This might skirt into the land of narcissism, but in my limited experience, I have found that most egoists are riddled with self-doubt rather than confidence. Maybe a few narcissists out there are genuinely confident in their abilities, but I haven’t run across them yet.
When we say ‘selfish’, we mean putting our own needs above others. I hate to shock you horribly, dear reader, but we all have to be selfish to some degree. When we are hungry, there almost certainly is someone else who is hungry also. By eating first, in a way, you are putting your own needs above theirs. Unfortunately millions of people go hungry every day, so most would consider this act not of ‘selfishness’ but of basic survival. If you don’t feed yourself, how will you be able to help those others who are hungry, after all?
Yet the line is again unclear. You could say that selfishness is when we put our own needs above others when the other people have greater need. The problem still remains, we need to provide for ourselves in order to exist. The reason we have the desire to help others is so that they may exist.
And here is, therefore, where I find the line personally. The line between self-care and selfishness is if you treat yourself as another person or as a better person than everyone else. Would you hate someone else for being slightly awkward in a social conversation at three in the morning? Would you hate someone for taking a night off to relax? Would you hate someone else for being potentially* obnoxious at lunch? Maybe, but likely far less than you feel towards yourself.
The uncomfortable fact is that we care about ourselves. We care about our own opinions and livelihoods. Thinking and acting on what we care about isn’t selfish, it means being a normal individual.
Again, here is where I reach out from my armchair to make broad generalizations about people, and I welcome a different perspective, but there tends to be a connection in that those who are selfish probably don’t engage in a lot of self-care. This feels counterintuitive, I grant.
By self-care, I mean being emotionally and physically responsible for your own well-being. This may mean taking a shower, getting enough sleep, eating well, or facing down a mysterious figure from your past. It means knowing where your limits are while pushing towards your goals. Selfishness, on the other hand, usually comes about as a result of psychological mismanagement.
Take the stereotype of the suburban neighborhood pest who is an envious self-absorbed prat. In this imaginary scenario, Neighbor Chad doesn’t seem to care about others and consistently hypes up his own baked goods while putting down other’s hard work. Why does he do this? Consider Neighbor Chad is insecure. He knows Sally Ann down the way has far superior blondies, but he doesn’t want to admit so because he has built up his confidence based upon the assumption that he is a good neighbor. He doesn’t want people to look down on him. He wants to fit in. Perhaps other factors in his life are making him feel like he didn’t reach his full potential, and he has bandaged his pride in said baked-good outlet.
At the end of the day, the man is still a prat. There is an instinct there to argue that everyone has had their pride damaged, and being a hypocrite is still an unfair practice. We have social sanctions and rules for a purpose, living in a community demands some standards. But everyone has some part of their life that they struggle with, and for Neighbor Chad, that struggle is pride and self-worth.
That very struggle, at its core, is the inability to care for oneself, to know when you need to push for greater things and take out your struggles in better ways. It’s self-control, but self-control requires knowing when to step away and when to step forward. And that takes time, as well as the all-important ability to have healthy connections with other people.
In sum, selfishness is a tricky fellow to pin down. It’s always more complicated a situation than we think. We all make mistakes and we all make a fool of ourselves, the trick is how we handle ourselves in the aftermath of these normal standard errors.