Off the Couch

Thoughts about the therapeutic process, and the dynamics of client-therapist interactions.

4 Ways to Deal With Selfish People

An acquaintance recently told me that she wished her grown children recognized how hard she had worked for them. “They’re so selfish,” she said. “They’re greedy and self-centered.” By contrast, she made it clear that she had been a selfless and generous mother. Read More

Great article...please re-title..more Senior citizen focused.

Loved this! Really an balanced and straight forward article with real solutions. Please re- title this "Helping seniors find their needs...a dialogue."


I dealt with that person the only way I could...With compassion.

The effects of selfishness can be lessened when it's accepted

I am an inherently selfish person. Add ADHD (inattentive type) to that, and it equals a brain with very little headspace for anyone else.
Accepting this situation has made handling it easier to live with. Swearing off marriage & kids means my self-centered mindset will cause misery to fewer people. Living alone naturally means my living space is always about me.
I'm learning to increase patience by NOT trying to "be patient", but by learning to distract and entertain myself while waiting. Anonymous acts of kindness are great too; you never have to question your own motives when giving anonymously.

There is hardly anything to

There is hardly anything to be selfish about if one is living alone. It is tested when you are living with someone else. May be you are not selfish, when it actually comes to living in with someone.

Not sure this is selfish!

Hi -- sounds very thoughtful and even generous to me. Seems like you know yourself really well.
Thanks for the contribution!

I hear ya

Oh, do I know what you are talking about. I read this article because I often call my husband selfish, and I had step one (understanding) figured out a long time ago. He is soooo ADD. I realized that it takes a lot for him to manage just himself. It was more problematic before I lowered my expectations of him. I don't really require of him personal attention as I am pretty independent, but where it gets stressful is raising our three kids. I hold some resentment because I feel I carry most of the load-the load that he is oblivious to. He doesn't even realize he is frustratingly selfish so to be honest I was surprised to read your analysis and self-awareness to this subject. I'm not going to lie. It causes problems in a relationship. If "swearing off marriage and kids" seems to be the right thing for you right now then do some self-focusing, but this doesn't have to be an end-all for your relationships. I gather that you are not just selfish but self-aware and self-improving so when you are ready to give to a relationship those qualities will come in handy to overcome obstacles within the relationship. Choosing a partner that is highly independent and understands ADHD could be helpful. Oh, and if you ever do get married, have separate bedrooms. Okay, you don't have to do that, but I sure wish I could have my own room.

I have a very selfish

I have a very selfish sibling. She is in her early 30s and thinks my parents owe her everything because she has children or they paid for my youngest sister's education and no one elses. She bad mouths them if they help her out financially or not. It is owed to her in her mind so when she "borrows" it is not to repay. My parents are far from perfect but I hate hearing her talk this way about them and always ungrateful. I wish I knew a way to deal with her or for my parents to deal with her.

btw, they give her money in

btw, they give her money in order to see my nephew her older child who she will keep from them unless they give her money.

difficult spot

Hi -- sounds like your sister has your parents in a difficult spot to get out of; but it also sounds like anything you might do would probably not help. Unfortunately, it seems like it's something they have to work out -- but of course that means there's fall out for you as well. Sometimes simply offering support to parents in this kind of situation can be all a grown child can do. And sometimes parents don't accept even that support.
Best of luck!

social norm...

Can we add a little accountability to mainstream culture at large? I constantly see people under the age of 40 trumpeting their accomplishments which look like minutiae to the rest of the world (save for their equally self serving circle of friends). More to the point, volunteerism has not been branded in a way that really motivates the younger demographic, who has been programmed to think they will have their first million by age 50 if they work hard.

Wise article

I think article has touched a sensitive topic, that applies to almost everyone and every relationship.

I m not selfish. But, like mentioned in the article, I have always realized that with my selfless acts, I am looking for my satisfaction (my selfish need to satisfy me). I do not hesitate to tell people, let me do this for you, it will make me feel good about me.
Selfishness are at different levels for different relationships. If it is friendship, it is usually easier to draw lines between things given and taken. Closer the relations, it is harder to draw that line and harder to have balanced sharing.
Regarding relationship with parents, much understanding is required in his modern era. We do not live in times when women don't study, don't work outside and men don't migrate. In this era, we do.
Old age is not easy and loses physical abilities, resulting in mental and emotional fragility. Younger and healthier generation should not forget that. Everyone has a life, and as time changes, older generation still belong to changed time and need abilities to adapt.
Spousal relation is hardest to balance, since noone keeps a balance sheet and is the closest relationship in life. And many times, couples are fulfilling each others shortcomings. At other times, one is giving too much, other is taking too much. If you start making list of things given and taken, it might not even look romantic anymore. Perhaps a little distance is needed at such times, as reality is the clearest with some distance, not too close but not too far.

I think you are right in many

I think you are right in many ways that children are selfish and need to be selfish but I have also seen very young children be completely selfless like (this will make no sense to you if you do not know that I reside in a developing country where dogs running around in the street is normal and they nearly never hurt anyone but each other during mating seasons) offering a dog a cookie. I watched his parent closely and maybe it was just the child mimicking his fathers actions of selflessness in giving the cookies to the child and he felt he could do the same to the dog. However, the reaction of the parent was despicable- the father used a foul word to describe the dog that was not only disrespectful to the living creature but to certain races of people as well.
So after that big explanation, I believe you correct, that children are selfish but not in a way to hurt others.
Adults on the other hand, I still have a hard time with my spouses family, they called me selfish for not buying them something and in the same string of words I was accused of having more than enough money because I am "from the U.S." And at the time, there were a lot of bills to be paid and my spouse and I agreed, we needed to make wise decisions as to where the money was going to go. I do see the people who call me selfish, specifically me, demanding more of others and calling them selfish when they do not give what they demanded, and I really have a feeling there is little to nothing one can do about that. How does one really open the eyes of another to be humbled and see what selfishness is? But doing so in a humble manner as well.

Limit Association... they CANNOT change!

Assuming that an accurate judgement is made about ones selfishness, the reasons behind their selfishness may help one to not take things personally, but it does not change the fact that the selfish person likely CANNOT change, and their selfishness will always hurt/annoy you so long as you are seeking a mutual exchange...

There will never be a mutual exchange, forget it. You must also limit your association with those people. Even your own family? YES!

The only thing that will work is for you to change your expectations when dealing with the person. One must remember that over selfishness is self destructive. Almost everything that benefits the world today did not come from someone from being overly selfish it came from being of service to others, and putting the needs of others first...

So... if it's your family, love them dearly but limit association. If it's a friend, find another one. You don't need them, they are just a bad influence and are an never ending source of internal dis-empowerment.

That said, as correctly stressed by the author in this great article, it is easy to misinterpret over selfishness. Maybe they are showing a healthy level of respect and value for themselves in a way that you are not?

Overly Selfish

Good article and some good points however, this post makes some great points using valid words like 'hurt', expectations and destructive! We are all selfish but most of us know where the limit is. We understand the balance between give and take and know when we 'owe'(money, favours, kindness etc). Okay, so we might not literally 'owe' anything but we have a duty to consider what we have taken/.

Truly selfish people do not have any balance. What is fair to them is, 'Does it benefit me'? And not on one occasion but on every occasion. I believe they don't have an unconscious ability to prioritise anyone else but themselves.

So, I will say this, if you are unlucky enough to know someone that selfish, be selfish yourself and understanding only to recognise them to steer clear!

Overly Selfish

Good article and some good points however, this post makes some great points using valid words like 'hurt', expectations and destructive! We are all selfish but most of us know where the limit is. We understand the balance between give and take and know when we 'owe'(money, favours, kindness etc). Okay, so we might not literally 'owe' anything but we have a duty to consider what we have taken/.

Truly selfish people do not have any balance. What is fair to them is, 'Does it benefit me'? And not on one occasion but on every occasion. I believe they don't have an unconscious ability to prioritise anyone else but themselves.

So, I will say this, if you are unlucky enough to know someone that selfish, be selfish yourself and understanding only to recognise them to steer clear!


I loved the article, thank you,
When does selfishness turn to emotional or mentally abusive? Do you have any stories or posts on this subject?
To explain more I am 38 years old, Currently I am living with my mother for a couple different reasons, 1st. I am disabled from the waist down walking with canes or in a wheelchair. 2nd, I have been dealing with depression for awhile now. I was suicidal twice bad enough the police had to check on me. Now I am have turned being suicidal into anger. Now I am angry all the time. I am seeing a councilor myself now and have been for over a year now.
Living with my mom, I still take care of myself, do my own things but, I help her when she needs it or asks, I helped her build a huge chicken coop last summer, I cut wood for her, I fixed a leaking sink for her, and other things around the house that she asks me to look at or do. I talk to her almost everyday about news, politics, family, and other things.
In the same respect she has called me stupid, told me she was going to buy me diapers, put me in an upstairs bedroom when she knows how hard it is for me to walk up and down stairs. The other day she said I didn't deserve to be alive!
I have two younger brothers, One is married and lives in Japan as a college teacher, He only comes home to visit once a year if I am lucky, I miss him all the time. My youngest brother is/was an alcoholic that has two DWI's that I know of, maybe three. He is the baby of the family, I helped him for the first year out of jail driving him back and forth to work everyday, and helped him with other things over that time because he could not drive. He has a breathalyzer in his car to drive now. About a month ago now I was the one to drive him to a car dealer to help him buy a new car because the old car finally quit on him.
In my opinion I help and I help my brother and my mom as much as I can, even when my own mother says the things she does to me! Who is being selfish? Is this being abusive by my mom?
I am moving out of her house this weekend into a disabled housing apartment this weekend and she is doing everything she can to fight me on this and tell me I can't make it living on my own.
Please help!

Stay strong, stay true

You dear sweet thing. I feel for you. No, you are not selfish. Yes your mother is being selfish and her words are verbally and emotionally abusive. And when coming from someone who is supposed to love and care for you it cuts deep like a knife. From what you've written I would say she is saying these things out of fear; fear of you leaving and her being alone. If she has always treated you this way, perhaps she is afraid she won't have anyone around to control and take her crap out on. If this is a new thing, she possibly wants to put her fear on to you - that you won't be able to cope on your own - so that you won't feel secure enough to actually leave her, and because she wants to feel needed. That last bit holds true in quite a lot of mums whose children grow up and leave home. The job they have done for 16+ years has come to and end and it is scary.

Either way, no-one - especially your own mother - has the right to treat you this way. I don't know why parents act as though their children owe them everything when it was THEIR decision to have children. No-one HAS to have children, but the article is right: most people have children for very selfish reasons and then EXPECT to have their needs met in return - and boy do they blow up if you don't appease their every whim within their deadline and to their standards. Huh. Anyway, I digress...

You have obviously put others first many, many times, are very helpful and considerate to others, and from the way you have written about your family, I can sense you are non-judgemental and give everyone equal understanding and love. This is a very special thing to have, try to keep it with you always, no matter what life throws at you :-)

I was really pleased to read that you are moving out this weekend and hope you stay strong enough to deflect away the angry, hurtful words from your mother, to remember that she is acting out of fear and making demands that suit her, not you (i.e. don't take it personally; its her crap, not yours). You are not doing this to hurt her, you are doing this because you are an independent 38 year old woman who would like to live her life! Your mother should be supporting you but her own fear is getting in the way. If your plan is to still speak to her and see her (as often as you feel right) then perhaps reassure her of this? Make a plan for when you will see her? Invite her to yours for tea or something? I'm not sure if you've tried this, but either way I hope you will find a way to get through this really difficult time and get yourself into your lovely new home where you can feel safe and free. BTW if it really gets under your skin, do seek a professional to talk it over with, to avoid it having a lasting negative impact on you - your life is too important to let this knock you down and keep you there.

Sending a massive hug to you. You will be fine. It will be ok. Stay true to yourself. And good luck with your move! ;-)

Sure reads like abuse to me

-----"In the same respect she has called me stupid, told me she was going to buy me diapers, put me in an upstairs bedroom when she knows how hard it is for me to walk up and down stairs. The other day she said I didn't deserve to be alive!"

If a stranger told you this story what would be your response and counsel to said stranger?

Who is rigth?

I am not a selfish person. I am just a young girl who has to think about herself before others. Parents always encourage you to move on and do something great. They want you to succeed in life. In my opinion, we don't forget about our parents, we just grow up and leave the nest. We always come back to check in.

I can in some instance agree

I can in some instance agree with the steps to take in order to deal with a selfish individual. I also found very interesting how the writer discusses good selfishness and bad selfishness. Like the reasons behind wanting to have children and asking yourself how someone or something benefits you.

My question is what do you do when you come across someone where you have tried all of the above and they are STILL selfish. Does this mean that this person just seems to have a selfish personality? Or is there something else that we can do? I saw someone involve compassion. Compassion isn't always helpful when the person that you are dealing with isn't very compassionate.

Great question. Indeed! I

Great question. Indeed! I think people should think before having a family. Love doesn't have to have ''selfish interests behind''However , how many people are falsely believe they love someone , but in fact they don't love themselves at all. To love someone you have to love yourself, too. Unfortunately, there are times when we choose to love the reason of something , instead the person beside us. I definitely believe that no one should take ''selfishness'' too much , because life is one time period. If you don't live the life you want- what is the point of striving ''years of hard work'' to change someone? I would rather take a risk and brake away than being constantly surrounded by selfish people.


Thank you!
This has been going on for many years, It was so bad in '08 that I did move from Wisconsin, where my family is, all the way to Arkansas. I had a girlfriend there, my own apartment, a good job, then I blew out the bottom three disks in my back and had to move back to Wisconsin to go to Mayo clinic and a few other specialty places to get my back looked at and see if there was anything that could be done to help me. I have permanent nerve damage to the nerves that that connect from my spinal cord to my hips. That is why I now walk with canes or am in a wheelchair.
This really all started out between my mom and dad many years ago, in '92 they got separated because of my mom and her issues. They got back together until 2001 when they got separated then the divorce was final in '03. Neither of my brothers will admit it but, I believe my first brother moved to Japan just to get away from the family because it was so bad with the fighting every day between our parents. I believe my youngest brother became an alcoholic because of the fighting and all of the family problems.
I am the only one of the three brothers, (I am a guy too!) that maintains constant contact with our mom because everyone else in the family has walked out on her including relatives.
I do believe you are correct that she is acting like this now because she is afraid of me leaving her and she will be completely on her own. I think she is trying to beat me down as a control tactic doing everything she can to keep me here in a very bad way.
If I was a councilor or talking to someone with the same problems I would say "Yes, It is a very abusive relationship and to leave." It of course is easier to tell someone else that and their perspective but it I think it is different when it is a family member or a father or mother that is doing these thing. I think that is why I have tried to hold on for so long. It is makes more sense or gives a better understanding listening to someone else, whether it is what you believe or something different and one might be wrong in their ideas.
Yes, I am very glad to have something to look forward to moving out this weekend.
Thank you for listening.

Good luck to you! Remember:

Good luck to you! Remember: Trust yourself always, because no one cannot make a life for you , other than you. People will always have their opinion, their point of view , however. But , in hard times less people are by your side.
God bless you!
Best wishes...


Ahhh so you're a guy! Sorry, that's me making assumptions based on own experience. I too am 38 and have dealt with a "difficult" mother for many years, and like you, am wanting to understand it and work it out somehow. I'm sorry to hear about your medical problems and how the wonderful life you had before was taken away, must have been so hard to not only adapt to the physical restrictions (and pain no doubt) but also return to living under the parent again - and now this.

My own mother is isolating herself too, by treating people as though they were put here on earth for her use, and nothing else. We only have a small family anyway and most of them have turned their backs in despair for trying to help but getting it thrown back in their face. She has also lost what little friendships she once had. So I know how you feel about it; it's tough and it comes with worry for them even if they have treated you bad because their actions are causing their greatest worry - that they will be left alone! And of course, for us, there is lots and lots of guilt if we don't make them happy and take responsibility for them. I don't think people who behave badly to those closest to them realise just how much of a negative effect it will eventually have, they think they are secure that because you are "family" you will still be there no matter what. But no-one would put up with it from a so-called friend, colleague or even a stranger, so no-one should have to take it from a close family member either.

Compassion was mentioned in another post, and is something I am trying to work with, but it is very difficult! The best thing is though, you have to start with yourself :) which means not giving yourself a hard time if you can't be everything this other person is demanding of you, that you stay true to yourself and do things that make you happy as this will in turn have benefits for them too. They will learn.

When she's having a go, try to reflect it away in your mind if you can, knowing that its her defense mechanism licking in an making her go on the attack. It's really not nice - and totally not deserved - but its her way. Don't let it bring you down, and keep counting down the days to keep you focused on the better things coming just around the corner - not long now! Best of luck :)

I found ur article intresting

I found ur article intresting wid useful tips. But i want 2 knw, hw 2 handle pampered primps who hav it all n are yet r extremely selfish. They just want 2b pampered by evry 1. As if its not enuf 2b pampered by one's parents n friends. They take evrybody 4 granted and cant undrstnd othr people's pain n suffering. They want u 2 listen 2 their repeatative stories abt hw evrybody idolize them. How do u handle such selfish and ignorant people?

The Golden Rule

I have been around many cultures and socioeconomic classes. Am in circles of extreme wealthy and extreme poor. partially my own family. I am calm and assertive. An engineer/inventor/problem solver. I have found that The Golden Rule has been the #1 way to serve the greater good for every situation.(the Golden Rule= Treat people the way you want to be treated)now heres the interesting part. I have always wanted to know how and why things work.Most people tend to copy or adapt to their environment. usually gullible without realizing it. I love teaching people. effective teaching is constantly changing due to social changes and information. now this doesn't mean always treat people nice. personally I always treat people the way i want to be treated when i first meet them. If they are respectful it will continue. if they are disrespectful I treat them like they treat me but i exaggerate a little more or make worse for them. This is where you cannot have any fear and you must be 100% confident and in control of the situation. don't get delirious. I do this in life and the work place. To me its the only way to teach people without them knowing your changing their way of thinking. now in low paying jobs youll probably be fired because there are alot of passive people out there that need a job. but also your a dime a dozen and you can get another job just as easy. from my experience with bosses that were selfish ive treated them the same way and there have been arguments and friction for long periods but in the end they know what their consequinces are if they make the same choice. and they dont want the stress that comes with their action. (many people have completely changed the disrespectfull communication with me right away. Those are the rewarding moments you will get knowing you have made the world slightly better) I have changed bosses and friends way of thinking for the better. In most cases the boss still treat other employees poorly. (I hope this will help some people solve their issues with spouses or siblings) keep in mind (in relationships) there is always one partner who loves the other one more. if you want it to be more equal you have be the stronger one and not be so passive and needy. untill they start to change and it gets more equal. (if your already long into a relationship its alot more work and dedication.) Make sure to give some type of reward for good behavior. It will be tempting to switch roles for a while to get back at them. but dont be a hypocrite. rememver your objective. I Suggest make the golden rule a way of life (especially from the beginning of a relationship). It has been the best way for me and always serves the greater good. if everyone demands respect then there is no other choice.

A decent article apart from

A decent article apart from this bit: "Part of the work of bringing up children to live in a social world is helping them begin to understand that other people have feelings and needs that need to be respected. But they are not born with this capacity..." I don't know where the author has got that idea from, it is simply not the case. Human beings are hard-wired towards empathy and compassion if left to their own devices having had their natural expectations met. Having ones immediate and understandable needs met from birth encourages that empathic development. It is not having those needs met that causes children to develop differently and become self-involved and un-empathic. There is a great body of work to corroborate this (Alice Miller for starters), our current understanding of pre-civilisation hunter gatherer cultures that existed for many thousand more years than modern civilisation also indicates this.

What a disappointing article.

What a disappointing article. Clearly this author is not well versed in the subject.


The article is great and I have loved it. The life itself must be involved with Selflessness and Selfishness for the right purpose. Great and we are looking forward to another great article like this.

selfish people

Not taking things personal is very wise and opens up a world of understanding!

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F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W., is a psychotherapist, teacher, and author in private practice in New York City.


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