How to Stop Being Selfish

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What Does It Mean to Be Selfish?

Selfishness

Selfishness involves caring only about your needs without thinking of other people. It is often characterized as excessive concern for one's interests, needs, and welfare without regard for others.

Everyone is a little selfish sometimes, which isn't always a bad thing. Caring for yourself, focusing on yourself, and meeting your needs are critical for mental well-being.

The problem is if you always put your own interests above everything else, it can take a serious toll on your relationships, impairing the mutual give-and-take that is so essential for healthy interpersonal relationships.

Learning to stop being selfish can help you focus more on the people who are important to you. It can also help you reap the psychological rewards of showing care and concern for others, ultimately improving your relationships and ensuring that your needs are met.

This article discusses some of the things you can do to be less selfish, including:

  • Becoming more aware of selfish behaviors
  • Paying more attention to other people
  • Strengthening your empathy
  • Being aware of cognitive biases
  • Volunteering
  • Being grateful

6 Ways to Stop Being Selfish

Being less selfish can take time and practice. Increasing your awareness of self-centered behaviors can help, but it is also essential to start becoming more empathetic, conscientious, and thoughtful. Below are just a few strategies that can help.

Evaluate Your Behaviors

It's important to remember that it is normal to act selfish from time to time. Sometimes people go through phases of life where they are more self-focused—like specific developmental periods such as adolescence and young adulthood.

If you suspect that you might be a little too selfish, it is important to evaluate your behaviors and consider the ways you might be able to change.

Are you selfish with your time? Your resources? Your attention? Or are you neglecting the needs of other people who rely on you in some way?

Once you pinpoint the problem, you can start making a concerted effort to change. It may take time and a little practice. Still, eventually, you'll find that you are better able to recognize selfish behavior and more adept at addressing it before it becomes a serious problem.

Pay Attention to Others

Paying attention to other people and listening to what they say is important if you want to stop being selfish. Active listening is a skill that can help you focus on others, help them to feel valued, and take the focus off of yourself.

To listen actively, you need to be fully present in the moment. Pay attention to what the other person is saying and how they are saying it. Body language, including expression and movement, can convey a lot of meaning. 

Show interest in the other person by maintaining good eye contact and asking open-ended questions to keep the conversation going. As you practice this skill, you may find yourself more interested in what other people think and feel.

Check in With Others

One simple thing you can do is check in with friends and loved ones regularly. Send a text or make a call to someone and let them know you are thinking about them. Show interest in their life and let them know that you care.

Increase Empathy

Empathy is what allows you to consider things from other people’s points of view and focus on things beyond your own needs. Developing your empathetic abilities is a great way to stop being selfish. Strategies that can help you build empathy include:

  • Imagining how you would feel if you were in someone else's position
  • Spending more time communicating with other people
  • Thinking about the things you have in common with others rather than fixating on the differences
  • Sharing things about yourself
  • Participating in new activities that help expand your social circle and meeting people from different walks of life

Research has shown that empathetic people are more likely to engage in prosocial behavior. In other words, they tend to be more selfless and less selfish.

Watch for Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases are thinking errors that affect how we interpret and interact with the world. Such biases can lead to poor decision-making, but they can also contribute to selfish behavior.

For example, the fundamental attribution error is a bias that can cause you to blame other people's behavior on their character while attributing your mistakes to external forces. Similarly, the self-serving bias can lead you to attribute your success to your innate talent and hard work while at the same time blaming others for your mistakes and failures.

Such biases are often rooted in people seeing things only from their own perspective. Being aware of these thinking errors and making an effort to consider different ways of seeing situations can help reduce both bias and selfishness.

Volunteer to Help Others

Volunteering is a great way to turn your focus outward. While helping out a good cause is certainly a great way to help make the world a better place, evidence also suggests that volunteers reap important rewards.

Altruistic behaviors can: 

  • Reduce loneliness and increase social support
  • Improve resilience to stress
  • Help you form new friendships
  • Combat feelings of depression
  • Increase happiness

And because helping others requires you to focus on something outside yourself, it can go a long way toward reducing selfishness.

Show Gratitude

Gratitude involves being appreciative of the good things in your life. Practicing gratitude can reduce self-centeredness by helping you focus your attention on the things you love and respect in others.

One strategy to help increase appreciation for others is keeping a gratitude journal.

Spend a few minutes each day writing down a few things you are grateful for. Focusing on the people who bring happiness to your life can reduce self-centeredness.

Characteristics of Selfish People

Selfishness doesn’t always look the same. And self-focused behaviors are not always a sign of selfishness. They can be an essential form of self-care that is critical to well-being.

To better recognize harmful, selfish behavior, it can be helpful to look at some key differences between selfish and selfless people.

Selfish
  • Materialistic

  • Self-promoting

  • Grandiose sense of self

  • Lack empathy

  • Disregard for consequences

  • Unkind

  • Entitled

  • Self-absorbed

Selfless
  • Generous

  • Altruistic

  • Humble

  • Empathetic

  • Conscientious

  • Kind

  • Grateful

  • Charitable

Potential Causes of Being Selfish

Selfishness can stem from a variety of causes. People who tend to have narcissistic personalities are more prone to being self-absorbed. Some factors that can contribute to this tendency include:

  • Genetics: Personality traits are influenced by genetics, so having family members with more narcissistic personalities might make people more likely to display this trait.
  • Upbringing: Growing up with adult mentors who emphasized materialism and self-centeredness can contribute to becoming a more selfish adult.
  • Stress: People are sometimes more likely to experience selfishness as a response to stressful events.

Selfishness can vary depending on the situation; everyone engages in this behavior to a certain extent.

When dealing with stress or a traumatic event, your first instinct is often geared toward self-protection. This is normal, and it doesn't make you a bad person. After all, you must ensure your needs are met before you can turn your attention to helping others.

Benefits of Being Less Selfish

Being less selfish can bring a variety of rewards to your life. Some possible benefits of learning to become less self-absorbed include:

  • Better relationships: Being too self-absorbed can impair interpersonal relationships. If you never show up for the people in your life, they end up in a one-sided relationship. This can be toxic and lead people to reduce contact with you or even end the relationship altogether. Becoming less selfish can strengthen your bonds with others and ensure you have the social connectivity you need for optimal well-being.
  • Less stress: Because being less selfish can improve your social support, it can also reduce stress. After all, you’re more resilient when you have others to turn to for help and support as you deal with life’s challenges.
  • Greater happiness: While it is essential to take care of yourself, turning your attention outward and focusing on others can help you feel happier and more content.
  • Higher self-esteem: While it might seem counterintuitive, thinking less about yourself might help you feel better about yourself. Good self-esteem stems from various sources, including positive interactions with others.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is being selfish a mental illness?

    Selfishness can be a sign of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). People with NPD are self-centered, have an exaggerated sense of self, exploit others for personal gain, and are preoccupied with power and success.

  • Is it ever good to be selfish?

    Selfishness isn't always bad, and everyone is selfish once in a while. It's okay to be selfish when you need extra care and attention. 

    Not paying enough attention to yourself can negatively affect your health and well-being, contributing to chronic stress and burnout. So don't be afraid to be selfish if you need to rest, when you feel overwhelmed, or need some time to yourself

A Word From Verywell

Being selfish can be hurtful to others, but it can also be harmful to yourself. Self-absorption doesn't allow you to grow as a person. It can also deprive you of healthy relationships that promote emotional well-being. If you want to stop being selfish, consider some of the benefits of being selfless and start trying to reach out to others. 

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.