You can be selfish — but experts say too much of it can make you toxic

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Christopher Whan wasn’t aware of his selfish tendencies until he got into a serious relationship.

The 28-year-old from Ottawa tells Global News being labelled selfish wasn’t really brought up growing up, but recently, he notices it more.

“My wife is sort of my first really serious relationship,” he said.

“She’s the only person who’s been exposed to that side of me.”


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After the two had children, Whan noticed he thought about himself often.

“I think for me it’s just a type of avoidance,” he said. “I’m not an emotionally expressive person. In order to avoid situations, I think, ‘how will this benefit me first before anyone else?'”

People are called out for being selfish for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s completely unintentional, while other times it can cause conflict in relationships.

Renee Raymond, a registered psychotherapist based in Toronto, says people are sometimes selfish to protect or achieve their own self-interests.

“They may do less for others in order to focus more on their needs, and may demand more attention and effort from others in order to achieve their desires and goals,” she said.

“Selfish people sometimes fear or resent doing more for others because they feel it can impede their own needs.”

Whan says growing up in a broken home, he had to learn how to take care of and rely on himself. He also lives with anxiety, which he says adds to his selfishness at times.

If he is ever at a crowded event with his family, he’ll walk away on his own or move ahead of his wife and child. “I can get out of that anxious situation.”


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But sometimes, this trait can also turn toxic. Raymond says in relationships in particular, selfishness can create a one-sided dynamic.

“The selfish person doesn’t always recognize that there are issues because their needs are being met,” she said.

“The other party, however, may feel like they’re being taken advantage of, unappreciated, and often resentful because of the lack of care and attention to their own needs.”

Dealing with a selfish person

But for some, especially those who have selfish partners or family members, it becomes frustrating. But Raymond stresses not all people know they’re being selfish.

“Selfish people aren’t always aware of what effect their actions have on others and so it’s important for anyone to make the selfish individual aware of what they’re noticing about their actions, as well as the impact on themselves,” she said.

Rana Khan, a registered psychotherapist in Toronto, says selfishness becomes toxic when it begins to negatively impact those close relationships.

“More often than not, the best way to evaluate/check yourself is the opinion that other people hold of us and how they are impacted by our behaviour,” he said.

“Selfishness becomes a problem when it leads to a lack of consideration, lack of respect lack of empathy.”

Is it ever good to be selfish?

Not all selfishness is considered negative, however. Raymond says focusing on yourself doesn’t have to be all bad.

“Striving to find balance between what is important to you and others is a healthier way to maintain relationships,” she said.

“Prioritizing goals, respecting other’s time, boundaries, and well-being in addition to one’s own are always important to consider when building and maintaining relationships.”

Khan adds it can be a good thing to be do what “best for you.”

“I think if you can at times balance that with ‘doing what is best for us,’ then you’ll be able to navigate being selfish effectively,” he said.

“There are numerous moments where you may have to do what is best for us — especially when it’s relation to other people — whether that’s romantically, in a work situation or in a friendship situation.”

How to be less selfish

Khan says selfishness can be unlearned, but it’s not always easy.

“In order to unlearn how to be selfish, you have to learn how to be considerate/respectful/empathetic and work on improving those categories of yourself,” he said.

“Ask people that are close to you and that you care about, ‘What does me being considerate look like to you? What does me being respectful look like to you?,'” he said.


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“If you’re being described as selfish, chances are you really value yourself and if you value yourself, then you would definitely value feedback that would help you improve yourself.”

Raymond says this awareness is important, but also advises practice.

“Take time consider whether your relationships and interactions feel like both parties win,” she said.

“Follow those thoughts up with behaviour changes which are supportive of others, and which respect their time and emotional support.”

Khan says listening is key.

“Being selfish simply means you value yourself. Now if someone can tell you how to be a better version of yourself — listen to them.”

arti.patel@globalnews.ca

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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