“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” — Oscar Wilde

Selfish people consume the time and energy of others and, despite what you tell yourself, there’s no end in sight to their narcissism.

“I’ll just do this last thing for her and then I’ll get back to my own affairs.”

“Maybe if I’m passive aggressive, he’ll take the hint that I have my own things to worry about.”

“She appreciates me in her own way…”

You can’t wait around for the day selfish people finally appreciate your time and show respect for your needs. It’s time to stop being manipulated and start focusing on yourself.

Selfish people need other people, and that’s why they’re always violating boundaries. It’s unlikely you’ll see a self-centered person moving to Patagonia to lead a solitary existence. Who’s going to pick up the dry cleaning they forgot? Who’s going to get their kids from school on Tuesday? What will they do when they need someone to lend them a hand, some cash, or a car? Selfishness and self-reliance seem almost mutually exclusive.

The selfish person needs to be made an exception. Sure, it’s easy for you to get up every day, meet your responsibilities, be a good friend, and rest easy when your head hits the pillow. Self-centered people have trouble with these things. They don’t readily meet responsibilities because it’s hard. When things get hard, selfish individuals fall back on old habits and ask someone else to step in. That’s where favors come in. But they’re also in need of your attention generally.

If you think you’re the center of the universe, you need satellites — other people — to be stuck orbiting you. Satellites let you acknowledge your own gravity (i.e., “I sure am a big deal.”)

Are you stuck in orbit around a self-absorbed person? Don’t worry. You can’t take it personally. Selfish people don’t discriminate — they don’t respect the needs of anyone else. Their entitlement knows no bounds.

The only way to remove yourself from this draining relationship is strong boundaries. Before you jump through hoops to accommodate a selfish individual, ask yourself:

  • Do I benefit from this? For instance, I put out and bring in the garbage and recycling bins for my fourplex apartment building each week. If I don’t do this, no one will. My neighbors will just drive around them and even use them, but they won’t bring them in. These are five to eight 96-gallon bins with wheels, and I’m 5’3”. Although it may be unfair or inconsiderate, I do benefit from doing this myself. Otherwise my garbage and recycling won’t be picked up. It also lets me stretch my legs for a few minutes (I don’t have to move the bins very far and they’re not too heavy for me). Plus I hold my head high while I’m doing it because I am a considerate neighbor.
  • Does this expectation mirror my own? Is this person asking you for more than you’d ask of them? Maybe you’ve never been able to rely on them. Maybe this person is a relative stranger and hasn’t earned your trust. For instance, I briefly met a woman at a party years ago who liked my lemon bars so much she tracked me down six months later to ask me to make some for her friend’s wedding shower. Gratis, of course. She sent me an email that said more or less, “I don’t know if you remember me… Can you make me some of your delicious lemon bars?”
  • Why do you say “yes,” when you want to say “no?” Examine your own motives. Maybe you’re worried this person won’t like you or will make you feel uncomfortable if you don’t accommodate him or her. But if politely declining makes you uncomfortable in that moment, it will surely make you feel grateful later because you respected your own boundaries. If some people don’t like you because you didn’t do them a favor, that’s their problem. They sure weren’t worried you wouldn’t like them when they asked for the favor.

The only person you’re responsible for is yourself (and your children). It’s time to empower yourself with the word “No.” Drawing a line in the sand can be hard, but the sooner you start, the better you’ll feel. Over time, you’ll find that self-involved people don’t call on you for assistance as often. When they can’t utilize you as a tool to make their lives easier, they turn elsewhere.

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