Can It Be Good to Be Self-Centered?
There are 2 ways to be self-centered, so be sure your picking the right one
Normally, when someone is accused of being self-centered, we consider it a bad thing. It’s portrayed as a lack of concern for others, or a kind of greediness.
But do we have it right? Is self-centeredness a bad thing? Perhaps there’s a bit more to it than we think. Perhaps being self-centered is actually a good think. But like so many other good things, we’ve been getting it wrong for quite some time.
In fact, being self-centered is only bad if the self you’re centered around is the wrong kind of self.
A Tale of Two Selves
There are 2 kinds of selves. The first kind is the lower self. It’s the one concerned with immediate gratification, ignorant of costs and consequences, and lacking care about higher values and purpose. The second kind of self is the higher self. It’s the version of yourself that you aspire to be. It’s the self that embodies your values and lives with purpose.
If you serve your lower self, that’s the bad kind of self-centeredness. You grasp at what you think will give you quick pleasure. You think short-term and with little regard to others. Your values are questionable. That’s vicious self-centeredness.
If you serve your higher self, that’s the good kind of self-centeredness. Yes, you do serve yourself and spend time on yourself. But you do it to make yourself better, more purpose-driven and an embodiment of values. You reflect and refine yourself to be better. And being better means being there for others. You focus on yourself, but you are there for others.
Vicious self-centeredness is the one we’re most familiar with. It’s the one with the bad reputation — and rightfully so. It’s where a person caters to their unrefined demands for pleasure and immediate gratification. We usually think of a self-centered person’s first question is what’s in it for me? But there’s a bit more nuance to it than that.
Yes, the self-centered person is primarily concerned with themself. But being concerned with yourself isn’t a bad thing. The issue is that a viciously self-centered person is concerned with feeding that egotistical and shallow part of the self. It’s not being self-serving on behalf of enrichment and improvement. It’s being self-serving on behalf of hoarding pleasure, possessions, and power. It’s self-centeredness, but being centered around a lower self.
Most of us are trying to improve, but we all have the part of us that just wants to sit around and be given whatever we want right now. That self is a shallow one. And when we center our activity around serving that shallow self — that’s when self-centeredness goes wrong.
There’s another kind of self-centeredness — the good kind. It’s the kind where rather than catering to your unrefined demands, you spend time focusing on making yourself better. You reflect and refine. You get to know yourself and your values. You gain and maintain self-worth. It’s truly the good kind.
And believe it or not, begin virtuously self-centered can make you the kind of person that others think of as selfless. In large part, that’s because you do the work to become comfortable enough with yourself that you don’t make things about you around other people. But again, that comes from continuous focus on yourself.
There is an old analogy that in the event of a plan crash, you need to put your oxygen mask on before you put on the masks of your loved ones. As much as you want to help them first, you’re useless to them if you can’t breathe first. You need to be centered on yourself first — to make sure there is a self there that can the do anything worthwhile and sustainably for others.
Know Yourself, Grow Yourself
Getting virtuously self-centered involves really getting to know yourself. And not just doing it once, but consistently. Getting in touch with your feelings, knowing your thought patters (good and bad) — all of it.
It’s also about discovering your values and priorities. You need to put all that together and live with purpose. If you haven’t done that, it’s very difficult to really help others. But it takes work — work on yourself. That’s virtuous self-centeredness.
Key in this process is regular self-reflection — which means asking yourself hard questions. These are questions like: What do I really care about? What makes me emotional? What am I willing to sacrifice immediate gratification for? What would make me proud of myself? What do I want people to say about me 100 years from now?
There are more questions to dive into, and so many other ways to dive into them. Journaling, talk therapy, a mastermind group, or mentors are all helpful. But the key is to remember that you’re looking to serve your higher self — not the lower self that just wants the quick and easy satisfaction.
If you serve that self, there’s no reason to feel guilty. You’ll be doing good for others in the process.
So the next time you hear a warning about being self-centered, be sure you understand what it means. Avoid serving the wrong self. Be centered around yourself, but be centered around your higher self — the one you’re working to grow into — and you’ll be okay.