While no one wants to hear negative feedback about themselves, I think if there's one word people really dislike being called, it's selfish. While I don't think anyone is truly selfish 100 percent of the time (we are, after all, all nuanced and complex as people), we all know the characteristics of selfish behavior: Self-centered, entitled, lacking empathy, and so forth. Which brings me to the quandary: What's the best way to deal with selfish people? People who are selfish come in and out of our lives in different ways — they can appear in your workplace, your love life, and even your own family and friends. When someone you have to spend a lot of time with behaves selfishly, it can be a genuinely draining and stressful experience. That's why I think recognizing selfish behavior for what it is (i.e. a reflection on them, and not on you) and learning how to cope with it is so important.
Dealing with toxic people can be painful in general, but sometimes the selfish behavior of others can feel a whole new level of misery. Now, in my opinion, sometimes it's healthy and OK to behave selfishly; putting yourself first is not necessarily a bad thing, and you should always be aware of your own needs and limits. That said, I think when selfish behavior negatively impacts others, it's time to pause and reflect. If you're dealing with a selfish person, the points below may help you manage the situation — and if you find yourself relating with what's below, don't panic! Being selfish doesn't make you a bad person, but it might be time to reevaluate how you interact with others.
1. Understand Things From Their Point of View
I know, I know. When I read Diane Barth's advice on this subject over at Psychology Today, I was definitely surprised at this point, but now I actually think it makes a lot of sense. A lot of people who are selfish have deeper issues beneath the surface; that is to say, selfish behavior can manifest if someone is feeling scared or anxious. Of course, that doesn't excuse selfishness, and if someone is behaving poorly, that's ultimately their responsibility. But Barth suggests it can help you deal with a selfish parent or family member if you keep in mind the fact that behavior likely isn't truly part of their personality, but is instead a poor coping mechanism they're using to deal with a painful or frightening experience or emotion. Barth points out that understanding someone does not mean you have to agree with them or condone their behavior, but it can help you remain level-headed and perhaps get to the root of the problem.
2. Don't Take It Personally
Now, this one is really a matter of context, in my opinion. If your partner is behaving selfishly and it's affecting your mood, your home environment, or your happiness in the relationship, I think that's a sign it's time for a serious conversation and some changes. However, if the selfish person in your life is a coworker you have weekly lunches with or a neighbor you run into the hallway on occasion, I think it's beneficial to put the interactions into perspective. How much of an impact does this person have on your life? In the scheme of your day, how much do these interactions bother you?
If your selfish coworker only talks about her own problems, yes, that's rude behavior, but it might be worth it to grin and bear it if you only see her for lunch once a week. On the flip side, if your selfish coworker tries to get out of doing work because she feels it's beneath her and puts the extra load on you, that's unacceptable. I think the key is determining what the line is for you. It's easier not to sweat the small stuff in general, though.
3. Call The Person Out On Their Behavior
I promise, this isn't a contradiction of the advice above; it's all a matter of circumstance and situation. If your partner, parent, or a close friend is being selfish, it's reasonable to talk to them about their behavior and how it's affecting you. Relationships are a two-way street, and when you're investing time and energy in someone, it's entirely appropriate to expect respect, care, and attention in return.
Selfish behavior can manifest in all sorts of ways, but many of them can be toxic to relationships. If that's happening in yours, you should prioritize time to bring up specific issues and ask them for accountability. Some psychologists suggest approaching the situation with a calm, even tone and neutral body language before using specific examples of what the behavior is, how it makes you feel, and what changes you'd like to see in the future.
4. Remind Yourself Of Your Own Value
You don't need people in your life who treat you poorly. Seriously, you don't. Even if someone has awesome attributes, you have loads in common, and you like them a whole lot, if that person is constantly treating you poorly or disrespecting you, you don't need them in your life. Or at least, you don't need them all the way in your life. It might be time to set limits and boundaries with selfish people, even when you care about them, if you feel like their behavior is affecting your self-esteem or other aspects of your life negatively. Remember, you are worthy of respect, compassion, and kindness, and if someone isn't giving you those things, it's OK to remove them from your life entirely or minimize the time you spend interacting with them.
5. Count To 10
Yes, sometimes it is that simple. You know that horrible moment when you're interacting with someone who, in your opinion, is acting so selfishly and ridiculously you can't help but scream? Don't. Count to 10 instead (or 20, or 30, or 40...) and focus on your breathing. Some experts believe that when people display selfish behavior, they're actually doing it because they seek attention and want to get a reaction out of others. If that's the case, don't fuel their fire with your own explosion. Instead, mentally remove yourself and focus on the big picture. I know this is easier said than done, but if you regularly have to interact with a selfish person (like a coworker or your in-laws) it's a good skill to be able to keep yourself cool and maintain a peaceful relationship.
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (5)