10 Insights – Selfish vs Self-Centered vs Self-Absorbed (2024)

In this guide, you’ll learn the key differences between selfish vs self-centered individuals.

We’ll also touch on related terms such as self-absorbed, narcissist and people-pleasers. 

These are terms I’m often discussing with my life coaching clients and it’s important for everyone to understand the difference. 

So, let’s dive in and discover what the difference is between these words. 

selfish vs self centered
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1. What Does Selfish And Self-Centered Mean?

Self-centered and selfish have similar meanings. Both words are used to describe people who tend to be excessively concerned with themselves. However, there is a difference between self-centered and selfish. These two words don’t mean the same thing.  

So, let’s talk about the two main differences between self-centered and selfish now. 

  • ‘Self-centered’ refers to a personality trait, whereas ‘selfish’ refers to actions. 
  • On top of that, selfish actions are detrimental to others, while being self-centered doesn’t necessarily harm anyone else. 

Selfishness is always seen as a negative quality because of the harm it does to others. Being self-centered isn’t necessarily harmful, so there’s not always a negative connotation associated with it. 

A self-centered person might often be caught lacking consideration for others. Such a person might be considered selfish also. Indeed, selfish behavior is often a side-effect of a self-centered personality. However, it is also possible to be self-centered without regularly engaging in selfish behavior. 

2. What Are The Signs Of A Self-Centered Person?

Self-centered people tend to be concerned with their own needs and interests.

The signs of a self-centered person are easiest to spot in a group of several people. 

In these situations, a self-centered person may always be shifting the conversation back onto themselves. They may interrupt or ignore others. They may behave in ways to ensure they’re the centre of attention.

Alternatively, they may change their mind about turning up at all – even if it means upsetting other people – because something more important popped up.  

Self-Centered Personality

It could be argued that we’re all self-centered people. After all, the primary concerns of our brains are to keep us safe, alive and well.

Beyond that, it could also be argued that every action one takes is ultimately for one’s own benefit. This argument suggests that even selfless acts like giving money to charity is done to make us feel good about ourselves.

So, why are some people called self-centered and others not?

Ultimately, the term can only be used subjectively, based on what others determine is an excessive concern with putting oneself first.   

3. What Are The Signs Of A Selfish Person?

Selfish people regularly engage in selfish behavior.

When a group of friends meets for a buffet dinner, a selfish person might:

  • push in front of the queue to make sure they get the best food;
  • help themselves to extra servings, even if this means there’s not enough of everything to go around;
  • refuse to share their food, even when some people didn’t get enough;
  • put on their favorite music, even though no-one else likes that genre.

Remember, by definition, selfish behavior is detrimental to others. This is why being selfish is always regarded as a negative trait. Still, the border for what is considered selfish is ultimately subjective, based on what people consider detrimental to others. 

Selfish personality 

It is rare to describe someone as having a selfish personality, because that word is mostly used to describe one’s behaviors. However, if someone is regularly engaging in selfish behavior, they might be considered to have a selfish personality too.  

Related: 21 Selfish People Traits And What To Learn From Them

4. Is Being Self-Centered A Bad Thing?

There is a strong argument for putting others before yourself.

When we help others, it makes life easier for them. In most cases, this encourages these people to ‘pay it forward’ by helping out someone else. 

If everyone was willing to look out for each other and act with such kindness, it would make for a far more pleasant society. This is encouraged in all major religious texts.

This is why self-centered people can ruffle a few feathers. It could be argued that these people are helping to spoil what could be a perfect society of selfless people.

The thing is: we are all self-centered to some degree. If we‘re not somewhat concerned with our own wants and needs, we could very easily die without having achieved anything we wanted. 

People are only described as self-centered if they’re deemed to be putting themselves first too much. But what does it mean to be too self-centered? Is it even possible?

Coaches and therapists are always praising the importance of self-care, which means taking time away from others to focus on making yourself feel better.

A key argument for self-care is: it’s easier to help others when one takes care of his or her own needs first. 

There is perhaps a balance to be struck, and labelling someone as self-centered is society’s way of explaining that someone is too far on the side of looking out for themselves. 

5. Is Being Selfish A Bad Thing?

As we explored earlier, selfishness refers to acts which are detrimental to others. 

But, it can be harmful for the selfish person too.

Sure, in the short-term, they’ll usually be a benefit to those who act selfish. However, in many cases, there are long-term repurcussions. 

For example, the victim of your selfishness may not want to associate with you any more. They might tell other people about your self-involved ways, so you gain a reputation as a selfish person, meaning even more people start to distrust you.

Most crimes are selfish behavior – and there’s every chance that there will be legal repercussions for these. 

So, it’s easy to see how everyone can ultimately lose when selfishness strikes.  

On the other hand, when you show consideration for others, people are more likely to want to associate with you. They’ll – sometimes, but not always – spread the word of your selflessness or ‘pay it forward’ in some other way. 

Sure, some can take their own advantage of your generosity, but as we’ve just seen, such people will typically end up losing out in the long run. 

6. What Is A Self-Absorbed Person?  

A self-absorbed person can be considered an extremely self-centered person. The main difference is the level of self-centeredness.

A self-absorbed person is so immersed in their own wants, needs and desires that they may not even appear to realize that someone else may want something else. 

Indeed, ‘absorbed’ means to have one’s attention completely occupied.

As such, a so-called self-absorbed person may be more likely to engage in selfish behavior than a self-centered individual. 

Related: Am I Selfish? Signs & What’s Positive About It

7. What Is A Narcissist?

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If selfishness were a spectrum, you’d find narcissists almost falling off the far side. 

A narcissist is a self-centered individual who regularly engages in extreme examples of selfish behavior.

As well as the examples already mentioned, you can expect a narcissist to:     

  • be concerned about nothing but their own self-interests;
  • harm others for their own benefit; 
  • have an excessive need for attention at all times;
  • feel entitled to the best things in life;
  • lack empathy for others;
  • be unwilling to admit fault or take criticism for anything;
  • lash out at those who ignore or criticise them. 

There’s a huge difference between self-centered people and narcissists, at least in the level of their self-interests. The main difference is a narcissist’s sense of their own self-importance knows no bounds.

Narcissism is traditionally considered by many as a synonym for selfishness, but it’s far worse in reality . In fact, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is listed in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). In other words, it’s an official mental illness.

The best thing you can do for someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is to refer them to a mental health specialist.

Still, if you’re concerned and want to learn more about how to deal with a narcissist in your life, check out these guides on EXPERT Tips – How To Talk To A Narcissist and What Makes A Narcissist Panic?

8. What Is A People Pleaser?

You could potentially place a people pleaser on the opposite end of the selfishness spectrum. But, it’s not so simple as to say that they are the least selfish individuals around.

People-pleasers are individuals who will do whatever it takes to make someone like them. 

While this doesn’t sound so awful at first, please note that this behavior stems from deep insecurity and a desperation to be liked. 

People-pleasers tend to believe that ‘being themselves’ isn’t enough to make people like them. So, they’ll change their personalities to be overly kind and pleasant. They’ll also bend over backwards to complete an excessive amount of favors and good deeds. 

Most of us don’t like to be around people pleasers. That’s because most people can sense when someone is desperate to be liked. They can sense when someone is nervous and insecure. They can sense when someone is being inauthentic to get a certain reaction out of them. And it makes most people very uncomfortable.

People-pleasers may not appear to engage in selfishness – but they’re arguably more unlikeable. At least, selfish people are honest about their intentions. People pleasers always appear to have a hidden agenda, which makes them almost impossible to trust.  

On top of that, they can also engage in controlling and manipulative behavior to get the reactions they want out of others. This behavior is arguably the epitome of selfishness. 

To learn more about dealing with people pleasers, see this article on: People-Pleasing and Control – A Complete Guide.

9. How To Focus On Yourself In A Healthy Way

Focus On Yourself In A Healthy Way
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The first step is to be self-aware enough to know what you really want out of life. What is your life mission that would fulfil you more than anything else? 

Once you know this, you need to be organised enough to know what it will take to get there. What tasks are the most urgent? How many hours a day will you need to work to meet this target? A coach can be a useful aid in helping you answer these questions.

You’ll also need the self-awareness to realize how much time you need to recharge after these grueling activities. Do you need a long hot bath at the end of the day. Can you get by with a round of golf at the weekend?

On top of these activities, you may have people in your life whose happiness is imperative to your own joy. A spouse, children, your best friends etc.

These are the people worth dedicating your time to as well. However, if they are indeed your loved ones, they should understand what you need to be fulfilled in your own life.

You should be able to co-operate and compromise on a schedule that works for both of you.  Remember, it’s easier to help others when one takes care of his or her own needs first. 

If this loved one tends to lack empathy for your needs and is unwilling to compromise, perhaps they’re the ones being selfish.

Once you’re sure of who and what your priorities are in life, it becomes easier to say ‘no’ to requests that don’t serve them, in a polite and empathetic way of course.

Sure, you might upset a few people, but it’s impossible to please everyone. Emotionally intelligent people who truly care about you will understand you have your own concerns. It’s the self-centered people most likely to be annoyed.

These steps should lead you to a healthy level of self-centeredness. For more info, check out this guide about How To Focus On Yourself And Not Others.

10. How To Talk To A Selfish Person

While self-centeredness isn’t necessarily harmful, we’ve explored the reasons why it’s not good to be a selfish person. If you know such a person and would like to help them change their selfish ways, the best thing you can do is to explain what’s in it for them.

This isn’t just true for selfish people. This is a fundamental rule of persuasion and coaching. People are more likely to change their behavior when they understand the tangible benefits to them.

So, while personal virtue and other people’s happiness is an undeniable benefit of selfless behavior – and many people curb their selfishness for this reason – you may have more success explaining how it’s easier to cultivate strong relationships when you’re selfless. 

However, the most powerful way to help someone shift away from selfishness is to let them witness the consequences of it. Actions speak louder than words. 

Once they see that their selfishness has repercussions, they’ll be more motivated to change their ways. 

Maybe it’s best for you and this selfish person that you’re not treating them as well until they learn this lesson. 

Any More Questions About Selfish Vs Self-Centered?

Thanks for reading my guide.

I hope you now understand the difference between self-centered and selfish more clearly.

More importantly, I hope you’re now more familiar with the impact that selfishness and self-centeredness can have on your life and others. 

If you still have a question about the difference between self-centered and selfish, feel free to ask it in the comments section below.  

It will be great to hear your thoughts on this discussion topic.

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About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.