Selfish? Really? - The Common Misconception About Selfishness

Are you selfish or self-preserving?

Most people who are selfish don’t even realize it. By the same token, many people who aren’t selfish think they are because they take care of themselves, do what’s best for them, or follow their passion.

It doesn’t help that people are often quick to apply labels – which many times aren’t accurate. When you pursue your passion, or do what is best for you, it doesn’t automatically make you selfish. There’s more to that equation, a lot more.

It is important to be able to determine if your own actions are selfish or self-preserving. However, it is equally vital to be able to discern the true nature of another’s actions and attitudes.

What is selfishness?


The most basic definition of selfishness is when you only consider yourself and give no thought to the effect that your behavior has on other people. Selfish people expect other people to deny their own needs or wants, and only do what he or she wants them to do. Instead of doing things that are in their best interest, for their highest good, or that simply brings them happiness and joy, selfish people prefer for others to ignore those things and follow suit.

In a conversation, the selfish person will continually draw focus back on themselves instead of listening to what someone else has to say. They show little, if any regard or care for what anyone says if it isn’t about them.

What selfishness is not


Taking care of yourself, being self-preserving, is not selfish. There is nothing wrong with doing something that brings you joy or happiness as long as you do not intend to hurt or harm someone else. It’s even OK if the other person doesn’t like what you do. If you value their opinion and they believe that what you are doing isn’t healthy or is harmful, then you should reevaluate. But following the path that is best for you does not in and of itself make you selfish.

When you support your own highest good, that is self-preservation, not selfishness. This is true even when someone else wants you to do something different. Being considerate of others’ needs and wants (without giving up yourself) is healthy.

How selfish (or not) are you?

Are you selfish or self-preserving?

Read these 7 questions and choose the statement that is the most applicable in each.

How do you feel when you are not in control?

a. I feel anxious or angry. Being in control is very important to me. It’s my way or the highway.

b. I am fine with it. I don’t mind taking the lead if asked, but am open to the input of others.

c. I would rather someone else take the lead. I don’t like the responsibility of control.

How do you react when someone has an opinion that is different from yours or doesn’t feel about something the same way you do?

a. I feel betrayed, angry, or hurt. I don’t understand how they can’t see it my way.

b. I am fine with it. Everyone is entitled to her or her own opinion. I am always up for a healthy discussion where both sides are respected.

c. I keep my mouth shut. I don’t want to offend anyone with my opinion.

How do you react when you experience consequences for your mistakes or things you’ve done?

a. I experience a lot of unfair consequences. A lot of things happen to me as a result of things I’ve done that aren’t my fault.

b. I own it. If I mess up I have no problem saying I am sorry and being accountable.

c. I always take the blame, even when I had nothing to do with what went wrong.

What lengths will you go to in order to get what you want?

a. I will do anything, would hurt (physical or emotional) someone in order to get what I want.

b. I will work hard to get what I want, but not at the expense of another person. I would never intentionally hurt someone physically or emotionally.

c. I often deny myself the things I need or want even if it hurts me.

When someone else gets the spotlight instead of you, how does it make you feel?

a. I feel irritated, upset, angry or hurt.

b. I am fine with it and genuinely happy for them.

c. I avoid the spotlight.

How able are you to truly forgive someone?

a. Forgiveness is very hard for me or I hold grudges.

b. Forgiveness isn’t easy sometimes but I don’t hold grudges. I will work through the pain so I can find forgiveness.

c. I don’t need to forgive, I just suck it up, suppress the hurt, and put bad experiences behind me.

How easy is it for you to share, give, or put someone else’s needs above your own?

a. It is very hard. It is something that does not come easily for me. My needs should always come first.

b. I believe in a balanced relationship so giving and sharing come easily. I can put someone else’s needs above my own but I can still tend to my own needs as well.

c. I always put everyone’s needs above my own and usually deny my own needs.


Mostly A’s: You tend to be selfish and have little consideration for others although you may not realize it. The good news is, selfishness is a learned behavior so you can unlearn it and start practicing healthier, self-preservation behaviors.

Mostly B’s: You tend to be self-preserving, striking a nice balance between “good” selfishness and selflessness. You can give to others without harming yourself. You have a very healthy approach to ensuring that your own needs are fulfilled.

Mostly C’s: You tend to be self-denying which can be destructive. You always put others above you and rarely, if ever, attend to your own needs. This often comes from low self-esteem but you can change. Begin practicing self-preserving behaviors for a healthier, happier you.