The True Nature of “Selfishness”

By Greg Baer M.D.

December 9, 2011

Recently I had a phone conversation with Christine. Her marriage is falling to pieces, her children are acting out, she has no friends, and she is personally miserable. She said she didn't want to live like that anymore, so I attempted to help her see how her life was a result of her constantly manipulating people, attacking them, and withdrawing from relationships. But she argued with every single word I said. She justified, fought, cried, sulked, and more.

I finally said, "It's obvious, my dear, that you are still determined to live as you always have. I have no need to change you. None. It may be that more unhappiness will motivate you to actually listen."

She burst into tears and said, "I guess I'm just selfish all the time. I don't listen, I don't love people. I'm just completely selfish."

"Perhaps," I said, "but we'd need to agree on what you mean by selfish. The word selfish implies that you are focused on your self, but the truth is that you don't even know who you are. You are in so much pain from a lifetime of feeling unloved, that all you do is protect yourself from pain. You are utterly ruled by fear."

"That is so true."

"So, yes, you really are selfish, but you're not focusing on your true self. You're focusing entirely on your pain. And understandably so. Of course, you can't continue like this, because reacting to pain--our Getting and Protecting Behaviors--absolutely guarantees that our pain will continue. Attacking and withdrawing, for example, never, never produce happiness, and you've proven that with your own experiences on countless occasions."

"My whole life."

"Yep. And note that when I tell you that you're selfish I am not using the word selfish in the sense that we've all heard it as children when our parents and others said, 'You are so selfish,' accompanied with a tone and facial expressions that clearly communicated that we were worthless pigs deserving of a painful death. No, I'm just saying that you are reacting to your pain, at the expense of loving others and feeling loved yourself. Selfishness is not who you are; it's a response to your pain."

Christine was now sobbing. "So I'm not a bad person?"

"Oh, not at all. You don't even know what kind of person you are. So all you need is to feel loved enough that your pain will diminish, and as that happens your unproductive behaviors will also begin to disappear. You'll love people instead of constantly protecting yourself from them, or manipulating them to get what you want. All about the loving, kid."

Christine learned to find people to love her, and because she threw herself wholeheartedly into the effort, her behavior changed rather quickly. Bit of a miracle, really.

We can all do this. When we're in pain, we become selfish. The reason is obvious. If I stab a fork into your leg, in that moment you won't be thinking about loving someone else. You'll be entirely fixated on the pain in your leg. Solution? Remove the fork and restore safety, at which point you'll be free to think of others again.

And that's how it works with Real Love, which heals wounds, eliminates pain, and creates a freedom for us to discover who we really are. Feeling loved and safe makes it possible for us to be loving and happy, instead of insanely protecting ourselves from pain.


Recover from your negative habits and beliefs!


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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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