What Is The Difference Between Selfish And Self Centered

When discussing personal traits that impact social interactions, two terms frequently surface: selfish and self-centered. Though often used interchangeably, these characteristics possess distinct definitions and implications. Their differences illuminate unique aspects of human behavior, especially in how individuals relate to others and prioritize personal desires.

Selfishness involves acting with one’s own interests in mind, often at the expense of others. In contrast, being self-centered refers to a person who is preoccupied with themselves and their own needs, but not necessarily at others’ expense. Understanding these nuances can help improve personal relationships and self-awareness.

The concepts of selfishness and self-centeredness are rooted in psychological theories that explain why people act in certain ways. These behaviors are influenced by various factors, including upbringing, cultural norms, and individual experiences. Recognizing the differences can lead to better interpersonal strategies and enhanced personal growth.

Definition of Selfish

Basic Explanation

Selfishness is often viewed as prioritizing one’s own needs and desires above those of others. It entails making decisions and taking actions that benefit oneself, sometimes at the expense of others. The term carries a generally negative connotation, reflecting actions that disregard the well-being or feelings of others around the individual.

Psychological Perspective

From a psychological standpoint, selfishness can be seen as a natural survival mechanism. It is part of human nature to consider one’s own needs in order to survive and thrive. However, when taken to an extreme, selfishness can lead to behaviors that harm relationships and social cohesion. Psychologists study this trait to understand its origins, including factors like upbringing, personality disorders, or environmental influences that might encourage such behavior.

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Definition of Self-Centered

Basic Explanation

Being self-centered involves an excessive preoccupation with oneself and one’s own affairs. Unlike selfishness, self-centeredness doesn’t necessarily mean harming others but implies a lack of awareness or concern for others’ needs or feelings. It is characterized by viewing the world predominantly from one’s own perspective and needs.

Psychological Perspective

Psychologically, self-centeredness can be linked to a variety of developmental and personality factors. It often stems from how individuals are treated during their formative years. For instance, people who were excessively pampered or neglected might develop a self-centered attitude. This trait can also be influenced by certain personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder, where individuals exhibit an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for excessive attention and admiration.

Key Differences

Focus of Behavior

Selfish: Gains and Losses

  • Selfish individuals often act with the primary goal of maximizing personal benefits, regardless of the consequences these actions may have on others. They are driven by a desire to improve their own situations, which can result in tangible gains or the avoidance of losses.

Self-Centered: Attention and Recognition

  • Self-Centered people crave attention and recognition from those around them. Their actions are designed to place themselves at the center of interest, often overshadowing the needs and contributions of others. This behavior is more about gaining social standing or emotional gratification than direct material gains.

Impact on Relationships

Selfish: Examples of Effects

  • Selfish behaviors can severely damage relationships. For example, a person who consistently chooses their own needs over their partner’s may lead to feelings of neglect and resentment. This can erode trust and mutual respect, essential components of any healthy relationship.

Self-Centered: Examples of Effects

  • Self-centered individuals might not overtly harm their relationships, but their lack of attentiveness to others’ needs can lead to a lack of depth in personal connections. Their partners or friends may feel undervalued or ignored, which can create a gap in emotional closeness and understanding.

Psychological Roots

Selfish: Survival Instinct

  • At its core, selfishness can be traced back to a basic survival instinct. It is an evolutionary trait that helps individuals prioritize their own needs in critical situations to enhance personal survival and well-being.
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Self-Centered: Need for Validation

  • The psychological roots of being self-centered often include a deep-seated need for validation. This need can stem from low self-esteem or prior experiences where the individual felt they did not receive adequate attention or appreciation.

Social Perception

How Others View Selfish People

  • Generally, selfish people are viewed negatively in society. Their actions, perceived as caring little for others, can lead to social ostracism or a tarnished reputation, affecting their ability to form or maintain healthy personal and professional relationships.

How Others View Self-Centered People

  • Similarly, self-centered individuals are often seen as difficult to engage with deeply. While they may not be ostracized to the extent of selfish individuals, their perceived narcissism can make others hesitant to form close, trusting relationships with them.

Common Traits

Overlapping Behaviors

Selfish and self-centered individuals often exhibit behaviors that overlap, particularly in how they prioritize their personal agenda over others’. Common situations include:

  • Social gatherings: Both may dominate conversations or steer topics back to themselves.
  • Decision-making: Choices are often based on what benefits them the most, rather than considering the group’s needs.
  • Crisis management: They might prioritize their own safety or comfort in emergencies.

Distinctive Actions

Actions Unique to Each Trait

While selfish and self-centered traits overlap, each has distinctive actions that set them apart:

  • Selfish Actions:
    • Taking the last piece of a shared resource without asking.
    • Ignoring requests for help if there is no direct benefit to them.
  • Self-Centered Actions:
    • Frequently interrupting others to shift the focus back to themselves.
    • Overlooking the accomplishments of others to highlight their own.

Handling Interactions

Dealing with Selfish Individuals

Strategies and Advice

Interacting with selfish people requires tactics that protect your interests while fostering better behaviors:

  • Set clear boundaries: Define what is acceptable and what isn’t in your interactions.
  • Communicate consequences: Let them know the implications of their selfish actions on your relationship.
  • Encourage empathy: Share how their actions make you feel to help them see the impact from another perspective.
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Dealing with Self-Centered Individuals

Strategies and Advice

Handling self-centered individuals often involves drawing attention to the needs and feelings of others:

  • Promote listening skills: Encourage them to listen more and speak less.
  • Highlight others’ contributions: Make it a point to acknowledge and discuss what others bring to the table.
  • Use direct communication: Be straightforward about your needs and how they can help meet them.

Personal Development

Reducing Selfishness

Tips and Techniques

Reducing selfish behavior can lead to more balanced and rewarding relationships:

  • Practice gratitude: Recognize and appreciate what others do for you.
  • Volunteer: Engage in activities where the focus is on helping others.
  • Reflect on actions: Regularly assess how your actions affect those around you.

Reducing Self-Centeredness

Tips and Techniques

Minimizing self-centered traits involves developing a greater awareness of others:

  • Engage in active listening: Focus on understanding others’ viewpoints without planning your response.
  • Ask about others: Show genuine interest in what’s happening in other people’s lives.
  • Practice humility: Acknowledge that the world doesn’t revolve around your needs or feelings.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Defines a Selfish Person?

A selfish individual prioritizes their own needs and desires above those of others. They may often disregard the welfare of others to achieve their own goals, focusing primarily on personal gain and satisfaction.

How is Being Self-Centered Different from Being Selfish?

While both traits involve a focus on oneself, being self-centered is more about an excessive preoccupation with oneself and one’s own needs, rather than actively disregarding or harming others to benefit oneself as seen in selfishness.

Can Selfish or Self-Centered Traits Be Changed?

Yes, both selfish and self-centered behaviors can be modified. This often involves self-reflection, understanding the impact of one’s actions on others, and learning to empathize and consider other people’s feelings and needs.

How Do These Traits Affect Relationships?

Both selfishness and self-centeredness can strain relationships. Selfish actions can lead to resentment and conflict, while self-centeredness might result in a lack of meaningful connections due to a failure to engage deeply with others’ experiences and emotions.


In conclusion, understanding the difference between being selfish and being self-centered is crucial for personal development and maintaining healthy relationships. Each trait has its own set of characteristics and effects on interpersonal dynamics. Recognizing and addressing these behaviors in oneself or others can lead to more fulfilling and balanced relationships.

Fostering self-awareness and empathy is essential in overcoming these traits. By prioritizing self-improvement and considering the impact of our actions on others, we can cultivate a more compassionate and understanding approach to our interactions.

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