First published on KSL.COM
SALT LAKE CITY — Amid the uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and recent Utah earthquake, it is important to understand that fear about our own safety can create selfish behavior.
Humans who are afraid often succumb to a self-preservation mindset, which can make them behave badly. They might even do things like buying up all the available toilet paper and leave none for anyone else, and we are seeing examples of this fear-driven behavior all around us.
Fear makes other people feel like a threat to your safety and well-being (on the subconscious level). This can cause us to see others as the enemy, and we might be quick to judge or criticize them too. Watching this behavior play out all around us helps us to better understand this interesting human tendency and how this behavior might show up in our daily lives, even when there is no emergency.
Every day, we get triggered by fear in all kinds of situations, and this can create selfishness too. As a human behavior expert, I think it might be helpful to understand how and why this happens.
2 core fears
I believe there are two core fears that are responsible for almost all of our bad behavior:
Whenever you are having a loss experience like this, your ego will step up to protect you and other people’s needs will become much less important. Whenever you are afraid of being mistreated or stressed that things might go wrong, you experience fear of loss. This fear can also make you distrustful of other people, and you might become controlling as a way to feel safer.
Fear of failure is easier to understand. It is the fear of looking bad, being judged, being criticized or feeling not good enough. Any time you feel insecure, unattractive or stupid, you are having a fear of failure experience.
Which is your biggest core fear?
Both of the two core fears affect you (and every human on the planet) to some degree, every day. We all experience both of them but are each dominant in one. Take a minute and decide which is a bigger issue for you.
Are you more insecure and worried about judgment or criticism from others? A people pleaser? If so, you’re probably fear-of-failure dominant.
Are you more controlling, pushy and critical if things aren’t right around you? If so, you’re probably fear-of-loss dominant.
It is helpful to know which is your core fear because this is the trigger that drives your bad behavior and selfishness.
How fear of failure drives selfishness in relationships
When you are afraid you aren’t good enough, you can become overly needy for validation and reassurance to quiet your insecurity. You may get easily offended by anything that looks or feels like criticism or attack. In this state, your focus won’t be on giving love and validation, it will be on getting the reassurance you need to quiet your fear.
People who suffer greatly from low self-esteem often can’t see the selfishness in their needy behavior. They can’t see that worrying about being accepted is still focused on themselves. They might also make their loved ones feel responsible for their self-esteem and sense of safety in the world, which is unfair and won’t work.
It is impossible to give an insecure person enough validation to make up for their own belief that they aren’t good enough. If your spouse or partner expects you to validate them enough to cure their fear of failure, they are setting you up to fail. If you are in a relationship with someone who is overly insecure, this might also start to feel like a great burden to carry; you may even start to resent them for being so needy.
If this kind of selfishness shows up in your relationship, work on changing your belief that a human can be "not good enough." You would benefit most from some coaching on changing your beliefs on how human value is determined and on seeing all humans as having unchangeable value all the time. This is the only way to quiet the fear.
You must trust that you have the same value as everyone else on the planet, no matter what you do. When a person gets committed to this new belief, they should be less needy and have more love to give.
How fear of loss drives selfishness in relationships
When you are afraid you aren’t safe in the world, every situation and every person can feel like a threat to your safety. You may become overly controlling, opinionated and/or dominating as a way to make the world feel safer. If you can make or force everything to be right, and you are always right about everything, you would feel safer.
This behavior can look like you always need things done your way, that you’re constantly on the lookout for mistreatment, and you’re struggling to put up with behavior that bothers you.
If you are in a relationship with a person whose fear creates this kind of behavior, you might feel like you’re walking on eggshells trying not to offend them. Everything in the relationship is centered on keeping them happy. This also wears on relationships and can push people away from you.
If this kind of selfishness shows up in your relationship, what is really needed is to work on changing your belief that your journey can be ruined or diminished by other people. Play with the idea that God and/or the universe are working with the choices we all make to create the perfect classroom journey for each of us, every day. See how it feels if you believe that everything you experience is here to bless you, serve you and help you grow.
If everything is a blessing, then there is no loss. It is a radical idea, but just as likely true as believing in chaos. When you see the world as on your side and safe, you will have more love for others and bandwidth for making them happy too.
Grow and serve
During this season of pandemics and earthquakes, we can all benefit from trusting that our value can’t change, failure isn’t on the table, and that the universe is sending this experience to grow us and serve us. When we trust we are safe — that there is order, meaning and purpose in these unusual experiences — we will be more capable of thinking about others, and our selfishness should decrease.
Even though hoarding toilet paper made you (your ego) feel safer, reaching out to your neighbors to see if they need any toilet paper would make you feel even better. Love is more rewarding than safety.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.