.