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Becoming Self-Less

I’m sure you know what selfish means and it’s not considered a particularly lovely trait by most people. But what do I mean when I suggest that you become self-less? Typically, the term selfless refers to people who put other people’s needs before their own. Selfless people typically have very little concern for making money, becoming famous, or obtaining a prestigious position.

But that definition doesn’t quite fit what I mean by self-less (note I put in a hyphen to distinguish the term from selfless). I think people can and probably should have at least some concern for their own needs in terms of finances, relationships, security, and so on. And sometimes your own needs may even have to take precedence over the needs of others.

But people all too often seriously mess themselves up when they become overly concerned about themselves and their egos. They experience exquisite concerns with how they look, what they say, mistakes they make, who likes them and who doesn’t, et cetera.

People who worry a lot about their egos judge just about everything that they do. Their internal dialogues consist of an endless loop of self-hate and vitriol with thoughts such as “How could I be so stupid?,” “I hate myself,” “No one could be this dumb,” “I’ll never amount to anything,” “Nobody could ever like me,” and on and on. It’s pretty difficult to feel alright with thoughts like those.

But the alternative isn’t as simple as it seems. The solution does not come from merely trying to pump yourself up with positive self-affirmations like “I’m wonderful,” “I’m the best,” “I can do anything I put my mind to,” or “I’m number one.” The problem with that approach is that you still end up ceaselessly judging and evaluating everything that you do. And filling your mind with positive self-statements is likely to leave you feeling quite punctured and deflated whenever those positive thoughts are put into question by actual failures, mistakes, and difficulties.

Instead, the real solution comes from working on having less concern about your “self” and your ego. Try to stop judging everything you do and say. Let go of evaluating and criticizing your every move. Work on accepting who you are and what you do without giving yourself a rating.

An excellent exercise to show you how easily the mind engages in negative judging is to sit in a room and try criticizing every single item in the room—the chairs, the flooring, the ceiling, the art, everything. You’re likely to discover that even if you’d rather liked that room, it’s ridiculously easy for your mind to trash everything in it. That’s because most people’s minds are so accustomed to judging and evaluating.

So try working on letting go of the obsessive need to judge yourself. When you hear negative (or positive) thoughts about yourself in your mind, try responding to them by saying “I don’t need to evaluate myself. I want just to accept what is. Let it be.”

Dropping your ego and need to evaluate yourself takes time and effort. Old habits die hard. But the more you learn to take on a self-less attitude, the happier you’re likely to become.

Senior woman and helper photo available from Shutterstock.

Becoming Self-Less

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and a Founding Fellow in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He is also a member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University. He specializes in the treatment of adolescents and adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, anger, depression, and personality disorders. Dr. Elliott is coauthor of: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Ed), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Why Can't I Get What I Want?, Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be?, and Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth. His website is:

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APA Reference
Elliott, C. (2012). Becoming Self-Less. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Mar 2012
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