Anxiety, depression, mental health and other personality disorders are destructive and hard to live with as it is without wondering if they can also make us selfish human beings. Does anxiety make people selfish?
I often worry about this myself when I think about how my actions could be perceived by others; not wanting to socialize, fixating on my problems and distancing myself from others.
Is it any wonder in those situations that we might take a moment (or half a week) to sit and try and address these issues with little or no success?
Of course not.
There’s nothing i’d love more than to repeat to myself over and over again that i’m useless and good for nothing.
It’s what I do best thank you very much. (NOT)
All jokes aside, anxiety does not make people selfish. This disorder makes people struggle with thinking well of themselves and everything surrounding this is a result of that.
The problem arises when we do not have the self awareness to not only provide anxiety relief by focusing on things outside of ourselves but to behave in a way that focuses on others rather than our own problems.
This takes courage and albeit, it’s a lot easier said than done when berating yourself just comes so easily.
(Before we get started, if you’re in need of a courage boost then grab a copy of ‘How To Have The Courage Of A Superhero (Despite Your Anxiety) for greater understanding of how to cultivate courage)
A SELFISH DISORDER NOT SELFISH PEOPLE
Anxiety effects the mind, body and soul and can be destructive to our way of life. And, selfishness is nothing more than another by-product of this mental illness.
When we think about whether it makes people selfish, it’s a smidge unfair and a tad misplaced.
I had a friend once who (younger me) would dread meeting for a catch up over coffee because I could not get over how someone could possibly be so self-centered.
Without flinching I would have to endure her telling me things like, ‘This random guy came up to me and told me I look like Natalie Portman!‘
‘The director of the theatre told me I was just so easy to work with because I just tick all the boxes of what he could want in a perfect performer‘
Added to this we would have the one-upmanship that accompanies those people who appear to be self-centered.
So what I might experience would be a conversation something along the lines of, ‘…actually I’ve been terribly ill with a cold this week‘ and her response would be something like, ‘...DON’T EVEN! I have been BED RIDDEN and haven’t been able to BREATHE, EAT, SLEEP or EVEN TALK for over a MONTH NOW.‘
Even the need to win at being ill seemed really important to her.
IS SHE REALLY A SELFISH PERSON?
What we can conclude is that this friend of mine certainly APPEARS to be selfish. She talks about herself constantly, bigs herself up, has to win at every possible competition she has between you (a game that only she is playing) and speaks in a way that suggests that yes, she is entirely self absorbed.
The young twenty year old version of me did not have the insight or desire to get to know why this might be the case. But one day I bothered to take a moment to reflect.
Why does she seem so selfish?
What do the ‘selfish’ people in the world have in common?
What MAKES people selfish?
(If finding your purpose is something you struggle with then grab your free e-book below for 10 strange questions that might help you find an answer)
Anxiety is what makes people appear to be selfish.
The people are not selfish, the DISORDER is selfish.
THE CURSE OF ‘IT’S ALL ABOUT ME’
Let’s look at why it’s pretty damn easy to appear as to be a selfish human being when you suffer with mental illness.
Firstly, it’s because IT IS ALL ABOUT YOU.
If you’re worried, much like I am a lot of the time, that you come across as selfish then it’s time to understand that when we become anxious we are in a constant battle with ourselves to stop feeling like absolute shite.
We berate ourselves. Tell ourselves that we are no good, useless and unlovable and SHOCK HORROR – we don’t want to feel this way.
This is what makes people ‘selfish’.
The torment, pain and struggle that comes with living with such a degraded view of ourselves will have us caught up in an intense bubble of self-loathing and worry that we’re simply fighting to get out of.
WRAPPED UP IN OUR OWN STRUGGLES
Take that friend of mine, she is not a bad person. Far from it.
She has a good heart and means well but her extreme insecurities and self doubt has her behaving in a way that is only meant to help her feel better. So, she is not selfish. She is struggling.
When she is seemingly ‘bragging’ about being told she is beautiful or talented or anything else she is not saying it for my sake, SHE IS TRYING TO CONVINCE HERSELF of these things.
The bottom line is that a neuroticism like anxiety can make it seem as though people are selfish. But the truth is that anxiety can impact every single area of our lives.
It can hinder our chances of a happy relationship. Stop us progressing in our careers and make us distance ourselves from friends or family – from the love and support that we so desperately need.
And no-one WANTS to feel this way.
Anyone who experiences anxiety or depression will tell you that they would give anything to feel good in themselves.
So the focus you give to yourself to help MANAGE this disease is all consuming because you’re desperately trying to FEEL GOOD, feel better.
Anxiety does not make people selfish, it causes them to focus on themselves in a way that they do not even want.
THE FEAR OF ‘BURDEN’ MAKES PEOPLE ‘SELFISH’…
So what else do we do when we’re riddled with fear and self loathing, ruminating our worries and fears before diving into a rabbit hole of panic?
We DON’T TELL ANYONE.
Part of the problem I experienced as I was trying to navigate my way through my anxiety during my early twenties is that I never told a god damn soul about it.
So what happened?
I said no to parties. I cancelled plans last minute and inadvertently distanced myself from those people who love and care for me. Why? Because I didn’t feel as though they understood.
Well, yeah! How can they understand how we’re feeling if we DON’T TELL THEM?
I only imagine that this might appear as not caring. Not wanting to be involved. Not wanting to see these people when in fact it was probably always exactly what I needed.
However my anxiety would rather me suffer on my own and not ‘burden’ anyone with my problems.
Not only that but what about when you are sitting and having nice long conflab with your favourite Aunt or your oldest school friend and you suddenly recognize that you haven’t listened to a single word they’ve said?
Or even worse, THEY recognize that you haven’t listened to a single word they’ve said?!
How is that going to look? Pretty selfish i’d imagine. But here’s the thing, when we’re suffering from anxiety, mental illness or trauma it’s really bloody hard to stop the dialogue in our heads from playing on repeat.
We’re thinking of that stupid thing we said to our boss or that business venture that failed again. We’re pondering over whether our partners really love us and whether the person opposite us actually wants to be here or whether they just feel obliged?
Does anxiety make people selfish?
It would appear so, to the person sitting opposite us.
However, it’s important for you to acknowledge (if it is you that is suffering from anxiety) that when you have no control over your over-thinking brain it can be really difficult not to be distracted by the negativity.
It is that negativity and inability to break free from it that causes people to appear selfish.
THE FACT IS, ANXIETY DOES MAKE PEOPLE (BEHAVE) SELFISHLY
Anxiety, depression, mental illness and other neurotic-isms do make people behave selfishly. It is an unfortunate by-product.
Our behaviour aligns with everything that is suggestive of a selfish person but we must acknowledge that just because our actions appear to be selfish, that does not mean that WE ARE SELFISH PEOPLE.
My friend is not selfish. She can be generous, caring and utterly SELFLESS on many occasions but she does have the behaviour of a selfish person because of her immense insecurities.
My incredibly bad memory and utter forgetfulness is intrinsically linked to my anxiety. I get incredible brain fog and to be honest with you, I really don’t remember A LOT of my school and university life.
And forgetfulness can make others feel as though you don’t care.
Perhaps you missed a birthday, forgot about those dinner plans, don’t remember that great weekend you spent together on the coast or have no recollection of why your partner seems to think that THIS is YOUR song.
But forgetfulness and memory loss has been proven to be linked with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression as a coping mechanism.
Can you be blamed for this? Can you be called selfish for this reason? I don’t think so but it doesn’t mean it’s not hurtful for the other person.
And herein lies my point…
HOW TO COMBAT THE SELF ABSORPTION AFFLICTION?
I could argue that the self absorption that accompanies anxiety and supposedly makes people selfish is actually an affliction in itself.
If you are locked in and consumed by negative self talk, worries, fears and insecurities then you are plagued by the need to focus on these issues so that you can try to fix them.
You find ways to cope such as removing yourself from social situations or speaking highly of yourself in an attempt to somehow feel good for a change which makes you appear to be a self absorbed person.
This is not a desirable state to be in especially when you are not innately this way inclined. A lot of us would be so upset to be told that we’re behaving selfishly.
I myself would be mortified if I ever had to have the conversation that I’ve heard between others many times that goes something like this…
‘IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU ISN’T IT?! ME, ME, ME, ME, ME, ME!! WHY DON’T YOU THINK ABOUT ME FOR A CHANGE??‘
THE UPSETTING REALITY IS THIS…
Our ‘selfish’ actions and behaviours caused by the likes of anxiety may well be seemingly out of our control but they cause us to be someone that we would never wish to be.
Not only that but it does hurt and effect those around us.
So it is up to us to acknowledge how we are behaving and focus on a way to help us get out of our heads. Time to give some time and attention to the people around us.
It would be easy for us to admit defeat and express that this just isn’t our fault and there is nothing we can do about it but guess what, there most certainly is.
You need to take back control and refuse to lie down and play victim to your anxiety.
It’s what it wants. It wants the power, it wants the control and it wants for you to feel helpless. When you allow it to let you believe all of these things to be true then it wins and you will be afflicted by self-absorption as a by-product.
So here are 3 things you can do to manage your anxiety and in turn crush the selfish version of yourself dictated by stress and worry…
1. ACTIVELY RAISE YOUR SELF AWARENESS
What makes people selfish (the genuine selfish people in the world) is that they actually have no idea how self involved they are and how little they give in terms of time and attention to others.
Be mindful of when you are being present with other people and when you are drifting off into your own negative thoughts.
Actively try and hear yourself when you speak. Are you talking about yourself and not asking questions? Are you listening when they answer? Do you find yourself talking yourself up and one-upping the other person?
Think about whether you provide balance in your conversations. Does everything you discuss have a negative spin? Look at everything from both sides even if you find this difficult. What is the flip side? What is the positive? (It’s very difficult to be around people who can’t speak good of anything or anyone)
Notice when your behaviours or actions might be as a result of your anxiety and insecurities. Why haven’t you attended that social event? Why haven’t you called your parents or friends? Work to counteract this by taking action even when your anxiety is telling you not to.
All of these things work toward improving your emotional intelligence. And this will go a long way to helping you manage your anxiety.
Journal your thoughts or answer journal writing prompts to help understand yourself better.
2. FOCUS ON OTHERS
Firstly, helping others even during times when you are struggling yourself is one of the best forms of healing.
You feel good knowing that you’ve done a selfless act and gain a sense of achievement knowing that you’ve made a difference to someone’s life.
Not only this but shifting your focus away from yourself and onto someone else does EXACTLY THAT. You can actually help yourself and your anxiety by interrupting your negative thought pattern and transferring your energy and attention to someone else.
This allows you to break free from the ruminating and negative self talk as you ACTIVELY take an interest in the person opposite you.
Ask questions, be curious and listen to their answer so you can respond accordingly.
What makes people selfish is their inability to give another person any of their attention but what is interesting is that by forcing yourself to acknowledge someone else and listen to what they have to say you kill two birds with one stone – you’re temporarily not thinking about yourself (the selfish by-product) and therefore not perpetuating over your negative thoughts (your anxiety).
3. OPEN UP TO THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU
I’ll keep this quick and simple.
Your support system cannot do their job and SUPPORT you if they do not know that you are struggling.
You are not a burden to them.
Behaviours associated with your anxiety might have them thinking that you are selfish, egotistic and uninterested so you must explain to them why this is not the case and allow them to help you through your journey to anxiety recovery.
I remember a time where a good friend of mine invited me to a gig in London and I initially said yes but in classic Emma fashion I cancelled at the last minute.
I knew it was because I get incredibly claustraphobic and my anxiety levels go through the roof standing among a crowd of 500 fans with no room to breathe and no easy escape.
However, she thought I was being flaky because that is EXACTLY how my actions appeared. She also felt as though I didn’t care about her enough to follow through and keep my word that I would go to the gig.
Not so long after (after a few more gig invites) I had to explain, ‘Look, i’m really sorry I keep cancelling but I get crazy anxiety in situations like this. There are too many people and not enough space, I really don’t enjoy it. Sometimes I can manage it and other times I can’t.’
From then on it was never a problem when I said no to going to a gig with her, no questions asked. And she felt better knowing that my cancellation had absolutely nothing to do with her.
SOME TAKE AWAY POINTS
What makes people selfish? It turns out, quite a lot.
If you are an anxiety sufferer (or any other mental illness for that matter) please read the above and acknowledge that just because your behaviour can appear to be selfish does not mean that YOU are selfish.
But hear this, you do have more control over this than you think so take action and be seen to be the person that you want to be, not who your anxiety is telling you you are.
Don’t be a victim to this disease, show it who you really are.
Alternatively, if you’re reading this because you know someone who you consider to be selfish and you’re trying to understand why this might be the case then maybe it’s time to ask them a few questions.
How do they feel?
Are they OK?
Is there anything they are struggling with?
Things aren’t always so black and white and us human beings are pretty good at hiding some important information about ourselves that could explain A LOT.