|EQI.org Home | Emotional Abuse | Words | Society
In our work with adolescents we have noticed that the word "selfish" is routinely used by emotionaly abusive parents as a way of manipulating and guilt-tripping their son or daughter. (Read more about this below). Here we want to call attention to this word and the way it is commonly used.
Teens and Emotionally Abusive Parents
When an emotionally abusive parent calls their teen "selfish" it is usually becaue the parent wants something from the teen which will help meet one of the parent's needs. In other words, if anyone could really be called selfish then, it would have to the parent more than the teen.
These guilt trips take
their toll on the teens. The teens end up feeling guilty
for things which they do not deserve to feel guilty
about. One teen, accustomed to guilt trips from her
parents, actually started feeling guilty and therefore
more suicidal, because she was using up the worlds
resources and not contributing anything. Another teen who
wrote to us said something very similar.
Other EQI.org Topics:
Between Needy, Selfish and Responsibility
It is more helpful to talk about a person being needy than to call them selfish. If we say "selfish" we tend to think of it as a "character flaw", as if the person was born bad. But if we say "needy" then we might start to ask ourselves why the person is needy, what they need exactly, and why their needs were not met.
If a teenager is needy, why? Is a teenager supposed to fill their own needs? What about a 12 year old? Or a ten or a two year old?
How is nature supposed to work, when it is working as close to perfectly as is naturally possible?
Someone once said that babies are born with perfect DNA. This is an interesting concept. Most of the time it seems to be true. So what happens then to make a person think so much about their own needs that they don't think about others and we are tempted to call them selfish? In my experience, we are most likely to use this label, by the way when that person is helping us fill some needs that we have, or perhaps they are refusing to allow themselves to be used by us.
When depressed teens feel bad about something they did, in other words when they feel guilty or responsible, they tend to think of themselves as a bad person. This often contributes to their desire to kill themselves. If they feel bad enough about themselves, they will feel weak, powerless and won't feel able to repair damage they have caused or make any kind of restitution for pain they have caused. They will also feel undeserving of forgiveness. These feelings are connected to thoughts which go something like this: "I am a bad person. I will do everyone a favor and kill myself."
In other words, suicidal people don't believe they are capable of fixing things, of making restitution. They have been taught that they are powerless, and that they are hurtful people. Typically they are taught they are selfish, uncaring, not kind etc. The parents in particular are the ones who are teaching this to them since the parents feel hurt, frustrated, out of control, etc. when the child or teen doesn't do what the parent needs them to do for the fulfilment of the parents' needs.
When a parent calls a child or teen "selfish" two things are happening. One is that the parent wants to hurt the child or teen simply because the parents feel hurt by something. Dysfunctional, soul-killing parents don't say "We are in pain because of our own unmet needs and our wishes that you would have filled our needs and our unrealistic expectations". (See also disappointment).
Basically one of the two things that happens is that the parents feel pain, they feel hurt, so a natural instinct is to hurt the thing which hurts you to try to stop it from hurting or killing you. But the other thing parents are doing is more subtle. They do something animals in the jungle or forest don't do. If one animal attacks another and the second one escapes, the first might feel frustrated and hungry. But it is unlikely to call the prey "selfish." If it did, it would be like saying "Hey come back here and let me eat you. You should feel bad about running away from me." We wouldn't expect an animal to go back and be eaten, so why do we expect humans to?
So what parents do is psychologically try to get their prey to let them be eaten psychologically. This reminds me of the term "emotional vampire".
|Writing from My Journal on
Oct 14, 2006
I am wondering...is it selfish for me to
turn off my cell phone when I need sleep? Is it selfish
for me to tell a suicidal teen I need to go to sleep?
Writing on Suicide and the Label of "Selfish"
Many people say that it is selfish to kill yourself. But this is what teen Cara, from New Zealand writes:
|Feb 21, 2008
Today I was writing about Sveta in Bulgaria. I remembered how she called me selfish. I started wondering "How is someone feeling when they call someone else selfish?" I have gotten to know Sveta quite well so I will try to explain how I think she was feeling when she called me selfish. The first word that comes to mind is "defensive." I say defensive because Sveta is very sensitive and also very insecure. She doesn't want to think that she is the cause of anyone else's pain. She feels overly responsible for someone else's feelings because this is the way she was raised. Her mother, in particular, used Sveta, much in the same way that my mother used me, to try to fill her unmet emotional needs. Our mothers did this by trying to make us feel responsible for their feelings.
The second word is hurt. The third is unimportant. The fourth is uncared about. The fifth is not understood.
I'll just talk about the last one now. I have seen several times that she has a big need to feel understood. It is very difficult for her to listen to someone else talk because she has such a big need to talk. She wants people to understand how bad life is in Bulgaria, how much corrpution there is, how much her parents have suffered, how much she has suffered, how important her family is to her, why English is so important to her, etc. Sveta doesn't feel understood by enough people. In particular she doesn't feel understood by her parents.
She would like me to help her fill her unmet need to feel understood, loved, cared about. When I don't, she calls me selfish.
|When and Why Do We Call Others
This is from a blog entry questioning our use of the word selfish. The author makes the point that when we call someone selfish we usually have our own personal motives for doing so.
See also selfish, suicide
|Editorial about Selfish, Suicide, Rape|
|Add your Stories
Please write to us and add your stories about when you have been called selfish, or when you have seen the word used to manipulate someone.