Have you ever encountered someone so self-centered and self-absorbed that you have trouble managing interactions with them? Do you find that you feed into the toxicity of selfish people or react in such a way that plays into their hand? It’s certainly a frustrating experience, and it’s not your fault that they’re acting this way.
Unfortunately, there’s no avoiding selfish people permanently. All you can do is learn to identify selfish traits, process them, and react appropriately to them. Naturally, though, this is much easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. Here’s how therapists reveal the 5 best ways to deal with selfish people.
1. Begin With Understanding
People are rarely ever black-or-white, and therefore they are also rarely good-or-bad with no in-between. People who behave selfishly shouldn’t be held up in your mind as individuals defined only by those specific traits. Instead, try to start with the power of understanding.
Psychoanalyst, psychotherapist, and licensed clinical social worker F. Diane Barth states that understanding doesn’t mean you’re letting a selfish person get away with toxic behavior. Instead, it’s about you being able to spot such behavior, which will allow you to respond more positively and proactively without incorrect assumptions.
Here are some things that Barth recommends doing to foster understanding before you react, and some commonly studied social motivations that influence selfishness over more positive behavior:
Assumptions are rarely ever accurate. It’s not a good idea to assume that someone has ill intent. Sometimes, holding your tongue and observing for a moment longer will give you additional insight that changes your first impression. You can sometimes directly ask someone why they want something done, what their goal is, or what they mean. Communication is always more effective than guesswork.
· Don’t Take Things Personally
Someone’s perceived selfish behavior is rarely about you. It’s in the name of behavior: it’s selfishness. That person is focused on themselves, and that’s the reason their actions are hurtful to others – all they care about, at least for the moment, is them. Learning not to take their actions personally helps to detach you from the situation, allowing their negativity to affect you much less and allowing you to see the situation with a clear mind for what it really is.
· Put Yourself In Their Shoes
Put yourself in the position of the person you perceive as selfish. You may know that you wouldn’t behave like them, but trying to see from their perspective may give you insight into the roots of their actions. This will allow you to formulate a more effective response and plan of action.
It’s also worth noting that acts of selfishness do not make a selfish person. In fact, Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, who holds a doctorate in Psychology and runs a relevant clinical private practice, illustrates a significant difference between being toxically selfish and being reasonably selfish. Selfishness is a necessary trait for self-care, and no acts are ever truly selfless, anyway. As such, before you dismiss someone as selfish, first consider: are they selfish, or just putting themselves first as they need to for the time?
2. Consider Emotional Intelligence
People often gloat about IQ, but EQ is often just as important, if not more so. Emotional intelligence dictates your ability to interact well with others, pick up on social or nonverbal cues, and healthily manage your emotions. Therapist, marriage counselor, and life coach Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby highlights some facts to keep in mind about emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is a spectrum. Some people have more, and others have less. When it comes to selfishness, people are likely not to realize what they’ve done; studies have found that people often automatically and unintentionally misremember incidents where they were selfish in favor of more positive views of themselves.
How low emotional intelligence is harmful
Low emotional intelligence almost always involves selfishness. This is because one of the more common symptoms of this is self-absorption, where one is overly concerned with their own desires, thoughts, needs, and emotions and overlooks that of others.
People with low emotional intelligence tend to come from backgrounds where their needs, feelings, and opinions were dismissed, belittled, or not valued at all. On the other hand, individuals with high empathy tend to have grown up with the validation or respect of their emotions.
Truly compassionate and unselfish people are often made, not born, as anyone can be taught to understand and appreciate the value of their own and other people’s perspectives and needs. However, it is a difficult and often slow process.
Most individuals with low emotional intelligence are completely unaware that they are selfish. Many of them also don’t pick up easily on others’ emotions in general, so they haven’t noticed cues that indicate discomfort or disdain from others.
In other words, many selfish people aren’t 100% aware that they’re selfish due to their low emotional intelligence. You have to accept that these people will be blissfully unaware until they decide to accept the truth about their behavior.
3. Set Boundaries
You can’t control other people. You can only really ever control yourself. That’s why setting clear boundaries is important when you have to deal with someone selfish. When you set boundaries, you’re drawing a line for what you will and won’t accept that is easy for you and those around you to follow.
Author and life coach Nancy Levin states that this practice ensures that you dictate what you are available for, your reactions, and where you draw the line. This is especially important for selfish people who don’t listen to your communication about your discomfort with their behavior.
Here are some tips for setting boundaries around selfish people:
- Don’t cave into a selfish person’s complaints about your boundaries; continue to enforce your needs and ignore the noise.
- Be assertive and direct about your boundaries, and don’t allow others to talk over you about them.
- Maintain positive thinking and withdraw from a situation where your boundaries are crossed.
- Be willing to explain or hold a conversation with someone who genuinely wants to understand your boundaries better.
- Reign in the amount of energy and time you spend on someone who violates or ignores boundaries.
- Be prepared for a selfish person to respond extremely negatively to your attempts to hold them accountable or call them out.
- Think about whether this person really needs to be a part of your life if they do not respect you.
Selfish people are self-focused. If that’s the case, then you need to work to stop giving them that focus. They already spend so much time concerned about themselves – the last thing they should be given is more concern over them from others. Here are some tips for removing focus from selfish people:
· Talk About Yourself
If you’re in a conversation or discussion where a selfish person starts talking about themselves, they might not give you the chance to speak at all, says coach, professor, trainer, and author Preston Ni. Be aware of this and don’t feed them extra ammunition to continue gloating with. Turn the conversation towards you or others also taking part instead.
· Don’t Feed Them Attention
Licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Margalis Fjelstad states that selfish people will often do whatever they can to get attention, as they constantly crave it. If you give it to them, you essentially set yourself up as a target. Don’t give selfish people the attention they want from you, and they will try and find amusement somewhere else instead.
· Squash People-Pleasing Desire
If you’re a people-pleaser, you may be a little bit too kind to selfish people. Levin says you should check yourself and recognize the source of your behavior around selfish people. Are you trying to buy their favor? Trying to keep the peace? It may be time to reconsider.
· Don’t Do What They Demand
Selfish people tend to have a lot of demands without ever doing the same for others. Ni says that this is where you need to work hard to remember your rights as a person and stand up for them. You are never required to do what a selfish person demands. Stop giving them what they want!
· Don’t Feel Pressured To Be Noticed Over Them
Selfish people can be manipulative, and their acts of stealing the spotlight seem like they are sure to get them a favor. But studies show that very few truly believe their intentions are positive when they do this. Research indicates that manipulative or selfish people are not typically favored over others to pursue position or power. As such, please don’t add to the problem by acting selfishly to gain traction over them. Be the bigger person!
5. Let Yourself Feel
It would not help if you didn’t blow up on a selfish person the second they start behaving badly. No, it would be best if you didn’t cause a scene, nor should you start acting like two wrongs will make a right. But you are allowed to feel angry or upset about someone’s behavior.
Denying, suppressing, or bottling up negative emotions degrades your positive thinking over time. Eventually, it will come to a head and explode, and that’s not an effective way to deal with someone selfish.
When you have time to yourself, allow yourself to be angry about someone’s actions. You can even excuse yourself from a situation where a selfish person is unreasonable and handle your emotions elsewhere.
Then, once you’ve confronted and understood your feelings, use them to fuel you forward. Take your anger and turn it into a determination to no longer feed into that selfish person. Take your discomfort and use it to motivate yourself to find a new social circle to spend more time with. Use your hurt feelings and use them to remind yourself not to cave in next time. There is usefulness in your emotions if you turn them towards the positive!
Selfish people can be exhausting to deal with, but you can combat their antics with your own fortitude. Learn to understand their perspective so you can respond accordingly, stand up for yourself and your boundaries, and stop leaning into their negativity. You deserve better than to be caught up in someone else’s selfish games!