By Jolene Underwood, Crosswalk.com
Considering selfishness in ourselves is one of the most challenging, yet freeing, things we can do as believers. It helps us notice where we put ourselves before God. Then, we can do something about it. Anytime we are of greater importance than Him, our relationship with God will be stunted. Where we are selfish, we are not surrendered. Where we are not surrendered, we are not living free.
We tend to think of selfishness simplistically as pride. While pride breeds selfishness, there’s often something else going on. Self-protection. We self-protect out of fear. Also, we may have unhealed hurts or unhealthy belief patterns that cause us to close in on ourselves. We work hard to prove ourselves because we don’t feel fully approved by God.
I’m describing me here, maybe some of you too. I know how challenging it can be to admit selfishness. I also know God’s peace that follows.
Here are 10 ways I’ve noticed selfishness in myself. There are quite a few more. Perhaps some will sound familiar.
Even if it’s hard to think about, it’s worth it. I rejoice with you because humility pleases God and breeds freedom. As you consider these ten things, confess them. Ask God to lead you into a new way of living. You’ll notice an impact on how free you feel as a believer and how you engage in relationship with others.
Surrender selfishness and experience more of God’s strength each day.
1. You Are Captain of the Conversation
In conversation, you do most of the talking. At the end of a conversation you realize you haven’t asked about the other person. You’re constantly ready to jump in and you’re not paying attention to what’s being said. Rather than listening and tuning in, you’re paying attention to you. Your thoughts are focused on self and not others.
This happens with most of us. It can happen from the need to connect or receive validation, which is understandable. However, when we do this we squeeze out room to connect in healthy ways. We certainly don’t show value for others.
2. You Have to Be Right
When you have to be right, by default it makes others wrong. Even if they are technically in the wrong, when you focus on proving your rightness it puts them in an untenable position. Without any room to have their own voice, they’re devalued and you’ve become of primary importance. Also, there is little room to consider what you cannot see for yourself.
By having to be right, you may be quick to blame others and assume fault, even if it’s a result of your actions. Those who are always right are prone to denial and living stuck. They rarely take responsibility for things they’ve done wrong.
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3. You Are Quick to React
When someone says you did something, you quickly deny it. Explain it. Defend it. You are quick to become angry or hurt by what others have done. You’re easily offended. This offense, which they may not be aware of, brews inside of you thus feeding more self-focus.
Signs of being quick to react include anger, harsh verbal attacks, snide comments, laughing at others, scoffing, blaming, accusing, defending yourself, gossiping, excusing, and arguing.
4. You Need Your Way
You are easily frustrated when others don’t act like you want them to. Or when you don’t get what you expect. This could happen with your kids, your spouse, or your friends. It could also be the person in line in front of you, the store clerk, or the person who just served you food. If someone gets in your way, cuts you off in traffic, takes too long, doesn’t ring up your order the way you wanted, you are forceful and demanding or whiny and complaining.
You push to have your way, thus excluding another person’s wants or needs.
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5. You Find it Hard to Celebrate or Comfort Others
When a friend shares good news about some kind of success, it’s hard to rejoice with them. Likewise, when someone is going through a hard time or expressing emotion in ways that are uncomfortable, you may be quick to fix them or get them to be quiet.
You spend more time proving yourself and telling others what you think they need rather than listening to them. This breaks connection and can cause further harm. It’s focused on protecting self-comfort and happiness.
6. You Need Others to Feel Sorry for You
You get others to feel sorry for you with vague social media posts about being wronged or how horrible your situation is. These posts aren’t about sharing life and connecting with others, they are motivated by a need focused on self. It’s evidence of a need for meaningful real-life connection.
In person, you have to make sure everyone in a room knows you're upset, angry, or going through something difficult. You can't stand when people are having a good time or are happy when you're not. You need others to see and hear you rather than you hearing and seeing them. You aren’t owning your feelings and thoughts, but putting them onto other people to carry for you.
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7. You Treat Others as Less Important Than You
If you walk into a room and head straight for the people with power, position, and looks, by default you’re treating them as more important than others around you. By choosing to gain the attention and approval of those who lead, you position yourself as less than them and others as less important than you.
Anytime we choose what is externally visible over what’s internally valuable, we choose a hierarchy of value. Someone ends up as less important than you.
8. You Dwell on What Someone Else Does
When you’ve been wronged, it’s helpful to have your hurt validated and comforted. However, selfish, self-focused people escalate this need into a place of living stuck. When our thoughts become focused on what has happened to us, we become the center of all circumstances.
9. You Minimize Your Actions
When you do wrong, you find a way to make it right, but with the wrong motivations. You don’t do it to own your impact another person. Instead, you do it so you don’t have to bear the weight of failure or face the consequences.
When someone tells you how you’ve hurt them, you try to convince them it wasn’t that bad.
10. You Rarely Give Beyond What’s Comfortable
It’s hard to give finances, time, or emotional energy, and you find reasons not to. You justify why you can’t. It’s easy to make it seem like you’re not being selfish because you might give, even frequently, but rarely is it uncomfortable or challenging. Rarely is it led by the Holy Spirit. Instead, it’s motivated by making yourself seem good.
What comes out of the mouth reveals what’s in our heart, what we value deep in our core, regardless of what we say we believe. What we do comes from what we believe. Much of these signs of selfishness indicate a need for heart healing and soul surrender. They indicate belief systems in need of God’s truth. The more we experience freedom in Christ, the less we need to prove ourselves. We’ll know we are already proven in Him.
I’m still working on it. How about you?
If you’d like to continue this process, join me on the blog as we delve into this further. I’ll be sharing ways to address selfishness and deal with underlying hurts so you can live freer.
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Jolene Underwood has experienced a number of trials in life and knows that many of her readers have too. She writes about real life in need of real faith by inspiring an authentic pursuit of hope beyond the challenges of life. She is a lifter heads and a facilitator of encouragement because she knows the need for emotional care intimately. She writes regularly at joleneunderwood.com and as a contributor for Grace Table. She also offers both spiritual and writing encouragement for writers, speakers and entrepreneurs with her Rise Up Writers community and newsletter. Join her conversations of encouragement & faith via Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest at @theJoleneU