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Selfless vs. Selfish

Has anyone ever told you that you are too nice? Or that you put others before yourself a little too much?

It can be hard to find that middle ground where we are considerate towards others’ needs without suppressing our own needs too much. Or vice versa. Sometimes we might fret that we have become too egocentric and are overlooking other people's needs and feelings. The thing is, we are not born knowing how to behave around people. We have to learn this. What are the underlying factors that contribute to the extent of our extent of altruism?

Behaviourists postulate that behaviours are reactions (conscious or subconscious) evoked by stimuli in our environment, or by our individual history of learned and conditioned behaviours. For example, if we grow up in an environment where we felt accepted only by our parents or by primary caretakers, we might find ourselves saying what they want to hear and doing what they want us to do so as not to feel reprimanded or rejected by them.

With such conditioning, we become adept at knowing what to say or do in order to be in somebody’s good books. We can end up subjugating our needs and emotions so much that we lose the ability to communicate what we really think or truly feel. We put aside our needs and feelings to avoid the risk of rejection.

On the flip side, if we vocalize our needs all of the time and insist on having them fulfilled regardless of the situation or who might be affected, we risk being too egoistical and becoming less aware of other people’s needs and feelings.

While both behaviours – subjugating our needs to comply with other people and fulfilling our needs regardless of circumstances – give us a sense of security, they can backfire. Being too selfless or too egotistical can disconnect us from ourselves and drive people away from us respectively.

Everything seems to have a yin and a yang. Having too much sugar in our diet is not good for us, but having too little sugar in our diet is bad too. Finding that unique balance between selflessness and self-centredness is not easy, and it could be a lifetime work, but that does not mean that we should not try at all.



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