Exploration: Is Being Self-Centered The Same As Being Selfish?

Full-color image of from first MESSENGER flyby
Full-color image of from first MESSENGER flyby (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have this muddle going on in my mind. My husband said the other night that I can be very self-centered, and he did not mean it nicely. He said it the way he did because he knew that I would run home to mommy. I was so upset by his comment that I had to put the question to someone who knows me really well. He wrote me back saying it was dangerous territory and he apologized in advance if he offends me. He started by saying that I am an “exceedingly self-centered” person. But he finished the letter encouraging me to find the kind of love and respect that I deserve and he knows that I do not get it at home.So, the definition of “self-centered” is according to Merriam Webster, be patient here. I have to go look up the true definition of the word not just my explanation.

Self-Centered” means 1) independent of outside force or influence (the role of the self-sufficient).  It also means 2) concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs or interests. (This would be the description of me)  3) these are interesting: narcissistic, egotistical, self-involved, selfish, self-seeking, etc.

After the email I got from my friend, and I had asked him because I know he has a personality like Comet cleanser (the powder kind) sometimes, and I knew he would tell me the absolute, no holds barred, unflinching truth even if he did run the risk of making me really angry. Because he is a very longtime friend of mine, he knew he risked telling me something I did not want to hear, but he would tell me because he does love me in his own twisted way. And I love him in my own twisted way. i love him because he does not play games with you. He shoots from the hip, and says what he means. He rarely will say something he doesn’t mean. Its like Mozart but different. It is as if everything he was going to have to say in his life time was predetermined. Its creepy sometimes. Anyway, seeing as how I am so extraordinarily self-centered, it is time to talk about me :) 

I think to a certain extent when one is ill mentally or physically, you have to be a little self-centered so that you can take care of you. In the end,  all we have is ourselves, and the aged bodies that we arrived in. Especially if the illness is chronic and progressive. Vigilance over one’s self is necessary to lead a fairly functional life. When this vigilance starts to crack and you sprout wings and fly, I am pretty certain you have gone manic/mad. So, no, I disagree with both his and my husband’s assessments of me. I am not an all consuming egotist that chews up everything I run across. I will admit that, yes, I do sometimes put myself ahead of others, and I admit this behavior doesn’t lend itself well to lasting relationships (unless both parties are nuts). I feel that a certain amount of self-centeredness is acceptable for everyone, sick or not, Vampire or not. We need it to survive sometimes. It can be our intuition telling us that we need to get the heck out of dodge like yesterday. 

But, yes, I will admit that since I finally developed this lovely disorder instead of just being depressed all the time, I have become more self-oriented, more self-centered than I was a few years ago because I had to become that way or the head doctors would still be testing their medications on me like I was some kind of lab rat. I had no idea that when you check into a mental hospital, you are their hostage guinea pig for at least 72 hours. That’s three days of brain damage they could inflict. I didn’t know. I wasn’t ready for it. And the doctors walked all over me. I left with 6 or 7 prescriptions; some for the morning and some for the evening. I was so messed up. We couldn’t even tell what worked because of the number of medications. So, yeah, I had to get a little self-centered and try to advocate for myself, and I have never had a voice. Maybe I took it too far.

Maybe I became everything I used to loathe about people; I had problems and  still have problems with people who speak before they think, and act before they think it through. I see a lot of that type of behavior in my own life. And, in my relationship, although he may not understand that I am doing the best I can; I am trying to think of him more ahead of myself, but since he never says thank you, and accepts his gift with an air of entitlement, like he has given so much to this relationship and I have contributed nothing. Well, I can tell you he brought one thing to the relationship that sends me over the edge is his addiction to Internet porn. his realistically longest lasting impression that he will leave on this relationship is that I walked out because I do not need to be taken for granted, and I sure as hell do not deserve a husband who spends 12-24 hours on the net collecting pictures of nude women. Hello! I am screaming over here, and you turn a deaf ear.

Maybe I am just not worth the trouble. Maybe being bright and pretty with no wrinkles in my forties just isn’t enough. Perhaps he would do better with someone he could push around. I am not that girl, I have been in relationships where the guy pushed me to the ground so hard that I have 2 compressed vertebrae. i gave him a black eye one night because we were all drunk, and he had spent the evening chatting up some Marilyn Monroe look alike. So we fought, and he threw me down the sidewalk. That hurt  because it was summer and I was wearing shorts. I have been cheated on, I have been walked out on, you name it it has happened to me at some point in my life. Maybe all those years I spent living alone made me more self-centered, I mean, who else did I have to concentrate on? I was the only one there. Perhaps it is time to let that wall down. But, every time I let my guard down, I get stomped on. This isn’t working right. It must be my fault…… Okay, I am not going to throw a pity party. Those are for kids.

So, having established that I am indeed self-centered (although you will find this in people who isolate from others. For them, the world goes away.) So I am self-centered, everyone is to varying degrees. So, let’s examine selfishness. Definition again thanks to Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Thanks to all the people who put all those words together to make the dictionary. Mind boggling. Anyway I am rambling. The definition of selfishness is as follows: 1) Concerned excessively or exclusively with one’s self; seeking or concentrating on one’s well being with no regard for others, 2) Concern for one’s welfare while completely disregarding others. 

Okay, based on those those pretty stringent words, I would half to say I am not as selfish as people may think I am. That the two words use each other as synonyms does relay the information that the two behaviors are closely linked. I can see the bridge. On one side is selfishness and on the other is self-centeredness. If they meet at the middle of the bridge than neither will live because each man is equally vested in his own life and couldn’t give a damn about the other guy, so, yes there is a correlation.  However, one does not have to be both. You can be self-centered without being selfish.

People who are self-centered generally (don’t like making sweeping generalizations) have been raised in working class homes where dad may be in prison, he may be working 3 jobs to keep a roof over his family’s head and some food in their stomachs. People who become self-centered don’t always start out that way. They are molded by experience, life , liberty and the right to pursue unhappiness.  :) These kids grow up in some of the worst neighborhoods in the country, of course they will become self-centered and will look out for themselves first above all else. Non-vigilance over one’s immediate area, noticing the lighting, is it really dark. are there a lot of hiding spots, is this an ambush? Not being self-centered in these neighborhoods will get you killed. In the immortal words of “Rage Against the Machine,” he’s got a bullet in his brain, just another victim of the in-house drive-by. 

For these folks, walls are necessary, and looking out for yourself (even if you are a kid) is an absolute behavioural necessity. Otherwise they could end up dead. Now these same people who are so self-centered are not necessarily selfish. I have had a homeless man give me his only money, one dime, because that’s how short I was for a soda, I will never forget him. He was a Viet Nam vet, lived on the streets (didn’t want to live anywhere else, he was a character), was scruffy and dirty, but when he wasn’t all messed up on Mad Dog, and he was lucid, he was one of the most giving people I have ever met. He put not only his life, but his sanity on the line for the U.S.A. during what should never happened, but it did. And he gave me his last dime. For a soda. He was probably one of the most gentle of spirits, except when he was drunk. Then stay away. 

I do not think of myself as selfish, self centered, yes, and I will have to work on that and maintain my efficacy as an advocate for myself with all these Post Doctoral wanna be doctors wanting to give thorazine and haldol. Those are drugs for schizophrenics. Or people who have whigged out on PCP. But I do not really fit neatly into the definition of selfish. I will own up to being self centered, but it isn’t meant to be detrimental to another person, it is a defense mechanism that allows me not to get too close to someone because at some point they will disappoint you. Maybe that might not be the best way to look at the world, but that is what the world gave me; pain and a lot of it. Maybe not as much other people have experienced but enough to know I never want to go there again. So, it is not that i am conceited or only out for me. These are walls that I have built over the years to keep people from getting to close to the “core” of who I am. And that is a scared, worried, depressed, and lonely child. I duck and dart to avoid people getting to know me too well. I guess that could be considered selfish. But while I am protecting myself, I still hold other people’s welfare in a safe place in my heart. It just can take a while (years) to gain enough of my trust that I drop the selfishness, the self-centeredness because that is all they are are walls designed to keep people at bay. 

They are small but sometimes very large and painful flaws in my personality. but knowing that about myself and having given it quite a bit of thought, I think it would be something I could change. It will be difficult as I will be triggered left and right by you know who. The goal is to achieve and maintain a sense of inner calm regardless of what the people around you are trying to do. Once the inner calm thing is pretty well under control, you work on your temper which can be a real problem in a relationship. Get your temper under control and then work on the walls of self-centeredness and selfishness. That way if a trigger rolls your way, you  can dismiss it out of hand. It means nothing to you. 

At least this is the plan…… we’ll see how it goes. Thank you for psych meds  :)

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