I Changed My Mind About Self-Centered vs Selfish People. Here’s Why

I Changed My Mind About Self-Centered vs Selfish People. Here’s Why


A person is made up of many traits, which are like double-edged swords. You do too much of something, and you may falter. But you do too little of something considered to be bad you may lose out too. Self-centeredness is one such quality. Too much, or it borders on utter selfishness, which is nasty. But, too little of it, and you may become a pawn in the hand of others.

So, how can we know when we overdo it?

How much is too much?

Are there signs that we can look out for the difference between being selfish and being self-centered?

Self-centeredness is concerned with looking out for oneself first. A self-centered person has a good amount of self-worth. Selfishness is only to think of oneself, sometimes at the cost of others.

Difference between self-centered and selfish people:

1. Sense of self:

A self-absorbed person has a very strong core. They can identify with a very deep sense of self. This has been built over years of taking care of one's needs regularly. Selfish people are shallow and only have self-interests which they fulfill at the cost of others. They do not have a secure sense of self.

2. Attitude to sharing:

Selfish people very often do not share much about themselves. Their future plans, ambitions, etc., are all hidden for fear of others succeeding before them. Self-obsessed people share every detail about themselves for praise from others. They want to be appreciated for the littlest of things.

3. Preoccupation with self/others:

Selfish people are always out to look for ways to succeed, at times at the cost of others. So they also observe what others do.

● If selfish people see someone succeeding, they might bring them down so they can go ahead of others.

● Self-centered people are rarely concerned about others. They are too busy obsessing about themselves.

4. Helping others:

Both self-absorbed and selfish people think of themselves before others. However, there is a major difference in attitude here:

● Selfish people do not think of helping others once their work is done. They move on or may even hamper others' progress so that they are the only people who succeed.

● Self-centered people start helping others once they take care of themselves. Once they are satisfied and happy, they look to do the same for others.

Example of a self-centered person:

If you tell a self-absorbed person your cousin or someone close to you passed away, they would not immediately sympathize with you.

● First, they would tell you about the time they lost a loved one. How bad they felt about it or how their world crashed.

● They might even tell how sad they are that you would have to cancel your vacation plans to attend the funeral.

● They would basically focus on how bad it was for them in the same situation as opposed to you.

Suppose you have a major exam tomorrow and have to study for it. A self-absorbed person has no respect for your time and ambitions.

● They will call you to hang out with them or go to events.

● If you refuse, they will throw tantrums and use emotional blackmail till you agree.

● It does not matter if you pass or fail the exam, as long as you do their bidding.

However, once you attend the event or go to them, they might help you study for the exam for some time. They agree to help you only because to listen to them and they can control you. But they do think about you too.

Example of a selfish person:

Selfish people are only takers and not concerned about others. E.g., Imagine you have to go to a restaurant and have a 9 p.m. reservation.

● A selfish person will complete their show and only then leave the house. It doesn't matter if you miss the reservation.

● They always put their needs above others.

A selfish person will keep you waiting at the airport in spite of promising to pick you up while they spend extra time at the hairdressers. Even though they do not respect your time always, a self-centered person would not go to that extent and pick you up on time.

Am I being selfish, self-centered, or self-aware?

There is a very fine line between the above three traits as they fall on the same spectrum of emotions. So how do we know to avoid being selfish? How do we embrace centering our self and becoming self-aware? Let us look at some major traits to identify the same.

1. Needs of others vs. self:

This is an important factor to distinguish between the three personalities.

● Self-aware people think about others as much as themselves. They understand that sometimes the needs of others may be more urgent than their needs. So those need to be fulfilled first.

● Self-absorbed people give their desires priority over others. But, once they are achieved, they help others attain success too.

● Selfish people are the extreme of the lot. They always put themselves first. Even when they have got success, they don't bother about others.

2. Positive/Negative reframing:

Every emotion or trait can be classified as positive or negative. But, there are also ambiguous traits like self-absorption, which can be both, depending on the intensity.

● Self-awareness is having a thorough knowledge of the self through analysis and meditations. It is always good to be aware of our nature, strengths, and weaknesses. It helps us live a calm and happy life. And so, this trait falls into a positive frame.

● Self-centeredness, if gone overboard, can cross into selfishness and make a person undesirable. But, done in the right amount, it makes us independent and strong. We are the captain of our own ship then.

● A person's selfishness always has negative consequences irrespective of how selfish they are. As there is no concern at all for others, it may also end up harming people in the long run.

3. Inherent/Acquired:

Almost ninety percent of people are born self-obsessed. The degree may vary, but it is present in everyone. There are very few truly altruistic people in the world.

● Self-awareness is cultivated through years of meditation and analysis of our inner selves. It takes time and patience.

● No one is born truly selfish. Mostly bad circumstances or childhood trauma induces selfishness. It becomes a way to protect themselves from future bad or painful incidents.


Everyone has at some point been both selfish and self-centered. Depending on the situation, people tend to shift from one trait to the other. So it's very hard to draw a proper line between the two. But too much self-obsession can lead to selfishness.

Self-centeredness is present in all of us from birth. It comes from a desire to protect and improve ourselves. It's almost akin to our instinct to survive, albeit not as important. Selfishness may stem from bad occurrences in life or previous trauma. Such incidents drive us to fulfill our needs before others. This trait comes from a place of protection of the self. It is similar to the instinct of self-preservation.

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