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June 6, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 1 Faves: 0

What Motivates Selfish People?

By Anne Christen More Blogs by This Author


I've always wondered what it is that makes people selfish. I remember having a childhood friend who wouldn’t share her toys with me, or anyone else for that matter... Ever. One day, in preschool, I decided to give her my doll with the expectation that she would give me hers in return. When she didn’t, a little tiff ensued that ended when she hit me. Shockingly, we remained friends through high school, although she never changed. That is to say, she never grew out of her childish selfishness. When we go into high school, she once made her mom leave work early to bring her money so she could buy a soda during lunch.

Adult Children

Of course I’ve encountered other selfish people since then. A friend of mine is married to a woman who wants to leave him now that their kids are raised. She always asks, “When will it be my turn to live? When can I do what I want?”

I’ve met this woman myself, and it's not hard to recognize her self-centeredness immediately. She plans to file for divorce and move to another state, where sun and sand prevail so she can live a beach-girl-party life. She’s 46 years old with three grown kids, a nice home, and a husband who adores her, but all she can think about is doing what she wants, which, I’m not entirely sure even she knows exactly what that may be. This situation is even worse when you consider that she’s never worked a day in her life and spends her mornings tanning, her afternoons running, and her evenings at her mother’s. Nonetheless, she’ll get her divorce and then be free as a bird.

A colleague of mine doesn’t regularly pay his employees because he “is also waiting on money”. He tells his workers he’ll fork over their wages as soon as he’s able. In the meantime, he’s apt to purchase all sorts of gifts for himself. In 2012, he bought a BMW and a 90-inch plasma television, among many other things. This year he’s going to see the Eagles play a concert in Chicago. He parts with his money only when he must because, the rest of the time, he wants it for himself.

Perhaps the most blatant example of selfishness comes from my own relative. When I first started freelance writing, she called and asked if I could help her move. This equated to me taking time off from work, for which I didn’t get paid, driving to her house, and doing most of the moving myself, while she conducted business from her iPad. This went on for two full days, and she never offered to so much as buy me lunch.

When I asked that she repay the favor and help me move, she told me she had to clean her pool. She’s borrowed money and not paid it back. She’s even ordered items from Franklin Mint in my name, only to skip the payments and force me to be accountable for her purchases.


Looking over what I’ve written, I realize the people I’ve discussed here are not only selfish, but also completely dismissive of other peoples’ feelings. What causes this?  What makes some people so self-centered that they don’t care whether or nor not they hurt others? Perhaps it’s a deep-ceded belief that they deserve better treatment because they are better people. Or maybe they’re so caught up in themselves they don’t even think about the inconvenience or damage they impose on others. Their view of life is so distorted that they have no human connection. They don’t see others; only themselves.

For my part, I’m trying to distance myself from people like this. That’s a little hard to do because you can’t screen people before becoming friends with them. But you can learn their behaviors, even if it takes time, and if selfishness rears its ugly head, it’s never too late to take a step back.

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1 Comment

  • It really is a shame there are people like this. For me, I seem to bump into them more often than not, and it seems the only genuine people I know are my family and my fiance. It also is a shame when people try to make YOU feel like the selfish one for wanting respect. It really makes you think and think, and half the time you get so frustrated it doesn't make sense anymore.

    What motivates people to be selfish? That's a great question, one I'd love to ask people and see the various responses. I'm sure people have their reasons, but being selfish gets people nowhere in terms of friendship. People want generosity, and kindness. Selfishness is a one way street that doesn't let anyone in.

    Great article.

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