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10 Ways to Grow out of Selfishness and into Kindness

Jolene Underwood

Contributing Writer
Published Dec 13, 2019
10 Ways to Grow out of Selfishness and into Kindness

Selfishness shows up when fear, pain, and pride cause us to protect ourselves more than reveal truth to others. We hide our true thoughts, feelings, needs, and even our gifts, which leads to living internally isolated and shame-filled. Holding back the good and bad keeps us from connecting intimately. God has better for us.

When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, man chose self over God. We look to self as the source for preferred positive outcomes, which places our desires above God. And others.

Selfishness shows up when fear, pain, and pride cause us to protect ourselves more than reveal truth to others. We hide our true thoughts, feelings, needs, and even our gifts, which leads to living internally isolated and shame-filled. Holding back the good and bad keeps us from connecting intimately. God has better for us.

Growing out of selfishness requires a heart repeatedly surrendering self-will for God’s will.

Begin growing out of selfishness and toward a kinder and more generous spirit with these 10 steps. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images

1. Start with God-Awareness

When things don’t go our way, God may feel distant. When situations are hard to handle, it’s easy to think we’re on our own to make it better. Our vision for the future is limited to what we can see and figure out, but this turns to self as the source of our lives.

The enemy will do whatever he can to get us to rely on ourselves instead of God, which brings destruction (John 10:10). God is the source of life—not only the source of our daily lives, but the source of our ability to live with freedom, peace, and joy.

No matter what you’re feeling or thinking, begin with awareness. God consistently wants to reveal Himself, so ask what He wants you to know. Pay attention to God revelations as you pray, read Scripture, and worship. Look for them in the days ahead. Write them down.

2. Absorb God’s Truth about Who You Are, and Others Too

Verses about denying yourself to follow God tripped me up for years (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). I falsely believed I needed to give up everything of myself to be selfless. It caused me to put myself in unsafe situations and tolerate significant harm towards my body and soul.

Through healing, God showed me my value. I resisted, because it felt selfish. In trying to not be selfish, I focused on self in unhealthy ways. My insistence that God was wrong about my value put my version of truth above God’s, which was the very thing I didn’t want.

Each of us were created in His image and designed to reflect Him to the world. When we don’t allow His image to shine through us, we deny His power at work through us. And the world misses out.

When we recognize and believe the value God sees in each of us (Romans 12:3), we’re positioned to live God-sourced instead of self-sourced lives.

3. Recognize Unhealthy Defensiveness

Defending ourselves is sometimes necessary and appropriate, like getting out of harm’s way. Unhealthy defensiveness shows up when we don’t live out of the value God assigns and when our value is attacked.

Consider your words, motivations, body language, and reactive patterns. Defensive words may sound like, “I was just,” “But you,” or “No, I didn’t.” Try words like, “You may be right,” “I may be wrong,” and “Help me understand.” Notice tone, facial expressions, and posturing. Don’t explain why another person is wrong or say they misunderstood you when you need to understand their point of view.

Our motivations are only known to us and God (Galatians 6:3), but they are often experienced by others in damaging ways. We may not notice our defensive patterns so it’s helpful to ask a trusted person, “How do you experience me?” Take note of how you react to their honest assessment. Defensiveness reveals areas that need growth and healing.

4. Get Quiet 

Busy lives keep us focused on the things we need and want. We figure things out and make them happen, worried about all the “what ifs.” Prayers become pleas for more of what we want, over what God wants.

God is always at work to draw us closer to Him. When we stay busy, we miss out on the richness of knowing His presence with us. We need to get quiet and receive what He has to say, which may differ from the answers we’re looking for.

By setting aside time to tune out all other distractions and allowing our spirits to connect to God’s, we find rest and healing. We confess and receive forgiveness. We can relinquish fears and attempts to control.

5. Receive God’s Provision

One of the biggest sources of selfishness in myself is believing it’s up to me to get what I want. I’ve missed blessings because I took care of what I needed before God could provide a different way.

His timeline is not ours. His way is not ours. What He provides isn’t always what we want or think it should be. It’s scary to not know if you’ll have what you need. Yet, this journey grows our faith as we trust God has good things for us.

Ask God this simple question, “What would you have me receive from you today?” Then get quiet. Write down what you notice 

6. Carry Another’s Burdens

Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” When a friend goes through a hard time and we provide a safe space for them, we help them carry their burden. They don’t have to handle things on their own.

We aren’t to carry the weight for others, which is their load as mentioned in verse five. We are called to carry with them. The idea is to sit with another through their doubts, struggles, and challenges. We provide comfort, encouragement, and practical help. This keeps us from focusing on ourselves by seeing one another and caring for their needs.

7. Let God Lead Your Desires and Grow Your Gifts

As Christians, we sometimes believe unhealthy extremes regarding our gifts and desires. Worldly influences tell us to not let anything get in our way. Do whatever it takes to be all you can be: the focus is all on me. I’ve been more likely to shy away from shining brightly so the world can see. I’m more likely to hide the very design God gave me which reflects more of Him to the benefit of the world. Not using our gifts denies the goodness of God.

It’s important to remember God is the giver of gifts and desires. Don’t shy away from them. Always let God define them.

The world benefits when we find the middle ground. Use your gifts. God gave you strengths in some areas and allowed weaknesses in others. Honor God by exploring how He might have you use them.

Notice your desires. Examine them with God. Desires are designed to lead us toward God. Without examination and Holy Spirit leading, we will focus on ourselves above others. Let His truth guide you so that desires don’t get distorted by the enemy.

8. Do Not Neglect Doing Good

When life gets tough, we are likely to self-protect. Some protection is healthy, like necessary rest for our minds, bodies, and spirits. However, shutting people out, especially for an extended time, would be unhealthy. We need connection in community to thrive.

Hebrews 13:16 tells us, “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Prior to this verse, Paul exhorts the Hebrews to love one another as brothers and sisters, show hospitality to strangers, visit those in prison, honor the marriage bed, and praise God vocally.

These are good things in God’s eyes. We are to consider others and do good for them. Not to puff us up by doing great things, but because our good comes from trusting God. We love others because of Him.

9. Grow Love with Limits

Living without limits is unloving. By not setting limits on what we can and can’t do, we open ourselves up to playing God. Only God can do all things and even He works within limits.

Giving beyond what we have eventually catches up with us. It causes us to limit our love by withholding our true needs, resenting that others have needs, and taking what we need.

Grow in acts of love, with limits. Let God lead you into wild acts that don’t make sense. Also honor the truth that you have needs and trust God to provide. He sometimes provides through other people, which means we need to give and receive.

10. Receive Healing with Humility

At the root of selfish acts are pride and pain. Damaging beliefs get wired in when we are hurt through actions, circumstances, and neglect of care. Pain without comfort builds up, which can cause us to close in on ourselves. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions become all about us.

Pride showed up in the Garden of Eden. Our desire to know good and evil, to play God without relying on God, keeps us from experiencing freedom from selfishness. Before we can address the pain, we must admit pride.

All of us have areas of pain in need of healing. We all have pride in need of humbling. Admit your need for God and relinquish attempts to assume God’s role.

A life of selflessness is not a life void of self. It’s one filled by God and letting God be God.

Jolene Underwood is an emotional health warrior and soul care mentor. She provides practical and spiritual support for cultivating life within the Christian soul by drawing upon her personal journey towards emotional health, her psychology background, and a passion for Christian counseling. Jolene writes regularly at JoleneUnderwood.com. She also leads a community of writers called Rise Up Writers. Her tool, Unleash : Heart and Soul Care Sheets, has helped hundreds experience greater freedom. Connect with her online via YouTube/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest at @theJoleneU or via the Cultivated Life Newsletter.

headshot of author Jolene UnderwoodJolene Underwood is a trauma and abuse-informed therapist and growth coach. Jolene helps individuals cultivate the courage, character, and connection for the LIFE they’re designed for. Her personal journey towards emotional health and training in Christian counseling inform the practical support she provides for spiritual growth and emotional healing. Her tool, Unleash: Heart and Soul Care Sheets, has helped hundreds experience greater freedom. For further support, teaching, and tools in developing the life God designed for you, she offers a growth community called Cultivate Together. Connect with her online via YouTube/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest at @theJoleneU or stay up to date on new content via Jolene Underwood's Newsletter

Note: Counseling services are available via telehealth for adult residents of Texas only. No advice given here should be a substitute for mental health services.