Oscar Wilde said, “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live. It is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”
Selfishness is a trait that everyone has. Whether we want to admit it, we tend to be biased toward ourselves. We think our way is the best, our views are the better, and we may even think our choices are the best. Some people blatantly exhibit selfishness, while others hide it as best as they can. But, no matter how much we want to do things for others, there is usually always a bit of selfishness involved. Living with this sense of entitlement or superiority is not always a healthy form of selfishness.
On the other hand, looking out for yourself and maintaining what you need to stay healthy and survive is using selfishness for a good purpose. You are important. Your well-being is your biggest priority.
What Does It Mean To Be Selfish?
Selfishness is an attitude of caring for yourself – looking out for your benefit, success, and gain. It means putting your needs and desires over others. It means having a lack of consideration for others.
For some reason, we grow up with a mindset that there always should be something in it for us – as if we are entitled! It is such a common behavior that we may not even realize when we are being selfish.
How Does Society View Selfishness?
People tend to frown upon acts of selfishness, even though we are all a bit selfish in our ways. Many are taught to put others first, even if it means sacrificing themselves. If we don’t, those around us may look down on us. We are quick to point out the selfishness in others rather than looking at ourselves.
In a Stanford University research study, students were brought together to talk about working as a group to solve issues and problems, and they then put those problems to work in the form of puzzles. What did they find out? Most people engaged in discussing the problem and how it should be addressed, but when it came time to work on the puzzles, participation dropped.
So, what does this mean? It means that we generally like coming together peacefully for the greater good of something, but we don’t usually act on the ideas. Instead, taking more selfish roles by fulfilling our own needs and desires, leaving the less-selfish ones to pick up the slack.
When Are We Selfish?
When you are selfish to accomplish something positive, you use it for good. And, no – being selfish and stealing money to maintain your lifestyle is not what we are talking about here.
Here are two examples:
- Your sister asks for a ride to a doctor’s appointment, and you agree to drive her. You meant to eat lunch before picking her up, but you got sidetracked with your email and never had a chance. So, you decide that you will pick her up and then go get yourself something for lunch before her appointment.
As you reach your sister, you know you have about 30 minutes to get her to her appointment and that it will take about 25 minutes to drive there, assuming there is no traffic. However, you are starving. So, you drive 10 minutes out of the way to sit in line at Wendy’s for what seems like forever to get your food. Your sister was 20 minutes late for her appointment.
This is an example of selfish behavior. Not only did you put yourself before your sister, but you also affected the appointments of everyone at the doctor’s office. Not cool.
- Your friends invite you to go out. They are celebrating an old friend’s birthday and request your company. However, it won’t be a sober celebration, as they are going to one of your old watering holes. You know you will be tempted to have a drink and bombarded with old memories – neither of which you think you can successfully handle since leaving treatment. However, you also don’t want to be rude and miss the party.
All day your friends blow up your phone with calls and texts, begging you to come. You tell them you are staying home, and they start giving you guilt trips. You know what is best for you. You know that you need to stay home.
Are you selfish if you tell them no and take care of yourself? In a sense, yes, but for a good reason. You are looking out for yourself and your well-being despite your relationships with your friends. It is ok to be selfish for that reason.
Selfishness Before Treatment
Addicts are selfish. They put their priority and focus on their drug – and they do so without care. They are selfish in that they will do what they must to get their fix. If this means hurting someone – even family members or spouses – they will.
Selfishness with addiction can come in many forms. For example, pain from words, physical pain, stealing, placing others in harm’s way, etc. Even driving drunk alone in the car is selfish because you are risking the life of everyone else on and around the road.
Selfishness In Recovery
Picture a rose, wet with raindrops, slowly opening. That is what selfishness after treatment is like. In recovery, you can be selfish when protecting yourself and all you stand for. You have opened yourself up to a world that allows you to see now the beauty and the importance of life – especially your own.
So, When Is It Ok To Be Selfish?
- When you want to protect yourself.
- When you tell bad influences that you cannot hang out.
- When you remove yourself from a potentially harmful situation.
- When you are feeling vulnerable.
- When you need to care for your health.
We live in a time where we must put others first at our own expense. While this is the popular belief, it is not the smartest. You are the only person who will have your absolute, 100% best interest in mind. That means YOU are the only person who knows when you need to be selfish for good health. You deserve it.
- Biography com. Oscar Wilde. Biography. Published April 27, 2017. Accessed October 14, 2022. https://www.biography.com/writer/oscar-wilde
- Ehrenreich B. Opinion | The Selfish Side of Gratitude. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/opinion/sunday/the-selfish-side-of-gratitude.html. Published December 31, 2015. Accessed October 14, 2022.
- Ferro S. Science Confirms The Obvious: Americans Are Selfish. Popular Science. Published January 29, 2013. Accessed October 14, 2022. https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-01/science-confirms-obvious-americans-are-selfish/
- Bennett C. Our selfish society: all for one and one for all is so old-fashioned now. The Observer. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/17/labour-coalition-promote-selfish-individualism. Published August 17, 2013. Accessed October 14, 2022.
- Kingkade T. 21 Sober Birthday Celebration Ideas. HuffPost. Published December 22, 2014. Accessed October 14, 2022. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sober-birthday-celebration-ideas_n_6368910
- CDC. CDC VitalSigns – Drinking and Driving: A Threat to Everyone. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published October 15, 2013. Accessed October 14, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/drinkinganddriving/index.html
- Ratson M. Why Is It Important to Live a Meaningful Life? HuffPost. Published January 21, 2016. Accessed October 14, 2022. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-is-it-important-to-li_b_9044030
- Stern D. Healthfully. Healthfully. Published November 28, 2018. Accessed October 14, 2022. https://healthfully.com/how-to-take-care-of-your-own-health-5894351.html
Last medically reviewed October 14, 2022