Selfishness VS Self-Preservation – Where Do You Draw the Line?

“Not everyone has a sob story, Charlie, and even if they do, it’s no excuse.”
– Charlie’s father, Perks of Being a Wallflower

I’ve read that book so long ago, and yet this quote still stands boldly in my mind.
There are many trials that come your way in Life, and it is these trials that either make or break you. You either choose to be a victim, you either choose to get carried away by the current of Life and let it dictate what you do and where you go. Or. There is another option, and it is by far the HARD CHOICE. You choose to rise above this. You choose to defy the current, defy the negativity that Life bombards you with, and change your situation. Change how you are. Grow. Become stronger. Become something that can withstand challenge.

I actually disagree with the first half of the above quote. I do believe everyone has a sob story, unfortunately “sob story” is subjective. Everyone has something deep down that they are disturbed by, something that causes them pain and anguish and anxiety and depression. Something in their past that threatens to guide their hand.  But, not all sob stories are created equal. Some sob stories, when viewed with perspective on the world and all its possible tragedies, are downright petty and pointless. But even if your sob story is legit….even if you have the worst life ever, where your father would rape you every night he came home drunk while you were growing up or something like that, your past is NOT AN EXCUSE for how you deal with the present or the future.

It might make your actions, especially the shitty stuff you do, more understandable.

But that still doesn’t make it okay.

Just because you were abused as a kid doesn’t mean it’s ALRIGHT for you to become a kleptomaniac. A shitty childhood doesn’t excuse a pathological liar. It doesn’t excuse a serial cheater. Just because some man in your past tortured you in his basement doesn’t mean it’s okay to hate all men on the face of the Earth.  If your family raised you on a diet that made you fat, and you’re an adult now, guess what? You have the power to control what goes in to your mouth, in what quantities and (very important) what qualities in terms of nutrition. It’s weak to allow your past to control yourself. It may make your situation more understandable, for sure. There should be NO SHAME in the past. But you are in control now and you can make that choice every day to change your situation and BE WHO YOU WANT TO BE. Why would you let your past and the trials of Life dictate who you are? It is the easy choice to give up. It is the easy choice to pretend that there ISN’T a choice.

There is ALWAYS a choice.

To everyone who thinks they can’t help themselves…to everyone who blames something in their past for what they are…to everyone who uses their past as an excuse for how shitty they are in present day and in days yet to come….


Take charge of your life, because no one is gonna do it for you. We all have our own crap to deal with. You don’t wanna be an asshole? Stop being an asshole. You hate your friends? Stop being their friend.  Of course fighting against your circumstances is hard, of course being a good person is hard.  If it was easy then we wouldn’t have so many assholes covering the world, now would we?

Which brings up the whole “Selfishness VS Self-Preservation” thing – where do you draw the line? Is one inherently part of the other? Is true altruism the lack of self-preservation?

I was talking with my boyfriend tonight and he was torn up, emotionally. His ex-girlfriend called him up out of nowhere, with an unknown number, past 10PM. They dated for 1.5 years, got a dog together, and split some months later. They shared custody of the dog at first, but at one point she took the dog and wouldn’t answer any calls, emails, or messages from him. Complete radio silence – she didn’t want to give the dog back. The dog is technically in his name, legally speaking, and this was kidnapping/stealing. He eventually got the dog back, thank God. It’s been ~2 years since then, give or take a few months, and she called to ask if she could see Jasper again. Now, the very idea of seeing her again, even on the street, fills my boyfriend with complete dread and panic-attack-like-fear and stress. He turned her down….but felt guilty. “Sad,” he had said to me. He felt bad for her, and he said that even though the things she did (which caused them to break up prior to the kidnapping) were horrible, awful, shitty things to do, he felt bad for her because she “Couldn’t help herself.” Because of her past, because of her terrible childhood, it dictated and explained all of her actions in adulthood.


She’s not the only one who had a terrible childhood, and no I’m not going to make this in to a contest of who has the worst life before age 10. It’s not about that. Because it doesn’t matter. You can be sad about your past, you can learn from it, but do you let it control you and turn you in to an awful person? No! People need to stop being a victim and take charge. I’d be more sympathetic if a person actually tried but still got awfulness in return. That truly sucks. But some people, a whole hell of a LOT of people, don’t even try. They give in, they play the victim, they resign themselves and let the waves of Life yank their body around like a ragdoll caught in the tide.

I don’t think it’s selfish to have self-preservation. My boyfriend feels it is selfish to deny her the chance to see Jasper. But there is no good that can come out of this. Say we look at this from a Utilitarian, Humanistic point of view – does the good outweigh the bad? What good can come out of making the choice to allow her to see Jasper? NONE. The answer is none. Not enough good to make it worth it, at least. You can argue that one should be giving, and FORgiving. You can argue that even assholes deserve some niceties – what right do you have to judge them and deny them things? You can argue that it is selfish to stop giving in to their demands.

That’s the thing though, with assholes, it’s ENABLING their bad behavior. Assholes are like petty spoiled children. Say a 2 year old is crying his ass off, begging you and screaming for more candy. Do you give it to him? NO, because you’re enabling him to be a little asshole (who will grow up to be a bigger asshole). Giving him candy isn’t even good for the kid, and the kid would pay for it later, despite thinking he really wants the candy right now. You can’t just keep giving people what they want. At best, you will absolve YOURSELF from the guilt of having to deny that person what they want. But cutting him off, that is not selfishness. That is self-preservation, overlapping with TOUGH LOVE. People have to stop being enablers. Actually, if all you do is absolve yourself from guilt while enabling the other person to continue down a harmful path, it is arguably SELFISH of you to choose to give in to them. People have to realize it’s okay to say no, in fact, it could be beneficial in the long run…not just for you, but for that asshole in question….because this gives them an opportunity to grow from the challenge. This gives them an opportunity to look at where they are and change things, hopefully for the better.

After getting off the phone and still feeling somewhat enraged by tonight, I found an interesting post on Reddit that speaks in regards to Selfishness VS Self-preservation, and where the line is. It actually lines up with the “enablement” that I was talking about. I don’t think I am explaining it in a convincing and logical way, so please read this post instead. Found it through Reddit’s search bar.  I think I even explained the concept of enabling much better to my boyfriend, in the heat of the moment, better than I have here in my blog post. Screenshot and transcription below.  Click the image for a bigger, more readable view.

Here is the main comment, transcribed:

“Upvote for you, I think this is a great question.

True Story: I know a family who had 5 kids. The kids grew into adults, but continued to feed/leach off their parents. The parents continued to enable their children by helping them in every way they possibly could; money, food, transportation, housing, etc. The adult children married and had many children of their own, and the practice continued, with none of them giving back to the parents what they had used/borrowed/taken.

Eventually, the very harmony of family fell apart as the income from the parents was no longer enough to sustain them all, and so the kids moved away. The orginal family home now showed signs of neglect. The floors began to fall in, the roof in dire need of repair, and yet there wasn’t enough money to fix any of it. The parents had given all they could, sacrificed everything they had, for their kids and grandkids. The mother died not long after, and the father sold what was left of the house and moved to another state, with the money from the house being split between the 5 kids. (The house sold for only $30k.)

Now, today, the cycle continues. Only one of the kids graduated from college, two from highschool, the remaining two dropped out. They continue to leach off each other, but primarily the one who graduated from college. None of the grandkids (young adults now) have learned any life skills and now have kids of their own. A very sad story, imo.

I would defend another and sacrifice myself for another’s life who was in danger. But in daily life I think the sacrifice we should make is to teach others how to care for themselves. How to stand on their own and make a life for themselves. I think that we should be careful not to let others ‘tear us down’, as then we couldn’t help anyone else.

I didn’t say it very well, but yes, OP, I think we should drawn a line at the point where it would jeapordize our own livelihood.”

Ranty rant rant rant. I’ve been wanting to write about something with more substance, more opinion, and more meat than a diary post. Guess I got my wish. But there’s still a little diary in there. ;)

Does anyone else have any thoughts about anything mentioned here? Especially where you draw the line between Selfishness and Self-Preservation?  I don’t care if you disagree with me, but I won’t approve any ad hominem attacks.  That’s not arguing a side, that’s being petty.


2 thoughts on “Selfishness VS Self-Preservation – Where Do You Draw the Line?

  1. One of the things that really helps me, and what I’ve struggled to impress on my 19-year-old son, is the following philosophy of life.

    One of the most frustrating and most empowering things you will realize in your life is this: where ever you are, your choices got you there. And if you don’t want to be in that place, it’s only your choices that are going to get you out.

    I’m not saying there aren’t extenuating circumstances. Things do happen that are beyond your control. Maybe you’ve been abused or something, but you can choose to get counseling or something to help you learn better ways to cope with it.

    Our now 19-year-old son, for example, has wanted to do nothing but sit on his butt and play video games for years. We rode his butt to get him to do his homework, and then later just to go to school. After he dropped out we had to ride his butt to get him to earn his GED. We told him we didn’t care what he wanted to do with his life, so long as it was legal, but he had to pick something. He decided on community college and flunked out in one semester. After that, about four months ago, we finally kicked him out for a few days. As he put it, “That sucked worse than I thought it would.” He’s back in the house now, and we’re paying for him to get his CDL. The school he’ll be studying at has something like a 91% job placement rate. He is actually making plans as to what he’s going to do when he has his job; the apartment he’ll have, bringing his out of state girlfriend into town, how they’ll handle their finances.

    Now you can say he shouldn’t be in the house anymore. You can say we shouldn’t pay for him to get his CDL. And yes, we still need to push him a little bit. It’s hard to completely cut off your children. I can tell you one thing, though, and our son knows it: this is his absolute last chance. He can learn to support himself and then go out on his own or he can go out on his own with no marketable skills and find it sucks even worse than he thought it did before.

    We firmly believe that the most important thing we can do for our children is to teach them to survive on their own. If that means they need counseling, ok. If that means they need us to ride their butt and eventually throw them out, that works too. Every child is different. It’s not easy; it never is. Life isn’t easy. Sometimes no matter what you do to change things it doesn’t work out. That doesn’t mean you stop trying. Whatever happens to you, unless it’s a terminal disease, you’re going to survive it and have to learn how to live with the experience. Sometimes it’s excruciating, but what’s the alternative? Stay miserable? Die? I don’t think either of those are viable options.

    Life sucks. It really does, but it’s all we have.

    • Wow, thank you for the long comment. I’m so glad to hear things are working and turning around for your son!!! These kinds of hopeful stories brighten my day. I know of another “screw-up” kind of kid – I say kid but he’s about 24 now I think. He made a lot of terrible choices, was very immature, eventually got a woman with very petty views on life pregnant. I thought he’d be a terrible father but surprisingly, that was the kick in the butt he needed to get his life together, and thankfully he isn’t with that woman anymore.

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