Selfishness is the tendency to prioritize one’s own desires and needs above the needs and desires of other people.
What is Selfishness?
We are all born with a drive to stay alive and healthy, and selfishness may be a misplaced manifestation of this. A certain degree of selfishness is normal. For example, many people would choose to ensure their own food needs are met before giving food to others. But selfishness can also be a pathological personality trait. Selfish people may prioritize their own petty needs above the significant needs of others. For example, a person is exhibiting selfishness when he or she steals money from their mother to buy a comic book.
Some mental health problems can contribute to the development of selfishness. Many personality disorders, particularly antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, cause people to be so wrapped up in their own desires that they either do not notice or do not care about the needs of others. Many other mental illnesses can cause extreme self-involvement, which can contribute to selfishness. A depressed person, for example, might be so wrapped up in his or her own feelings of suffering that he/she is unable to provide for his/his children or communicate with his/her partner.
Different Conceptions of Selfishness
Many religions decry selfishness and emphasize the virtues of compassion, empathy, and self-sacrifice. The pacifist movement, which draws on many religious traditions, is a radical answer to selfishness, and emphasizes non-violence even in the face of overwhelming hostility. Some religious gurus have advocated extreme self-sacrifice, emphasizing the primacy of others over oneself.
There is significant debate in evolutionary biology about the evolved nature of selfishness. Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene, for example, argues that our genes have the “selfish” desire to propagate themselves and do nothing else. Some biologists argue that people are innately selfish. Others, however, emphasize that helping others can ensure the survival of the species and argue that compassion, empathy, and self-sacrifice are as innate to people as selfishness. People are sometimes more likely to show self-sacrificing behavior for close relatives, and some biologists argue that this is an evolved trait. Many parents would give up their own lives for the lives of their children; one interpretation of this inclination is that when a child survives, the parent’s genes survive with the child.
- Hauser, M. D. (2006). Moral minds: How nature designed our universal sense of right and wrong. New York, NY: Ecco.
Last Updated: 08-24-2015
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L. T.December 3rd, 2016 at 7:37 AM
Interested in helping my brother, who suffers from extreme anti-social and paranoid behavior (obsessive narcissism). My father was anti-social, but extremely giving. I myself suffer from debilitating PTSD and major depression (from an especially violent car accident). My religion, Mennonite, emphasizes pacifism. My father asked me before he died, to care for his farm. I have. My parents have both passed, my father last, from complications of Alzheimer’s. He did everything for my brother and I-even got my brother his own job. Now my brother hoards money and repeatedly moved home to the farm from his 20s-40s. I am disabled but contributed in knowledge of my father’s endeavors and financially. My brother expects a handout, entitled, extremely selfishness. My brother has even aligned himself with my ex boyfriend who wants me to sell and move to be with him in Florida. He even has manipulated my brother to meet his needs, sold an asset of our farm below market level. Selling it (small airplane) wouldve given me more time to settle disability workers comp payment and buy my brother’s share of the farm. There are eager buyers waiting in the wings. Selling the property would render me homeless. I have been resourceful and am living below standards in sacrifice for my father’s legacy. None of the buyers wants to purchase half of property,however there are many leasing opportunities from property. I seek therapy and see a doctor for PTSD, numerous physical limitations (I can’t drive) –my brother will not. He listens to NPR excessively and has become violent with me. I love him but need to survive. It has been taken to the Orphans CT. My brother and my exboyfriend have been negotiating behind my back. My exboyfriend fears being arrested for breach of fiduciary duty. He is an extreme narcissist who came to console me and we briefly appointed him as a pr. Two days after my father’s death my common sense came to light and I kept the letters of administration. He convinced my brother to steal them out of my room. He did. After a year of trying, I finally had him removed. Sorry for the long comment. It is very evident that people should be brave, fight the stigma of mental illness and seek help from a doctor. The illnesses can ruin lives and cause irreparable damages. Thank you for your site.
MarkAugust 19th, 2017 at 7:34 PM
Thank you for sharing your painful story. It must be really hard to deal with. I hope you are able to get what you need.
SMay 6th, 2018 at 11:13 AM
I don’t know what you should do, sorry I’m not able to help. I wanted to thank you for sharing your story. You originally commented in 2016 so I hope that you have been able to figure some things out or get better. All the best and good luck.
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