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Second Look at Selfishness: Self-Awareness

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

Selfishness, self-centeredness… these issues have become a commonality in our culture. The alcoholic or addict in recovery probably has had some time to reflect and discuss the presence of selfishness in their lives, and in most 12 Step fellowships of recovery we are told selfishness is often the common factor of our troubles. Entire books have been dedicated in the past decade to narcissism and self-serving, while we live in the “selfie” society that puts so much emphasis on the individual.

When we have to deal with selfish people on a constant basis it can make our lives miserable. When we are told we are selfish, it can seem hurtful and unfair, but a lot of times we can often see where we have been self-involved or focused on ourselves. First, let us look at the meaning of being selfish.

Selfish- adjective

(A person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

So when we consider that being selfish means neglecting the needs of others in order to serve one’s self, maybe we can take a second look at selfishness to try and understand the aspects of being selfish, and find out how we can turn selfishness into self-awareness.


Now when I say to show empathy, I do not mean you are required to accept someone’s selfishness and allow it to negatively impact your life. The intention here is to try and understand the mindset from which this person is acting from because that empathy can make your response more effective.

Sometimes people are acting selfishly out of a sense of necessity, thinking that the best they can do to take care of themselves is to focus on themselves and not put so much effort into other people. In recovery sometimes we are told it is a selfish program. While I may disagree with that personally, I do understand that in a life-or-death situation like addiction or alcoholism sometimes the best we have in the beginning is self-preservation.

Empathy allows us to better appreciate why someone is acting selfishly, so that we can better address it when that selfishness has an effect on our lives. Having empathy means having self-awareness too, and connecting to someone else to see where selfish actions come from on both sides.


We all know what happens when we assume… yes that old cliché. If you don’t know, we’ll tell you when you’re older.

Anyway, the point is that when we make assumptions they are frequently incorrect or set up unfair expectations. Again, with empathy we have to try and give someone who is being selfish the room to explain what they are dealing with and try to see it from their perspective instead of making up our own meaning for why they are acting the way they are. Don’t assume you know someone’s motives without at least having a conversation. Being self-aware of your assumptions can make a big difference.

Sometimes people make selfish choices out of the need to be loved or to give love. Sometimes they want to bond more with others, or sometimes they want to protect themselves from others. Sometimes selfishness comes from desire to be ambitious. There is nothing wrong with some of these selfish motives, as long as we can recognize them for what they are.

Healthy Selfishness

One thing we can also conclude from a few of these factors is that selfishness can be healthy because it reminds us to take care of ourselves, and believe it or not healthy selfishness can actually make it possible for us to take care of others. Even selfless acts are not always purely selfless because they make us feel good. Doing something for someone else can make us experience a feeling of joy, accomplishment and even self-worth– and aren’t those just a little selfish themselves?

That doesn’t mean it is wrong.

In 12 Step fellowships we are often told that nothing will ensure lasting recovery as much as intensive work with others who struggle. So if this is the case, we are actively encouraged to do for others as selflessly as we can as a means to keep ourselves on track. It is kind of a paradox- seeking to do for others with no thought of yourself, because in the end it will benefit you to not be selfish… weird right? Mind blown.

Even though selfishness can hinder our growth and keep us stuck in our contempt or our troubles, it is important to take a second look at where that selfishness comes from and how it is poised to impact other people. Whether it is our own selfishness or the selfishness of others, we should always try and see to what end that selfishness aims toward or what mindset it stems from in order to meet it with appropriate action.

Understanding our characteristics and the patterns we run is part of developing healthier coping mechanisms in recovery. Not every one of our impulses is as easy to overcome, but when fighting addiction the more we know about ourselves, the better we can grow. For those who need a foundation for recovery, help is here. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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