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Self-Centered, Helpful or People-Pleasing: How to Tell the Difference

by | Freedom

Humans are naturally social creatures. We need interpersonal interactions and relationships in order to survive. But with that connection to community comes a sense of social responsibility. On occasion, people around you will need help, and you’ll have the freedom to decide how to respond. 

Depending on the request, you can react from three different perspectives (self-centered, helpful, or people-pleasing). With all preconceived notions and learned connotations aside, no one way of responding is inherently better than the others. In fact, at one time or another, we’ve all reacted from each of the three perspectives. Still, there are distinguishing factors between each. Here are the differences between self-centered, helpful and people-pleasing responses.

  1. Self-Centered (“Me first…”)

Self-centered behavior is rooted in egocentric thought. Self-centeredness can manifest as prioritizing your own needs and wants before (or instead of) considering the desires of others. Although self-centered actions are often construed as negative, in some instances, putting yourself first can be categorized as a form of self-care. 

An egocentric perspective enforces strong boundaries like: 

  • “I am unwilling to deprioritize my self-interests in exchange for addressing outside concerns.” 
  • “If offering you assistance detracts from my ability to meet/protect my own needs, I am unwilling to offer that type of support.” 
  1. Helpful (“I’ll consider ways to meet both our needs…”)

In this context, being helpful means you are willing to share your advice, influence, time, or resources with someone who could use a hand. In a helpful headspace, you shift away from thoughts that are solely egocentric, and make room for thoughts that address the needs of your fellow man. Instead of thinking “me first”, you accept the possibility that your personal priorities may take a back seat. 

A helpful perspective takes a balanced approach to boundaries with statements like:

  • “I am willing to assist however I can while still protecting my basic human needs.”
  • “I am okay with temporarily sacrificing (or postponing) my desires because I am more interested in making sure that you are okay.    
  1. People-Pleasing (“Me last…”)

A people-pleasing response requires a selfless attitude. People-pleasing creates a direct contrast to a self-centered mindset by elevating the needs of others, while downplaying or discounting your own. Sometimes people-pleasing stems from fear of consequence, discord, judgement, or self-advocacy. Other times, it results from intense feelings of obligation, a desire to prove your worth/love, or a genuine desire to be supportive.

People-pleasing can present itself in boundary-statements like these:

  • “I have no limits to the lengths I would go to ensure that your needs and emotions are gratified.”
  • “My thoughts and feelings don’t matter. Even if I suffer during the process of fulfilling your request, my principal concern is you.”

When it comes to considering and assisting others, it’s important to, at the very least, think about how your thoughts and actions impact others. Afterward, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s more beneficial to act from a self-centered perspective, or center your actions around the needs of others. It’s also important to note that your response in one situation, does not mean that you have to respond that way universally. By using these three perspective definitions to better understand the motives of your reactions, you can be more intentional about the choices you make in your interpersonal relationships.



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