Selfishness, Selflessness, and Intimacy: How To Find the Balance

Selfishness Selflessness Intimacy Find Balance

Sam does not show any effort to empathize with Mac but he does allow Mac to empathize with him. The ideal approach to intimacy, where both parties empathize with each other, is not available either to Sally or Sam. With Sally, no empathy is possible because she refuses to share herself (although she does share her time). Sam is not interested in Mac’s feelings, so he does not even attempt to empathize with Mac, but he does make his feelings very clear and Mac can feel them if he so chooses. Suboptimal, but not zero.

So why is Sally seen as more empathic and more desirable, when in fact she is not accessible? Because Sally’s selflessness allows her to be whoever anyone wants her to be. Haley sees herself in Sally. If Haley wants a hamburger, Sally will say that she wants one too. Perfect companion! As long as Haley likes herself, she will like Sally. But she cannot feel close or intimate.

The biggest barrier to intimacy for Sam is that he can’t see Mac. He doesn’t care to. Mac will feel invisible because Sam does not ask or consider his feelings or needs. What if Mac wants to also have a cocktail? This doesn’t even occur to Sam. Thus, Mac cannot feel close to him.

Related: Affection and Love: 10 Ways to Improve Intimacy in Your Relationship

Intimacy requires the participation of two individuals, each with a healthy balance between selfishness and selflessness. Here are some examples of what that balance is based upon:

  • Sufficient selfishness is required to express and assert your needs for the purpose of sharing.
  • Sufficient selflessness is required to put your own feelings aside temporarily while you feel someone else’s feelings.
  • A sufficient level of selfishness is necessary to be able to share with or please another person without losing yourself. Sally is a people-pleaser and completely loses herself (she becomes Haley) when her friend tries to share with her.
  • A sufficient level of selflessness is necessary to derive pleasure from pleasing another person or sharing with them. Sam is too self-absorbed to experience this.

Finding a balance between selfishness and selflessness is personal and unique to each individual. Your personal balance should be based on how you feel about intimacy and other aspects of socialization that are affected.

What do you think?


Written by: Daniel S. Lobel, Ph.D.
Originally appeared on Psychology Today
Republished with permission.

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