How to Deal with Selfish People

Oh how I wish this were a cure-all solution for selfish people. This post is part rant, part advice and part suggestion for introspection. It was inspired by a conversation I had with a good friend of mine. As much as I’d love to divulge every last disgusting detail, I can’t. If I started airing my friend’s dirty laundry, they’d never tell me anything. However, the story she told me was a shocking act of selfishness and it inspired me to write about how to deal with selfish people.

At times, we are all selfish. In fact, I can admit that I am a selfish person. When I lived in Israel, I did not like to share my small stock of Skor bars with my husband. People sent them to me through the mail. He didn’t even like them that much and I didn’t want to share. On the contrary, he would give me anything; I didn’t even have to ask. But, sparing a Skor bar for my generous, selfless husband? Not a chance. There are other instances too. I’m sure my sister could add a whole blog just about the history of my selfishness. In my defense, naturally, I can also show generosity. This particular blog, however, is not about me; I only recognize that I have the capacity for and a history of being selfish. That’s the first thing we need to do before we talk about characteristics in others.

Before criticizing a friend, ask yourself: Am I this (insert negative characteristic)? When do I display behaviors related to this (insert negative characteristic)? What makes me more or less prone to be (insert negative characteristic)? Once we understand how we fit into a situation of said (insert negative characteristic), we can better understand and cope with the behaviors of others who display (insert negative characteristic). This works with anything: sloth, greed, anger, lust, and three other things people got killed for in Seven that I can’t think of right now. Gluttony….right, the one where the guy had to eat himself to death. So gruesome. Today, however, we focus on selfishness.

Ask yourself: Am I selfish? There are genuinely people who can answer: “No. In general, I am not a selfish person.” Personally, I would say I can tend to be selfish. I give myself 30% selfish/70% generous. I have to acknowledge that I am not willing to give everything to anybody who needs it. Try to look at this with an honest face and don’t be a martyr either by not giving yourself enough credit and over-exaggerating how selfish you are. Don’t feel guilty if you think you’re not selfish. Don’t kid yourself either. There’s no final grade and no one knows the answer here, but you.

Now that you’ve determined where you stand on the selfish/generous scale, think about this: When are you selfish? I already mentioned that when something is in low supply and high demand, I’m not generous. (He doesn’t even like the Skor bars!) I’m selfish with other people’s time. What does that mean? I like to hoard it. If I have a friend who is visiting, I want some alone time with that friend and myself. I don’t feel like understanding that he or she has a lot of people to see. You have one free hour to drink tea with me. Of course, I try not to voice that and pretend to be understanding when really inside I’m indignant. How could you not find time for me??? I’m selfish when I don’t have a lot of extra money. Suddenly, I’m willing to give up buying gifts for other people’s birthdays or extravagant wedding presents for them, but not willing to give up eating out for a month to do something nice for someone else. It’s not a nice quality. I wish I were different. But, I’m admitting it. Now that I can admit it, I can change it. When are you selfish? Are you selfish with material items, money, time, favors, love, sex, help, listening? I can’t answer this for you. You have reach in and figure it out for yourself. I gave you some categories to think about, but you need to be honest here.

Lastly, before we start thinking about other selfish people, those on the other end of the scale, let’s ask ourselves this: What makes me or less prone to being selfish? This one is where it’s at. If the difference between being selfish and being generous lies in the other person’s history of being selfish or generous with me, I will most likely reflect his or her behavior. Why should I have to expend energy when they don’t? (This point will be answered later) They don’t deserve my (time, energy, money). I said before, I’m selfish when I’m poor and I’m selfish with physical items of low quantity in high demand. Maybe your selfishness hinges on temporal distinctions (seasons, months, time of the month, holidays) or maybe your selfishness changes with your mood. 311 could have been playing live in my front yard in Tel Aviv and I would have been no more likely to part with my candy than on any other day. Does your selfishness depend on the person/people involved? Are you less selfish with particular groups or causes? Are you inspired to be less selfish by any event? Think about this. Write it down. Be one with your selfishness. Because we’re moving on and if you don’t know where you stand with yourself on this issue, you will be virtually worthless in dealing with someone else who has a problem (that goes for just about anything).

Here we are: selfish people. Picture the most selfish person you know. Right now, I’ve got a prime suspect: the inspiration for this blog. She has literally made everything about her since the moment she was born and everyone in her family has had to adjust their lives to accommodate her wants and needs. I have never heard of her doing one thoughtful thing for someone else, nor sacrificing in any way for what someone else wanted or needed. It is sickening to me that she has been allowed to behave this way for some long with reprove. Alas, we can’t go back in time and change it. Luckily, I am rarely in direct contact with her and am familiar with her repugnant behavior through the unfortunate experience of my friend. Since I want to be a good friend, I have been trying to offer advice on how to deal with this individual.

On one hand, it would feel so (I emphasize the word so: SO) good to give her what she deserves, to subvert her plans (and make use of my wicked evil laugh), to act spitefully towards her or just plain to tell her off in front of a large group of people and have them all nodding in agreement at the end at what an awful, hideous witch she really is. You might even be able to rationalize why the selfish person deserves the pain you’ve got in store for him/her.

But, that’s not what a graceful woman does, is it? It’s actually the exact opposite. So this is the time when we have to think about the following:

  1. Can I accept this behavior (again) and move on?
  2. Can I discuss with him/her about changing her behavior which bothers me?
  3. Can I (once again) adjust my life to make the situation more comfortable?
  4. How can I change my relationship with him/her so that he/she no longer feels that he or she can behave this way? (setting expectations verbally and reinforcing them positively)
  5. Regardless of anything else, how can I act so that someone watching this debacle would see me in the most favorable light?

Why does it matter that we should be seen in the most favorable light? Why do you care what others think about you? Forget about someone else. That “other person” watching the debacle is you six months from now, a year, ten years from now. If you look back, will you be proud of how you react to this shameless generosity thug?

In the end, we can’t control other people’s actions. We can only control our reactions. It’s a bitter bullet we sometimes have to bite and it doesn’t make us feel great because we have to give up what we want in order to accommodate someone else who isn’t willing to give. So that’s what we have to do to be classy and that’s what we’re going to do.

The advice I gave to my friend is not what she wanted to hear because it’s not what she wanted to do. It’s not easy and accommodating the selfish person in her life puts a huge burden on her and others around her. But, it might be the only way that she’ll be able to get what she wants in the way that she wants it. It’s a shame that we have to deal with selfish people at all, and I can’t say it won’t be a challenge for me to not be snarky to the person causing my friend so much consternation. But, if I practice what I preach, I’ll be classy. Nice people are always classy. And I’m nice dammit.


4 thoughts on “How to Deal with Selfish People

  1. The only thing I can think of that I’m selfish about is my time. I hate to work more than 40 hours a week, or be expected to attend social functions when I would rather be doing nothing at home. I’m taking next week off of work and I’m making it very clear that I don’t want to hear from anybody there while I’m off. Nothing sets me off like demands on my free time. I suppose that’s not very nice of me, but it’s the one thing I’m very protective of. My time is mine.

    • I think that’s something which is ok to be selfish about. It really does belong to you. What spawned this post was indisputably a selfish act. Nobody would disagree that it was selfish. Sad, really.

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