Am I too selfish? Help me be more altruistic.
January 19, 2017 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Recent situations have shown me that I am not helpful enough and that I'm being selfish.

I am annoyed when people ask me for favors. I'm in my early twenties and live with my parents rent free and I'm still not grateful enough to help some more around the house. Right now I live with relatives who have recently immigrated and I've become resentful of all the things I have to do for them. (filling out paperwork, driving them to places, etc.) I have this fear of a loss of control and that they will take advantage of me. I rarely go out of my way to help others, although I do have empathy for those in bad situations. I scored 37% on the egoism/altruism test by psychology today. Help me be less annoyed and want to be more helpful!
posted by sheepishchiffon to Human Relations (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are you

- getting enough sleep?
- getting enough time alone doing fun things eg reading books, hobbies?
- getting enough time with friends?
- Anxious?
- Depressed?

often "selfish" is actually "stressed out" and/or "exhausted".
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 4:49 PM on January 19, 2017 [13 favorites]

Mostly what you describe just sounds like a normal young person living at home with their parents and feeling somewhat frustrated, which is generally considered a positive thing in US culture as it prompts people to take the steps they need to take for independence.

It's hard to advise you. Your fear of loss of control may be informed by your past or your knowledge of the people you are dealing with. Most of us find it difficult to be grateful and generous when we feel less powerful, manipulated or anxious about a situation.

All that aside, an important key to altruism is patience. You want to *feel* altruistic, but sometimes doing the right thing doesn't come with the warm and fuzzy feelings. Sometimes you'd rather not be sorting coats for the homeless but it needs to get done, so you take a deep breath and try to refocus your attention on how much those coats are needed and how grateful the recipients will be, and how great it is that so many people generously donated coats. It's okay to not always feel like doing it. The homeless person who gets the coat will get a warm coat, and it doesn't matter to them whether you were feeling warm and fussy about sorting the coat for them or not.

On preview - Sockpuppets 'R' Us is on point.
posted by bunderful at 4:52 PM on January 19, 2017 [8 favorites]

Can you put some boundaries on when you help your relatives? That might help with the feeling like you're being taken advantage of.

Like "sure I can drive you to X, can we do that at Y time"?

You might need to be out of the house more often if you need some breathing space. Totally normal!
posted by lafemma at 5:16 PM on January 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm still not grateful enough to help some more around the house.

Previous posters made good points. In particular, bunderful's comment about independence. Moving out dramatically improved my sister's sense of control, so when she came home she was spontaneously more helpful around the house. Like, within a month. And she didn't have the added demands of taking care of relatives. She just needs to be independent.

Which isn't to say you should move out (unless you feel that'd be right for you), but recognizing that things at home can be annoying or imperfect even if overall it's the best place for you right now can be a bit freeing. It's not ungrateful to dislike not having control of your schedule.

Would it help to consciously decide that this is how you contribute to the household? Reframe it as an active decision on your part, using lafemma's scrip to gain some control over how it happens.
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:32 PM on January 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Help me be less annoyed and want to be more helpful!

Become more grateful. Grateful for the roof over your head, utilities arranged, bills paid, food bought. All the tedious, time consuming expensive things that most adults have to manage for themselves. Once you realise the value of that, you will understand that the requests made of you are a very fair trade.
posted by Thella at 5:34 PM on January 19, 2017 [9 favorites]

Note: my perspective is one from the US

This is a time in your life for finding yourself and growing away from your family. Yet, you depend on your family (for good reasons) and they depend on you (for good reasons). So it's pretty natural to lack motivation to dive headfirst into family life, even though you know intellectually that their needs are reasonable given the situation you find yourselves in. In your 30's and 40's you may circle back around to put family first, but for now, it's normal to crave the world and to see yourself as an independent actor in it.

If you're looking to maintain control of your life, you may need to find a roommate and move out. But you may also just need to make sure you have a routine that includes things that are fun, interesting, and challenging for you in a good way. I truly believe the key to human happiness the result of making progress toward a goal. Once you're feeding your bliss, you may find a greater abundance of energy for helping others.

So, big question: is there any cause that you feel strongly about? Outside of your family, are you motivated in any way to help humanity and/or the health of the planet? If so, DO IT!

Also, the three things that have helped me tremendously are:
1. Zoloft
2. Doing a tiny bit of my "shoulds" per day. Literally setting a timer for 15 minutes to do housework, for example.
3. Exercise
posted by Pearl928 at 6:43 PM on January 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just had to laugh in a sort of heartbroken way at Thella's comment, & the way it zoomed straight down from Mom Land to the middle of this thread. If you're anything like me, you will ignore all the helpful advice people are offering and seize directly onto that comment, using it as a cudgel to beat yourself up with - a strategy that will, I can promise you, accomplish exactly nothing.

Telling a young person to be grateful she has none of the responsibilities of being an adult is profoundly wrong-headed. You are SUPPOSED to want to be an adult. You are supposed to want to pay rent, and prepare food, and pay utilities: this desire is what is going to power you into adulthood. If teenagers sat around all day feeling just absurdly grateful about how lucky they were to have no responsibilities, and this feeling of immense gratitude led them to cheerfully helping their parents with household chores, it'd be a disaster. That's not how the world works, and nor should it.

You don't feel grateful because you're not living the life that you want. That makes gratitude, and the acts that should stem from gratitude, hard, because it's fundamentally insincere. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be polite and kind and make an effort to help out...but the friction you feel about doing it, and the sense that it doesn't come from a natural place? That's a good thing. It's natural. It means that you understand that this situation isn't right for you, and that is what will give you the motivation to change it.

You're not a bad and selfish person, I swear. You're not any kind of person yet. You're growing up, and so still in the process of becoming.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:21 PM on January 19, 2017 [34 favorites]

pretentious has a very good breakdown of this--but as another young adult living at home, seriously, you gotta buck up and help. I feel unhappy that I don't have the freedom that comes with living on your own due to financial constraints, but I still vacuum and do the dishes because that's adulthood, man. It doesn't mean that you HAVE to feel grateful or naturally altruistic. You can feel however the hell you want; just don't be a brat about it. Do the dishes and clean sometimes. Trust me, I don't feel like it either. (And I'm not calling YOU in particular a brat; I'm speaking in jest.)

I find naming my feelings helpful. "I'm feeling really irritated right now and don't want to help because I'm so annoyed. Gee, should probably do it anyway."
posted by Amy93 at 7:35 PM on January 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

most parents will not stop annoying you until you move out, so trying to adjust your emotions beforehand is a noble but doomed fight.

but the framework is all wrong, you talk about "helping out" your parents around the house you, an adult, live in the way certain fathers talk about "helping out" their wives with childcare and domestic labor. By choosing to live there, you are volunteering not only to do certain things, but to accept the obligation and responsibility to do them. Paying rent isn't something people do just for the physical living space, it's for the privilege of not having to offer the landlord any personal kindnesses or become involved in their household and emotional lives: to be left alone. but of those who live rent-free, only minor children and those in deep distress get given full one-way support with no reciprocity expected.

put another way, this stuff is your rent. that's the deal lots of parents offer; you pay for room and board by bartering your company and your services. It's not a bad deal and unless the stuff they want from you takes so much time that it prevents you from taking a paid job, you are not the one at risk of being taken advantage of. You don't have to be grateful or unselfish, you just have to pay the rent, which is what this stuff is.

like -- when you get your own place eventually, how are you going to motivate yourself to pay the rent when you don't feel any sense of gratitude towards your landlord or want to do him a personal favor? You have to work out a way to do this stuff without needing to feel generous for doing it. ethics aside, you can't force that feeling.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:07 PM on January 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

The way you feel? Pretty much everyone feels that way. "I don't wanna" is the normal response for most people - especially when you're in the middle of doing something you do want to do (even if that's just sitting there - sometimes all you f'ing want to do is just sit there, okay?)

So I wouldn't be down on yourself for feeling selfish. It's the human condition, and whether it's your mom or your boss or your significant other who you love more than anyone, when they ask for you to stop the thing you're doing and do something for them, you're going to bristle a bit on the inside. I am certain that Mother Teresa had occasional "get it your own damn self" reactions on the inside.

The trick is to recognize that every interaction is a choice, and that you can be sure - with almost 100% certainty - that the person asking you for something doesn't want to do it either. It's not actually a power imbalance where you're the one on the hook. It's a stalemate where no one wants to do the thing, and the person in charge of doing ALL the things sees you and is trying to offload some of the things onto you, so there's just a little less falling on their own back. Opening your eyes to the fact that no one wants to do the annoying stuff - that's what makes it annoying - but it still has to get done, may help you find what it takes to volunteer to be the one to do it.

Think about the last time you were in the bathroom and there wasn't any toilet paper. And how it was suddenly on you to solve that, to find where the rolls were and put a new one out. And then realize that someone in the house is not only usually changing the roll, and not only putting spare rolls in every bathroom, but is also keeping track of how much tp is in the house and remembering to buy it when it starts running low, so that you can have that tiny annoyed feeling rather than the pit of dread you would have if at the moment of truth you discovered there was none in the house and you had to use a magazine or your shirt.

I would love to direct you to the massive Emotional Labor thread from a year ago, but I think that might be too much. But I can definitely send you to this post from another thread, which I love: Folks, there are no motherfucking gnomes. Your not doing something tips the balance for someone else. We're all in this world together. You don't do your share because you want to or don't want to. You do it because you want to live in the kind of world in which people do these things for each other.
posted by Mchelly at 8:25 PM on January 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

Here's the good news: You're not selfish. Selfish people don't worry about being too selfish. They worry about being too generous. That's what defines selfishness. So the problem isn't with your core desires, it's with bringing your actions in line with your core/higher desires. And that's a much bigger problem (you're framing it way too specifically) faced by a great many people. The diff with you is that you notice. A great sign! Most people don't!

Aligning action with principle (rather than just posing at it, or bandaid-ing it) requires extensive hacking, which takes years. However every bit of change feels great (i.e. lots of titanic-feeling breakthroughs which, in retrospect, will be seen to have been baby steps). It's a fun way to live your life - and ensures you'll keep growing and opening up even into middle age, where most people intellectually/spiritually/emotionally calcify and shrink.

See my various postings in this thread to see how I did it.
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:39 PM on January 19, 2017

This reminds me of the quote "screw motivation, what you need is discipline" when people are talking about building the motivation needed to go to the gym or study. In this context, I'd rephrase it to "screw gratitude, what you need is to be helpful". Why would you wait for a feeling of gratitude, or of "wanting to be helpful to your parents" before you do housework? They're functionally unrelated. So pick some piece of housework that you know you can do, and start asking "How do I build a habit of loading the dishwasher at night/putting on the laundry/polishing the silverware?"

For the angle of worry that you will be taken advantage of - try and work out exactly what that would look like. Do you fear being asked to spend money on others instead of being able to save to move out? Do you fear slowly being absorbed until you spend 24 hours a day helping them? Figure out how much time or resources you think you can give, and then try and keep track of whether you're doing more or less than you wanted and re-evaluate occasionally, maybe set some time for yourself each weekend to think about the week ahead. Sometimes you'll realize that you underestimated and that you're actually ok with spending 10 hours a day helping care for your friend's dog with cancer, and sometimes you'll realize that you underestimated and you can't spend more than half an hour a day with them before needing to get away and do your own stuff. Then you can start asking how to gently ramp down your level of assistance with a friend, but part of doing that is having a boundary to retreat to.It doesn't do any good to just be worried that maybe you'll wake up one day and be taken advantage of, you have to think ahead of time about what boundaries you want to set.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:14 PM on January 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I took a quick look at your previous asks, and it sounds to me like you're anxious and depressed. Have you been able to find a job? I see that you've been able to move away from your parents' home, but living with relatives isn't quite the same as living independently, so perhaps it didn't provide the relief you were hoping for.

Since you (hopefully) have some financial space, can you put some of that to see a therapist and / or a psychologist to discuss some of these issues and possibly get on medication, even temporarily? You might be surprised how much your motivation levels and outlook change when you've got some breathing room.

I don't think you're selfish, or a bad person. It sounds like you're being pulled in a lot of directions by the culture of the place you're living (and your expectations and hopes for yourself) in versus the culture of your family (and their expectations and hopes for you), and that's not an easy thing to navigate on your own.
posted by ananci at 10:35 PM on January 19, 2017

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