I really like to get to the bottom of things. My favorite game growing up was “library.” My second favorite game was “make unhappy people happy,” except I didn’t exactly call it that at the time. As it turns out, I never got to the bottom of how to do that, though I did find that unhappy people seemed to need me more than others. And as it will, my fixation on other people’s darkness, made me blind to my own. It also made me a nice, albeit pathetic snack for selfish people.
I wish I could say I grew out of this or that I got smarter about it, but I didn’t. In fact, I grew up to be quite the meal.
Yes, everyone acts in selfish ways and has selfish moments, but some types of chronically unhappy, toxic people exhibit a PATTERN of behavior that communicates to others that their ego and needs are more important than your anyone else’s. Like being hangry or having to pee on a road trip with no exit in sight, selfish people have one track, immediate, pressing needs, all the time. Trying to make a selfish person happy is like chaperoning a bus of fourth-graders on a never-ending road trip with no snacks and no destination. No offense to fourth graders.
I have found that most advice that I have ever encountered on “how to deal with selfish people” kept me on a hamster wheel of patiently trying to understand people, explaining my feelings, believing that one day unconditional love will magically ignite, and becoming a full-time empathy tutor for people who never asked to learn.
I’m not a saint though, and all this didn’t make me a better person. What it made me was a doormat that was so dirty, it would roll itself up and away at any suggestion of getting clean. In fact, the more I invested in a certain kind of selfish person, the more I tied my self worth to providing the BEST fuel to meet their needs. Worse yet, I started believing that with the best fuel, the most attention, and the most love, I could unselfish a selfish person.
A pattern of habitual selfishness is a very specific and insidious red flag. Toxic, narcissistic, and emotionally unavailable people become that much more detrimental when you get caught up in the MOMENTUM of their never-ending needs, instead of doing work on your own.
When I didn’t feel nourished and loved, I tried harder. And there was always a way to try harder.
Selfish people trigger you into believing your old stories: if you’re better, more understanding, smarter, if you say it in the right way, if you give it enough time, things will be better.
I lived in a world in which MY RESPONSE to selfish people never made them happy for long and only made me feel used, confused, needy, and resentful.
And impossible, annoying, but true: THAT (come on, universe) WAS the plot twist. I found the only way to “deal with selfish people” is to learn how to deal with yourself around selfish people.
Here is a short list of what doesn’t work:
Reminding them the world doesn’t revolve around them.
Reminding them that you have needs in the relationship.
Explaining how their behavior affects you.
And the most heartbreaking one: showing empathy until the selfish person learns to love you.
Why? Because all this diplomatic advice fails to understand that selfishness is the mechanism that toxic people use to SURVIVE. Selfish people can behave in ghastly ways, make tone-deaf demands, and seek control, even during the most dire circumstances of others, because their image, their very existence, every day, feels like a matter of life or death.
A selfish person drives the best, most luxurious car that is somehow always dangerously low on gas. We’re talking way past E, turn off the AC to save fuel, frantically exit the highway, eyes peeled for the next gas station. A selfish person is on high alert, desperate, and no matter what their outward demeanor or how well they drive the car, on the verge of emergency.
In their minds, selfish people are either the image of the perfect person in the perfect car or the loser in a cloud of dust on the side of the road. There is no in between. Selfish people live in fear. Life is a game of limited resources & short term solutions to never-ending crises of confidence. Selfish people don’t have time for you and are not listening to you when you explain how their behavior affects you.
They are too busy trying to save themselves.
Sometimes they need your help, but when they don’t, they are the first and the fastest to drive away.
But why? And why do some people get to be this way while others get to be their emergency contact? What’s more — why do some selfish people make us want, at times even beg, to be the emergency contact/favor giver/booty call/forever friend/tireless co-worker/always-there-for-you hero?
Selfishness is a defense against intolerable feelings.
For some people, almost all feelings are intolerable feelings, especially feelings like insecurity, fear, shame, and disappointment. Selfish people have exacting standards and demands, even when they are not deserved because they believe that perfection is the absence of pain.
Instead of feeling through these feelings, selfish people manufacture the separate identity of a person who simply does not have to feel those feelings because that person is more deserving and made of different stardust than the rest. The maintenance of this identity, however, is beastly, all-consuming, and never-ending.
Yes, this sounds something like narcissism. I’m not saying that all selfish people are narcissists. Take it from someone who has spent too long diagnosing other people instead of focusing on their actions, what you call it, doesn’t matter.
What I’m referring to here are the ACTIONS a person takes to constantly address their discomfort with reality. They are constantly on SURVEILLANCE for things in their world which will shake their core belief that they never have to feel insecure, fearful, ashamed, or disappointed. When such things are detected, they have to be managed, and right away, regardless of who is run over in the process.
Selfish people are fundamentally uncomfortable in the world and only become more so in close personal relationships.
We’ve all felt how gut-wrenching intolerable feelings can be. For me, some of Natasha’s most influential posts have been about feeling your way through pain. The simple truth is that some people breathe through this as it comes, acutely aware of their own pain and flaws, and in doing so, become more empathetic to the pain of others. Selfish people develop defenses to this pain and demand that other people manage it.
So how is this fair? And how does this help you to not feel hurt, used, and resentful of the people in your life that take what you give, run away, come back whenever they feel like it, with even less, just to ask for more?
Yeah, I get it. It’s not fair, in the common-sense, golden rule, we’re all the same but a little different way that we were taught in school.
The golden rule doesn’t apply. None of the rules apply. People who are focused on avoiding their own feelings will definitely not prioritize yours.
Selfish people don’t become better people because times get tough. They don’t listen more attentively or with greater compassion because you’re opening up to them or telling them something personal, painful, or important. In fact, they may come off as even more unbelievable in your time of need.
We’ve all been selfish at some point. We know what it feels like to have a “selfish hangover.” A shame associated with something said, something done, or something neglected. This is normal. People who don’t have a habitual pattern of selfish behavior, are able to snap out of selfish spells when the situation calls for it.
People who are extremely poor at managing their own emotions often panic when forced to face the emotional needs of others. People who have a pattern of selfish behavior don’t “step up” or “snap” out of it even when it’s clear, to everyone else that now is not the time. Or because you have been kind, loyal, or giving. They don’t snap out of it because they were particularly selfish yesterday, so today they have to be better. Or because you would obviously snap out of it in this situation, in their shoes. They are bottom line, end of story, not capable of understanding, much less living by the golden rule.
Some of the most hurtful things have been said in the most critical moments because selfish people simply don’t have the capacity to empathize or respond. If they do respond, what they say or do will be a triggered, defensive response that will ring in the ears of normal, empathetic people for a long time.
Selfish people just can’t handle feeling awful.
You don’t have to buy it, and it certainly doesn’t excuse anything, or cover everyone, but studies have shown that some humans who are exposed to evidence of another human in pain have a significantly higher spike in heart rate than others. Those people were also less likely to respond to the pain of another person with an empathetic action. They were too busy managing their own physiological response.
Being selfish requires 24-hour surveillance.
I’m an attorney, and in a previous job, I represented disabled people, some of who lived with chronic pain. My job was to present evidence in court to show that my client, who felt consistent, debilitating pain could not do any job in the United States. Not one job. Not even the lowest paid, easiest job ever.
There were some days when this initially seemed like a pretty tough task. My client would walk in the courtroom, make eye contact, and look completely normal. But then I would ask them to describe a typical day.
How the pain they feel occurs sporadically, but with great frequency. How they wince waiting for it. How they have an inability to concentrate and maintain a stable mood because they are on constant alert for what will come next. Then there’s the pain itself. Pervasive, radiating, sometimes pounding, sometimes in the background. The monster or the specter of the monster, always there.
I’m not saying that all people with chronic pain can’t get anything done. I’m also not saying that selfish people feel exactly this kind of pain. Or that we should feel sorry for people who have a pattern of selfish behavior.
What I’m saying is that thinking of selfishness as an automatic visceral response may help you to detach your worth from someone who has neglected you or tirelessly used you. Selfish people are terribly unhappy. They are on 24-hour surveillance for whatever uncomfortable feeling they must strike, detonate, and cover up next.
People who are habitually selfish hear a metaphorical ringing in their ears, pounding in their chest which operates to constantly remind them they need, whatever it is they need, RIGHT NOW, to drown out whatever feeling they cannot deny on their own.
If they need space, they will disappear without a word. If they need a favor, they won’t care if you’re sick. If they need money, they will take whatever little you have. They are too consumed with the noise of their own chaos to see how it affects you.
I’ve known selfish people without patterns of selfish behavior. I’ve been selfish myself. Understand that those selfish people who said something unthinkable to you, those who you can’t forgive even if you are a forgiving person are NOT normal, empathetic people in a selfish phase. They are extremely limited people, who experience a cacophony of feelings they cannot stand and have no idea how to manage. It’s too loud in there. They do not have the capacity to hear you, see you, or be affected by you.
This doesn’t mean you should pity them. Or that you should be less outraged. It means that there is a lot going on under the surface that has nothing to do with you. Selfish people literally have a decreased awareness of the outside world. A habitually selfish person is a child in a fetal position, inside the body of a starving animal, with the head of a beeping fire alarm to which no replacement batteries exist.
As with all toxic or emotionally unavailable people, tying your worth to whether a habitually selfish person will stop being selfish for you is pointless.
People who instinctually deflect responsibility for the emotions of themselves and others don’t do it selectively. People who have a pattern of being selfish, don’t become less selfish when they see your value or worth. They simply are who they are, and who they are is limited in a crucial way.
So how do you deal with yourself around selfish people?
Start focusing on your reaction. It will tell you everything.
Reaction: You get it.
Sometimes people are selfish. Sometimes you are selfish. People are temporarily selfish for good or good enough reasons. They are dealing with a family issue. It’s exam time. They just met a guy they really like. A coworker went on vacation so you get stuck with their work.
How to deal: This one is easy. You don’t feel used, hurt, or confused because you understand their behavior. You deal by being sincere in your communication if something bothers you and believing apologies when they come.
Reaction: You don’t get it, and you can’t get over it.
You got caught up in the momentum of someone else’s needs, to the detriment of your own. Maybe once. Maybe every day for years.
You feel used. A sibling who expects you to respond to their every whim. A partner who, to borrow Natasha’s phrase, uses you as an emotional & sexual ATM. Anyone who makes you feel like their love for you is conditional on you being, doing, supporting their needs, while ignoring or scoffing at yours. All while you have tried to be understanding, kind, open, and giving. You cannot understand how someone could behave that way toward you and be able to look anyone else in the eye.
How to deal: Your gut can gauge the level of toxicity in the relationship. Too much is soul murder. Once you reintroduce yourself to resonating with your own needs, rather than the needs of others, you will have a much easier time emotionally detaching from people who you once thought you could never forgive.
Understand selfish people need you more than you need them. Become critically aware of the exact moment when you feel the need to abandon yourself in order to cater to the other. And in that moment, STOP. It will feel like this thing they need is more important than that last thing. Understand you have cultivated a pattern of responding to someone else’s need just because they have convinced you it is more important or urgent than your own. This is why selfish people love calling other people selfish when there is any indication they won’t get their way. Don’t get caught up in the momentum of that need just once. Do this enough and you will develop an acute awareness for the situations in which you are triggered. When triggered, stop reacting. Start responding.
Move. Empathetic people find themselves living in a land of constant, burning forest fires. You have developed a reaction to selfish people that makes you believe that if you stop putting fires out, all will be lost. LET IT BURN. If you can’t let go of how selfish people in your life treat you, then your surroundings suck anyway. All will not be lost. Read all of Natasha’s self-esteem posts. You will find your own momentum. You will not need another person’s emergency to jump start you. You will love your new home.
Get off the WTF merry-go-round. I get it. When you have been consistently taken advantage of, it comes flooding back as WTF memories. Fixating on how unfairly you were treated and rehashing the scenario will retrigger you and suspend you in some of the worst moments of your life. Shaking your head at how awful some people can be is another way to put off attending to your needs. It’s, of course, healing to discuss what happened to you, and I say this with great love: don’t waste any more of your time as the victim of someone who mistreated you. Feel disgusted and use that disgust as fuel for implementing boundaries and never allowing yourself to be treated that way again.
You don’t get it, you can’t get over it. You’re fixated on resolving it and getting a return on your investment.
You are bereft. Despite how much you try, you cannot get a family member to accept something fundamental about you. You need an ex who used you and then discarded you like a piece of garbage back. You cannot bear to cut off a friend who always makes you feel worthless because then you really will feel worthless.
How to deal: Get away. In my opinion, this is the most psychologically detrimental relationship of all. You are likely in a relationship with a person who, in addition to their other needs, specifically needs you to pedestal them, acquiesce to them, and be controlled by them. Some part of your circuitry continues to want to fulfill those needs, despite how much it hurts. This dynamic serves as an addictive false confirmation to some underlying ancient belief that you are the one who is less than, defective, and don’t deserve to be loved.
Getting away is the only option.
This is the most harmful scenario of all. You have tied your self worth to unselfishing a selfish person.
If you can’t cut out the person physically, do everything you can to cut them out emotionally.
Understand that in this scenario, you need time and space away. This situation will not get better over time or once the selfish person realizes your worth. They are not slow. They have an insatiable need to be the aggressor, the superior, the wanted, or the needed. This desire will never subside, and it will always look for different sources of fulfillment. If you don’t get away, you will only affirm an underlying belief that you are not enough because, for this kind of person, there is no such thing.
If you feel desperate, not outraged, when you realize that you have become a feast for a habitually selfish person, this is your alarm bell. It’s soft, but if you listen to it, it will become louder and louder. Listen to it even though every molecule in your body doesn’t want to. Turn up the volume and GET OUT even though you don’t feel ready. It’s the only way.
This post was written by Natasha Adamo Team Member, Irena.
+ If you need further and more personalized help, please look into working with Natasha here.
Once again you ladies have literally popped into my email at the exact right time. It’s starting to freak me out lol. But thank you so much for this post…I for the first time had a recent response to a habitually selfish person with disgust. Previously I would’ve felt compelled to do more, be better, and hope to be seen but this time something changed and I couldn’t pin point it until I opened this email. Thank you so much..this feeling may be a little of hurt but it is even more a feeling of empowerment that I realize now that something is changing in me and I will never subject myself to these type of people again. All love-Chen
Thank you, Chen. I can so relate to what you have written. There have been so many times when I have read a post on PMS and something just clicked for me. It’s such an incredible honor for me to know that you may have felt that way when you read this post. Reading what you wrote made me remember a few times when I first felt true disgust at a situation/interaction. Thank you for that incredible reminder. Disgust is such a dominant, visceral feeling that all the thinking and second guessing seems to go away. That’s exactly when I started responding to some truth that I knew (in my gut, soul, etc) instead of reacting out of emotion. I also know what you mean when you say that it hurts a little. As you said, the discomfort seems to be part of the experience. I’m so happy that you are feeling less burdened by selfish people and feeling more empowered. Thank you for sharing your experiences and making me feel less alone. <3
Thank you for this. The Universe sent this to me today because it was desperately needed. Thank you.
Thank you, Winsome. I’m so happy the post served you. I have been there, and believe me, you are never, ever alone. Take good care. <3
Think this just saved me about six months in therapy! Thank you x
Thank you, Margi! Writing this post has been such an honor for me, and I’m so happy to know that you have found it to be helpful. <3
I swear this post reached me at the very moment I need it. I have been going through a very rough period lately and it’s been a week I have been trying so hard to keep myself moving and to respond rightly without arguing with reality.
I am into a relationship with the most selfish man I know. He knows only himself and his agenda. I always find excuses for his selfishness till last week. I had been very sick n bed ridden and it’s at that time that I really realized the peak of his selfishness…he went on with his chores and had no time to check on me. He would text at night to ask how I was feeling and never waited for me to answer back and went to bed. Most of the time I would feel like he is obliging himself n doing me a great favor to text or call me. N I had been there for him always. Being not a snack but a whole meal like u said for this every hungry and demanding man. So I just snapped and told him through a text that he either just care a hoot or too busy for me and as from now it’s better he doesn’t waste his time…
He went MIA for days (as he always dies when I turn rebellious) and I stayed in my lane. I was outraged for the first time. And couple days later he called and I replied and somewhere the doormat in me woke up and was ready to give him another chance till he said something. I was to buy him a phone and wanted to know if I checked on that!
The balloon got bursted! Of course It was not for me but the phone! Not happening I said and he disappeared again . I was very depressed at work and was hoping for a post from Natasha ( I read them all the time to give me strength when I feel I am faltering) would pop up…n it did! U r here Irena as if u felt that I needed that…
Thank u for this. An amazing post which I would read again n again till I feel strong enough to walk further away! I must admit that I do feel low, guilty and lost at times and when doubts cropped in, it’s even more difficult but I will remind myself that I am not alone. I have u, Natasha and This tribe to back me!
Love u all
Your comment made me tear up. I have so been there. It sounds like you have a big heart, and unfortunately, it seems like big hearts are disappointed over and over again. I know what it’s like to hope that someone wises up or steps up in a relationship. My hope in writing this was to share my realizations when it comes to how and why selfish people operate, so that we can start responding, instead of emotionally reacting out of hurt and pain when selfish people reveal themselves. It sounds like you’re doing this already. I know it seems unfair that beginning to accept the truth about a person and gaining strength also feels like pain. I promise though, the more you can untangle your self worth from the actions of people you know to be selfish, the stronger you will become. I know you know this but people with integrity don’t make themselves scarce when someone is ill and then disappear when they don’t get what they want. I’m willing to bet he operated on that loop long before you. Thank you for sharing your experiences with this community. You are never alone. Take care & much love.
Thank u Irena. I am still a work in progress. I am yet to stop reacting emotionally and to respond accordingly to what the other person has revealed himself to be but like u said…it’s so painful…n even more painful is how easily these ppl can cut u off and move on without any remorse while I despotes being at the receiving ends of these hurtful behaviour continue to hope and give myself so much pain.
But I am genuinely thankful for this post coz u have cleared one major doubt…I had always been doubtful if he is a narcissist though it was clear that he is emotionally unavailable. Thanks to ur insight I understand better what concoction this man is made up of! Emotional unavailability n selfishness. God bless u sister.
This post is amazing. Thank you Irena & Natasha for highlighting this as an area for exploration.
I am struggling today with an argument that happened yesterday, and it is my firm belief that the other person is basically selfish, so the post is timely!. There have been many times in the past that this person will not listen to my requests (for respectful boundaries) and will repeatedly do the same thing over and over and over again, therefore causing me me stress and worry while they have then later turned around and decided that this major event / upcoming catastrophe in their ‘wasn’t that big a deal’ in the end. (Messages are always sent through the night / first thing in the morning so they are the first thing I read, and this generally sets me on edge for the whole day – I have said MANY times not to do this but it has never been taken on board)
I should mention this person is my daughter. She suffers from a certain amount of anxiety and has been counselled for it, but seems unwilling to put what she has learned into practise at times. I sometimes feel that she uses this anxiety as a reason to make everything about her.
She ignores me when I call her, but if she needs me it is constant calls, messages etc to get in touch. I understand a lot of people might read this and think I am being the selfish one. Believe me, I am there for her whenever she needs me. But this thing yesterday, well it made me think – probably for the first time – that she can be incredibly selfish, and based on the words of this post, it confirms my thoughts.
How then, do I deal with the selfish actions of my own child, who is dealing with some issues herself, isn’t at all a terrible person, but needs to take responsibility for her actions? Clearly I am not going to cut off my child. I just am not sure what to do to deal with this, as it seems to happen more and more frequently.
I don’t think anyone believes you are selfish. In fact, in all my experience with regard to this subject, I’ve found that people who find themselves in these situations often ask themselves if they are the selfish ones for having boundaries or even putting into words what they are feeling. When this type of behavior comes from a close family member, untangling your own needs becomes more complex, because things like duty, loyalty, and your responsibility as a parent comes in, and of course you can’t physically cut a family member out, but I do think you get to a place of some relief. We read various versions of the quote “expectation is the root of all misery.” I think frustrations can run high and then spiral when we first try to communicate what our boundaries are and then have those same boundaries be trampled time and again. I shook my head and totally related to you when you said that you’ve asked time and again for your daughter to stop sending you messages early in the morning,
That is a good paradigm, I think, for how frustrating these types of situations are. You may think: “I have specifically communicated that I do not want you to send me frantic messages early in the morning. My request is small and reasonable, especially in comparison to what you ask of me.”
I can’t read minds, and this may be a “duh” thing, but I’m willing to bet that your daughter really is just not thinking of you when she behaves in that manner. And she’s so reactionary to perceived emergencies that she may have a type of amnesia afterward. Whatever this is, whether we want to call it selfishness or anxiety or something else, I believe these kinds of emotional difficulties make people less likely to learn from past behavior and change, even in seemingly small ways.
I stopped taking selfish behavior as personally when I came to the realization that some people are just more limited; the spectrum of their ability to think of another is just shorter. As you said, this in no way makes someone a bad person. I think you may find relief when you can identify your initial emotional reaction (frustration, worry, etc.) from the behavior that triggers it. I’m not saying that you should stop feeling. I am saying that your feelings may not be as painful when you accept, in whatever way you can, that your daughter’s behavior operates on a trigger, needs based circuit that, at least for right now, may not change, despite how much you explain, give, and how little of her you may ask. I know this can be especially hard because conventional wisdom teaches us to communicate our boundaries, and if we’re not successful at doing that, then we must not be communicating correctly.
I hope that your dynamic with your daughter may change when you start responding to her behavior instead of reacting to it. Of course you will be there for her, but you may feel better if you can take a few steps back and try to extricate your feelings from the momentum of her needs. Perhaps everything does not need to be addressed immediately or with guns blazing. I know this is easier said than done, but one thing that has helped me is to consciously try to remember that feelings are not contagious. The emotions behind frantic messages, 17 missed calls, etc belong to the party having those emotions. I don’t think there’s anything you can do to “fix” that aspect, but you may feel better if you first take an inventory of your body, emotions, and needs prior to responding. I hope you receive this with the love I intend – I know it can be tricky when a stranger tries to get inside the head of people you know and love well. Take care & much love. xo.
Agreed Natasha, an amazing really speaks to you post! Wow! I literally was just thinking about a selfish person from my past this morning and then bam – this post. All I could think the whole time reading was how Natasha always says “it was never about you anyway” which is something I try very hard to consciously always remember. Thank you Irena. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!
Thank you, Kar. It’s my honor to help and to be part of this community. I agree – Natasha really opened my eyes to the idea that no matter what we do, we can’t make a cat bark. Sometimes it’s really hard to remember consciously, as you said. To respond, instead of to react. I’m so grateful to have this community where these ideas can be discussed. Much love. xo.
OMG THIS IS SO REAL. Every part of this resonates with me. Thank you
Thank you, Ashleigh! I’m so honored to write this post. Knowing that it resonates with you makes me feel less alone. We are never, ever alone. <3
Never ever, what an amazing thing
This article is so good it was almost better than an orgasm! Seriously, I just dumped an EUM, and it’s like you wrote this about him exactly. He’d actually tried to explain to me once how he “felt” and it was a lot like what you said about being constantly overwhelmed by multiple alarms at once. This makes so much sense! I love this article so much, I’m gonna marry it. And now that I’m No Conact, I’ll read it any time I miss that selfish tire fire of a human. Thanks!
LOL you are amazing! So happy it helped! 🙂 Thank YOU Atli for being a part of this tribe. xox
Awesome post love it! Can totally relate to this.
Thank you, Heidi! Reading posts on PMS always made me feel like I was less alone in my feelings and experiences. I’m so happy to hear that this post resonated with you. xo.
I got chills reading this post — it was just what I needed. My sister told me about PMS as I’m going through a breakup (at least on my end) with my boyfriend of five years. We’ve been going through a rough patch, and two Saturdays ago he just stopped talking to me. Stopped responding. What was upsetting was that we’ve been talking through things for a month and I felt we were moving forward, and his ghosting came without warning. I sent him an email Sunday night explaining how sad and hurt I felt, and his response basically said I should have known this wouldn’t be a forever thing and that he’s sorry he abandoned me in “my” time of need. I mean, we’ve been together for five years and we’re in our 30s, I’m pretty sure you the move isn’t to ghost your girlfriend because you needed time to work on yourself. Anyway, I’m trying to find the strength to cut the cord. In talking with my friends I’ve found that I have been emotionally abused and controlled and brainwashed. I know the path forward will be rough but I’m grateful to think pieces like this that can put into words how I feel and give me the strength to move forward. Thank you so much.
Hi Kris, Reading your comment made me tear up. I so wish I could hug you. I’m beyond honored to know that this post has brought you even a small bit of clarity. Unfortunately, I think that when it comes to habitually selfish people – things like how long you have been together, your progress, and having the common decency to give closure simply aren’t part of the agenda. In my experience, when it comes to this type of person, their MO doesn’t change very much as they become older either. You will learn and grow from this experience. You will heal and be kinder to yourself and others. He will be the same stunted person and someone in his life will be asking, “how can a person still act this way in their 40s?” Just watch. It’s very sad, but I hope that you don’t get too caught up in trying to make sense of someone who has revealed himself to lack empathy, character, and integrity. I know that it’s hard to let go of someone you love. Natasha has some great blog posts about acceptance and finding your own closure when someone you are close to has revealed themselves to be incapable of of providing a proper good bye. I hope you listen to your alarm bells, and please know you are never, ever alone. Much love.
I think it’s incredibly helpful that the “diagnosis” is just plain selfishness. Having been in a terribly toxic relationship with a man who was hard to pin down as narcissistic but absolutely selfish; it’s really helpful to have someone just reference the action itself versus calling it a thing that was once hard for me to wrap my mind around him being. I wasn’t able to see he was narcissistic at the time but I definitely would have agreed he was selfish. So that’s huge. And then the chronic pain reference was also so, so good. I had never thought about selfishness that way before and it was enlightening. You just continue to push me forward in understanding wrong behavior I’ve tolerated in the past which leaves me confidant I’ll never allow it again.
I hope that makes sense! I know *now that the man is likely an actual clinical narcissist but as I was healing and dealing it was very difficult for me to absorb that as true. This approach would have (and still does) help so much because I could/can accept it is true that he was/is selfish and therefor I can apply every word of that article as truth I can believe in and armor myself with it because I wouldn’t be too busy mentally arguing or contemplating if he was in fact narcissistic. Like the article said; who cares what the diagnosis is, when it is a pattern of selfish behavior, that is more than enough. The verbiage shift is just really helpful. Speaking as someone who’s argued against believing someone I loved was narcissistic therefor prolonging my acceptance and healing. Thanks for writing this. xx
I like the way you described this. It’s how I feel too….I have ocd when it comes to figuring out exactly what complex that person has and then I get into denial that it’s what they had (in my case, they had ASPD or so I think). It’s true, it’s more simple than having to diagnose…the behavior is bad, that’s all that should matter. Selfish behavior comes in so many forms and with different mental disorders, some of which comorbidly exist, so it can at times be near impossible for you to figure it out, let alone even the person to know what they might have in completion. I appreciate you saying it like this, it switched something off in me and I thought “She’s right, it’s more simple and I’ve been getting worked up about it”. So thank you!! And I’m glad you’re doing better! That is awesome!! 🙂
Thank you, M. I’m so honored to know that you resonated with this post. I laughed when you described the urge as an “OCD!” That seems so true. I once read a quote that said something along the lines of “I wanted a relationship, not a masters in psychology” that really spoke to me. It’s so easy to get caught up in figuring things out and then explaining what we’ve figured out. I suppose we’re just more used to focusing on the other person, rather than our own needs. But as it turns out, it’s not so complicated after all, when we think of things in terms of people’s actions and our reactions to those actions. Thanks so much for sharing and being part of this tribe. Much love, Irena.
Hi JBB, I completely understand what you are saying. If only you knew how much! Your words really made me think about this all in a new way, and I’d like to thank you for that. I think that we seek a diagnosis for a couple of different reasons. One is that a diagnosis helps to explain callous behavior that seems to be unexplainable. In the past, I have become fixated on understanding and putting a framework around the type of chaos that some people create. More than that, if I had a diagnosis, I also had confirmation that whatever hurtful behavior was happening didn’t have anything to do with ME – it was someone else’s sickness/problem/instability/condition. While this is of course, true, one of the problems with seeking a diagnosis is an especially detrimental underlying truth of all this: if you have a diagnosis, then maybe you can also come up with a “cure.” And if you have a “cure,” then you have a way to control the chaos, resurrect the relationship — and in doing so — your WORTH.
I could talk about this for hours, but I can’t understate how harmful dynamic is, and how easily we can get caught up in these cycles. Sometimes we are hurt by others more than we can really ever understand, usually because it is triggering a series of prior hurts. It may feel like we are going to right our entire world by figuring out this one partner, friend, parent, anyone who has hurt us. But what ends up happening is that in trying to do so, we continuously come back to the same scene of the crime, suspended in time and unable to move forward, because toxic, emotionally unavailable, narcissistic (whatever we want to call them) people, who display these types of habitually selfish, chaotic patterns are not going to change because we’ve defined it and see the way out.
I feel compelled to write all this because I understand how difficult it is when you are dealing with narcissism to first diagnose, then come to an acceptance that the person you are dealing with is nothing like the person you imagine them to be. There are people — many people — who spend years reading, examining, and discussing narcissism, and in doing so, continue to completely neglect their own needs, their own lives, forever stuck in that cycle mentioned above. It doesn’t help that the least discussed aspect of narcissism is the fact that narcissists themselves operate in value/devalue cycles – of other people and THEMSELVES. I’m not mental health professional, but my opinion is that trying to diagnose a constantly transmuting target is a special kind of hell and a final parting gift that many narcissists deliver.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts – you are so not alone in your feelings and experiences. As you have said, it is so often difficult to accept the person someone has revealed themselves to be. We want an answer, and when an answer doesn’t exactly fit, we put off our grief, acceptance, and continue to get caught up in the momentum of needs that are not our own. As Natasha has pointed out so many times, the way to emotionally disengage from toxic people is to focus on patterns of behaviors/undeniable actions. I am SO happy to hear that you have clarity on this and are moving forward in your life. You deserve peace and happiness. <3 Take care & much love.
Thankyou so much for perfect timing. I’m struggling yet again with a friend cutting off communication over a perceived slight. The urge to work overtime convincing her I meant nothing of the sort and that I’m worthy of her friendship is almost overwhelming. Additionally though. I see so very clearly that I have definitely been a selfish person as recently as just a couple years back, before I found PMS and learned the importance of accepting reality, stop cock blocking my own progress and feeling my feelings for crying out loud. Thankyou thankyou thankyou.
Hi Tammy, I had the same experience with PMS! It’s so amazing to be part of this tribe. I’ve found that selfish behavior when it comes to friends can be especially sad – a girl is supposed to have your back, right? I think in some situations though, you may end up in an endless cycle of trying to prove yourself worthy of a friendship, which can really feel like soul murder. As Natasha has said time and again, be you and the world will adjust. I’ve really taken that advice to heart. Much love. xo.
Hi Irena – this is a lovely post with such great information. It’s so important for us all to understand how we can become enmeshed in other people’s toxic patterns of behaviour.
Natasha, I have a separate and unrelated question for you – how do you make peace with the fact that some people will forever know and remember you as “the girl who was enter-negative-trait-here”? I’m having trouble making peace with this because I continuously want to prove to others how much my situation and life has changed.
Agreed! Thanks, Suzy! ????
Hi Irena! This is a lovely post — it’s so easy for us to become enmeshed in other people’s toxic behaviours and it’s so hard to then see out. Like you said, we need to keep listening for the alarm bells.
Natasha, I have a separate and unrelated question for you (and anyone else to answer): how do you make peace with the fact that some people (especially if they’ve left your life) will forever know you as “the girl with insert-negative-trait-here”?
Suzanne, I think the bottom line is that once you untangle your self worth from the reactions of others, you will just stop caring that they know you as girl with x negative trait.
I get it – if I asked that question and someone gave me this answer, I would think they are punking me. But truly, healing and moving on is not at all linear. I think that the feelings associated with how you are viewed are all wrapped up in the feelings of good bye/some other kind of relationship change. It takes a lot of courage and compassion toward yourself, your experience, and your feelings to untangle all of this.
I think you may get to a point where you have your own back to such an extent, that TEAM YOU will no longer give a F what team anyone else thinks. And it bottom line doesn’t matter what you said or did or what unfolded. If you really get on your own side, and ask yourself what a true friend would say to you and then say THAT. You will eventually get too caught up in your own peace to care. And trust – if whatever it is they think is really hurtful, if there is no care and compassion, if it feels awful & judgmental — know that that kind of person thinks that 100 fold over about himself or herself. People who are awful to other people are first awful to themselves. Just a few thoughts – I know Natasha may have more. Much love, Irena.
This is one smart cookie of a woman who is learning, through plenty of hungry days and nights, to be her own delicious meal that is shared ONLY with others who are more than willing to give her parts of theirs!
What a banquet we can all have when we realize our unique ingredients are worth savoring!
Way to go Irena.
Thanks, DH. Much love.
I was dating a man who is younger than me which i didn’t think was an issue, til it became apparent he was much less mature and one side effect of being young was his selfishness i constantly made excuses for it, he never came to my house only his, refused to ever meet my friends, and when i would drive a half hour to hang out with him he would sit playing video games not acknowledging me until we watched tv or a movie before bed, always wha the wanted never what i did. he would constantly blow me off to hang with his friends over and over and if i complained i was the selfish one, it wasn’t until HE dumped ME… well dump isn’t the right term basically pulled further and further away claiming he was busy and i just decided i didn’t want to deal with it anymore, tried to confront him and was made to seem like i was crazy and selfish. it wasn’t until reading this post that i realize i made the right decision to distance myself, trying to make him understand why i’m upset is futile because he’ll never understand and i don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who always feels the need to be in control
Thank you for sharing, Jean. It really is sad to think that for people who are habitually selfish — age doesn’t matter. They are stunted in a self-absorbed cycle with no ability to take a step back to look at the patterns in their own behavior, much less how that behavior affects someone else. I’m sorry that you had to deal with this situation, and please know that you are not alone. In my experience, people who call others crazy and selfish do so from a very triggered and defensive place. I wrote this post because I’d like to save anyone who is listening the agony of trying to make yourself understood by someone who has no ability to even understand themselves. It is futile – as you say. I’m so happy to hear that you have extricated yourself from that awful cycle and you are not tying your self worth to the behavior of a selfish person. Much love. xo.
I learned a lot about myself in this post as well as the men who have been selfish to me.
You are so right in that selfish people are unhappy and on surveillance. It makes so much sense. It is like they constantly have their wall up so nobody comes in. They make lots of excuses but it all leads back to them being so selfish that they cannot be giving or understanding on any level. I have experienced that so much it is embarrassing. My last boyfriend whose breakup with me lead me to this site, was exactly everything you describe. It is a siren but it went off late for me.
I doubt he will change. It’s sad really that people live this way however it is as you state. They cannot be comfortable with feeling awful. They have no problem making another person feel awful though. It is almost like they are going to hurt you before you hurt them.
Thank you again for this. Be well.
Hi Linda, You are so not alone in all of this. To be honest with you, I really don’t think there’s any such thing as a siren that goes off too late. It’s one of the hardest things in the world – first recognizing that people such as this exist and then accepting that fact and walking away. I think there’s something in us that believes that if we love harder or give more chances that things will be different or that a wall will come down, as you put it.. I know it can feel embarrassing, as you say, when you are looking back on it; but trust me, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. The people who you describe were the way they are before you, while with you, and will be that way long after you. I think we all reach a point when it is impossible to drown out the sirens, when we start resonating with our own needs, and start feeling disgust for this kind of behavior. This is a point to be grateful for, because it means that you will use this disgust as fuel to untangle your self worth from the behavior of these types of people. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and being part of this community. Much love, Irena.
“People who are focused on avoiding their own feelings will definitely not prioritize yours.”
This is EVERYTHING. Thank you.
Thanks, Elizabetta! I’m so happy to know this was helpful to you. Much love. <3
There are problems with this article. It needs to be less verbose and more concise. If a selfish person is selfish because they are hurting, then I cannot feel disgust for them. I can’t hate a person for being broken. There is no inquiry into how and why someone can be so damaged that they cling to selfishness for survival. It’s a subject that needs to further investigation because selfishness is hurting a lot of people.
Right now, I’m despairing for the future. A long-time ‘selfish’ friend of almost four decades, said that he wished he’d died when he suffered a stroke recently. This leaves me in an impossible situation. I would say that the selfish person needs as much help as their victims.
That said, this article is the best article I’ve read about selfishness. I’ve saved it on my phone and I try and read it regularly, so that the advice and the information sinks in, but I find that it’s too long to keep my concentration.
I’m sorry that you have so many problems with the post, Ella. In no way did I *ever* say that you should “hate” someone for being broken. I would never say nor advise that.
Holy guacamole this is just what I needed to read this week! It’s a startling thought when you realize your closest support system may not actually “do the same for me if the situations were reversed”. Because when is it ever about anyone other than them? Thank you Irene for your insight and suggestions. Truly the perfect thing I needed to read today. Bless ???
Thank you, Becca! I’m so happy to know it is useful. I agree – it can be so startling to realize that there may be people in your every day life that have toxic behavior patterns. It’s like life suddenly makes more sense and less sense at the same time. Much love. ????
“YOU’RE FIXATED ON RESOLVING IT AND GETTING A RETURN IN YOUR INVESTMENT” ~ Wow, does this resonate with me!! I didn’t get it, nor could I get over it… I started asking myself what the hell was wrong with me?? Was I going crazy? It has literally taken me years of repeatedly bashing my head against a wall before FINALLY allowing myself feel disgusted, angry & used enough to accept that the wonderful and irreplaceable f*cktard in my life was only ever a creation in my mind. The reality is that they were the most selfish person I had ever met, yet I ignored the red flags. Because I don’t think/live this way, it was inconceivable to me that anyone else could. I grew up with a very critical mother, so I learned early on to aim for perfection. My father was an alcoholic/rageaholic and in turn, I also learned to walk on eggshells and to put myself second.
I am strong. I am intelligent and kind. I know this to be true. So, I reasoned that if only I could love the f*cktard hard enough, if I could only give more, do better, explain further, that I would eventually get through to them. I imagined the day that this person would finally allow themselves to be vulnerable… it would be the greatest breakthrough. I would show them that I would never give up on them, I would love them no matter what nonsense they threw at me because I was smart enough to see through it. They’d thank me one day… and in turn, they’d love me unconditionally… I’d be safe and secure in their love forever… Except that day never came.
Instead I was discarded and thrown away because I finally demanded respect. As though I never mattered AT ALL. My self worth was so tied into regaining their attention, their time, their love. If only they could look at me that way once again – I could be okay for a moment. I would be able to breathe again. So I chased it, and I only humiliated and devalued myself in the process. I showed my hand at what little crumbs I was willing to accept from them. Still, it didn’t work! I was stunned at just how cold and uncaring this person could be. It actually sent shivers down my spine. I wanted my 7 years’ worth of investment back. I couldn’t deal with what a waste it was! FINALLY I am choosing to love and value myself enough to realize it’s their garbage not mine. IT IS NOT ME. IT’S THEM. I am moving on to a healthier place. Better late than never.
Irena – thank you for the amazing article! Your words are inspirational and have helped to strengthen me and remind me of the hard lesson I have learned.
Natasha – you have created a body of work that is truly wonderful and inspiring. You put a witty spin on difficult issues and explain it in a way that just makes so much sense and is easy to connect to.
I just wanted to tell u that reading ur post is like reading my life – a very strict mom with an alcoholic dad and u get me- the one who thinks who is the superwoman to fix everything! N I would fight till the end to make things work. N like u i got a selfish f*tard and gave him 3 years of my life. I wud follow the principle – any problem is us against it and I wud row frantically the relational boat and exhaust myself to get crumbs.
Now that I have decided to stop arguing with reality and to put my foot down, I am seeing things as they r! But here again I am unable to move away…I want my investment back! Crazy!
Today my demanding respect and investment from him have him all cold and ignoring me…I wud lie if I say I am unaffected…no I am not. I am hurting. I want to lash out at him..,I want to fight for it again…I want just te react and feel better…
But I know better! Reactivity won’t help. I need to respond accordingly but I guess though it has seeped in, it will take time for us to absorb it completely and finally make sh*t happens!
I wish best of luck. This will pass too…till then we r here to support each other.
Hemlan, Thank you for being part of this community. We are so never alone. <3
Thank you, Hemlan… I too, wish you the best – AND the strength to walk away from anyone who is not deserving of your time, energy and love. I still have days where I desperately want to find a way back into this person’s life, because at least the pain of missing them would stop for a moment. But, I try to take a deep breath and remind myself that I need to love myself enough not to do that. I’m trying to accept that some people may simply not be capable of being who we wish they could be. Best of luck.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. You are so not alone in all of this. I’m so happy to know that you have found PMS to be a good resource for you. It really is hard to imagine how a person can act in a way that is inconceivable, as you say. It takes mental gymnastics to even comprehend how & why someone you are close could be unimaginably callous. I think we are brought up to believe that everyone is like us – but just a little different. So I can understand why we believe that some people just need a little extra love, time, that they are just a bit slow and need to be shown unconditional love in order to mirror it themselves. I hope that you don’t beat yourself up too much about providing this love and unconditional support. This kind of love, when given to the right people, and especially to yourself, lights up the whole world. I know you’ve probably already done so, but Natasha’s post on unconditional love from a few weeks ago addresses this so well.
I know it feels like you are losing something, but trust me, those seven years you invested are seven years of the most incredible job experience on unconditional love and support for yourself. You KNOW you are now the foremost expert on this – you have just been shining your light for too long into someone else. The fact that they cannot see it, will not accept it, and choose to remain in their darkness, selfishness, and toxic patterns, does not diminish your light. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but I think as you slowly untangle your self worth from the behavior of toxic people, the feeling of humiliation and loss will dissipate. You will look back on this time as an intense period of accumulated mourning and grief of it all, not just the current f*cktard. As Natasha lays out in her Valentine’s Day post on self love — focusing on feeling grateful that you are no longer in the same toxic cycle, begging for crumbs and relief, helps along the way. It takes a lot of courage to stay the course when your heart is broken, but I promise your life is changing. Much love, Irena.
Thank you for your supportive & insightful words, Irena. My heart feels a little lighter in this moment. How amazing it feels to be understood. xo
Thank you, Irena! I am working my way out of an abusive marriage and learning that I have patterns in all my relationships tied to low self-esteem. This post exposed yet another. I grew up in an abusive family, so I am now learning in my 30’s what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Before this, all I had was “this makes me feel icky.” I had.no idea why or how to deal with it. This blog is opening my eyes and helping me every day to be stronger and value myself correctly.
This post rang bells for me about my relationship with my only close friend. A man who I talk to every day. He often completely disrespects me and then loses his temper when I express displeasure with his actions. It turns into a huge hours long fight where he tells me everything that’s wrong with me. I have been struggling for some time to understand this pattern, but after reading your post, I believe it is because he has, as you said, “an insatiable need to be the aggressor, the superior, the wanted, or the needed.”
I am estranged from my family and I have very few friends because of my controlling, abusive husband, so I have been clinging to this one despite this behavior. I don’t know what I will do yet, but at least this post is helping me to understand the situation and cut all the cords that I have used to tie my worth to his treatment of me.
Thank you, Tia. I got chills reading your comment, because I know difficult it can be, especially when you are already going through a transition period, to untangle yourself from one of the few people still in your life. I don’t think Mari Kondo talks about what it feels like when you lay out all your clothes and realize that none of them spark joy. You may want to hang onto that last skirt and sweater, otherwise what will you have to wear? What you’re doing takes incredible courage, and I’m glad that you are finding PMS to be a helpful resource. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience here — you are so not alone in the situations you describe.
I felt that I had no choice but to untangle myself from relationships OR to disengage emotionally (when I couldn’t physically detach) when I realized that I was not in an authentic relationship with someone. Rather, I was just playing a role in their life. As you describe, the role can sometimes be the person who is less worthy, less knowledgeable, less wanted — the person to be aggressed UPON. In my unprofessional opinion, I believe that some people, regardless of whether they intend to or not, regardless of whether the intention is for good or bad, feel COMPELLED to be in the role of superior, to anyone in their purview. This is simply their MO, how they are currently programmed to operate, and has nothing to do with you. I hate to hear that you are being subjected to conditional “love” and “support” during a time of mending and healing, but I am happy to know that you are also finding some clarity. Please take good care. Much love, Irena
Great post Irene……read it four times already 🙂
Thanks so much
Hi Meg, I’m so honored to know that you found it to be useful! Much love. <3
Irena, you’re awesome! This truly stuck in my mind because IT’S SO TRUE!!!! “I have found that most advice that I have ever encountered on “how to deal with selfish people” kept me on a hamster wheel of patiently trying to understand people, explaining my feelings, believing that one day unconditional love will magically ignite, and becoming a full-time empathy tutor for people who never asked to learn.”
There’s a new song that you should all add to your playlist: R.I.P. by Sofia Reyes ft. Rita Ora & Anitta “R-R-R.I.P. to the bullsh*t…
Brush it off like cool whip”
Dance to this song and think about the person whose BULLSH*T you need to BURY immediately….R.I.P
LOVE this and you Rosa 🙂 xoxo
LOVE YOU! xoxo
I think I may be a little late to the posting, but I’m just reading this now. I experience a very similar situation. My boyfriend basically moved in with me the first week we started dating. Not officially, but slowly I noticed he brought all his clothes and things into my apt, little by little…and never left. He was great, at first. Amazing actually. After 3 months it changed. He wasn’t paying rent, he was only working sporadically, sleeping all day and always broke. Used my car constantly, because he didn’t have one. Borrowed money from me, and still hasn’t paid me back. I was his rock, and because of me, his friends said he’s been doing the best they’ve seen in years. He had big ideas and was going to be a success, which I encouraged. I felt more like his therapist and cheerleader for the next 8 months, until my mom passed recently. Then I now needed him. He basically made my mom’s death all about him, and acted as if I should have been over it after mourning for 3 weeks. He was not supportive at all. When I called him out on his bad behavior and lack of support, he called me a selfish, horrible person. He told me that his career was going to take off and I would be dragging him down. I told him to leave 2 weeks ago, and it was over. He came over this past Saturday to talk, just to let me know that he was actually breaking up with me, because I was bad for him and it was over. Ummm…yeah. Right.
I was so depressed for having two losses in such a short period of time, but I stuck to it. His behavior was awful since my mom died and I needed him more. I gave him my all, and when I needed him, he completely abandoned me. He drained me and caused me more pain. After reading your post, I feel so much better. Actually, all the posts are amazing. Thank you! My ex is a nice guy who is funny and fun when things are good, but this creep doesn’t deserve me. He’s gone back to living on his friends couch (rent free), and that’s where he’ll stay.
Oof. I have a love hate relationship with every post I’ve read on this website. I relate to every word. I need to but it hurts because it means I’ve been in denial for as long as I can remember. Thank you for caring enough to write about these things. I have been tremendously helped already.
I’m so sorry – I never, ever write to trigger anyone in any way, shape, or form. I understand what you mean and I’m just so happy to have heled in any way. I have dedicated my life to giving everything that I wish I had.
You are not alone, sister. All my love to you.
You got this. xox