Psychologists say we’re living in a world that is increasingly centered on individualism.
While generations of the past tended to be more communal, family-oriented, and worked together as opposed to independently—in this day and age psychologists say that people are more self-reliant, self-absorbed, and self-centered (ouch!).
Research shows a rise in narcissism as people are becoming more isolated and focused on themselves rather than on others.
Psychologist Ronald E. Riggio, PhD, says that even though social media connects us to other people, it can “actually lead to a greater degree of self-centeredness as people strive to make their presence ‘known.’”
“Much of social media is ‘all about me’,” he says.
But social media doesn’t take all the blame.
A preoccupation with self-absorption could also be rooted in “overly doting helicopter parents,” who unintentionally create great narcissism in children, Riggio adds.
Yet another reason for the rise in self-centeredness in our times could be society’s obsession with royalty, celebrity, and narcissistic role models and leaders.
So how do you know for certain if you’re dealing with someone who is self-absorbed and then some?
Here are five rather “selfish” signs.
1) They live in their own little world
A self-centered person thinks the world revolves around them. They need to be the center of attention and have a “what’s in this for me” type of mentality.
They’re not above using charm and manipulation to get their own way.
“They know you have wants and needs of your own, but they don’t care. After all, theirs is more important,” says the team at Happier Human..
A self-absorbed person, by contrast, isn’t quite so cunning. They just have an arrogance about them and don’t really notice anyone around them.
“Their thoughts are entirely centered on whatever interests them at the moment…For this person, they only care about what is in front of them at the moment.”
A relative told me a story recently that I think illustrates this point.
He was driving with his family to Niagara Falls when he suddenly started to have car trouble on the highway. He was able to get the car to an off-ramp and into a Canadian Tire.
The mechanics understandably couldn’t fix the car right away and my friend had his in-laws who were waiting for them at the Falls. His brother-in-law came to pick them up (about an hour’s drive).
Then his brother-in-law drove them back home at the end of the evening. Then my brother had to drive back a couple of hours the next day to pick up the car.
All in all what was supposed to be a fun weekend with his in-laws who were visiting from abroad, it turned out to be a bummer.
On the following Monday, he went to work and told his boss about his lousy weekend. (FYI—the boss has a reputation for being self-absorbed)
The boss’ response: “So do you think you’ll be able to get that report to me by the end of the day?”
No “Oh that’s too bad.” No acknowledgement or understanding. Nothing.
2) They’re obsessed with their own opinions
If you make the mistake of giving your opinion on something to a self-absorbed person, it will be as if they didn’t hear you.
That’s because people who are self-absorbed tend to speak the most in conversations and meetings, says Aimee Daramus, PsyD.
“When you talk to them, it can feel like the conversation only focuses on their life, their accomplishments, and their problems.”
They’re also inclined to interrupt when other people are speaking as a way to bring the conversation back to them.
Their inability to see anything—or anyone— outside of themselves makes them lack empathy, says Sanjana Gupta from Very Well Mind.
“Being empathetic toward others requires one to put themselves in another person’s shoes and understand their feelings. [Self absorbed] people may not be able to see things from another person’s perspective in order to empathize with them.”
3) They rarely take responsibility for their actions
Self-absorbed people like to play the blame game.
Christine B.L. Adams, MD has studied egocentric people for 40 years. She and her colleague Homer B. Martin, MD discovered that self-absorbed people have unique ways of thinking, behaving, and emoting that make up their personalities.
“We discovered they go through their lives believing unconsciously they are inept and helpless.”
In their book, entitled Living on Automatic, they refer to this as “impotent personality.”
Adams says that a self-absorbed person’s inflated sense of self-worth compels them to blame others for their own deficiencies.
They have “tunnel vision” and are unlikely to change their behavior, even when it’s causing them problems.
4) You feel emotionally exhausted every time you engage with them
Being around a self-absorbed person can be draining and then some.
They tend to have three interaction patterns that can frustrate and tire the person talking to them, says Alice Boyes, PhD.
For one thing, they love participating in “one-upmanship” For example, if you tell them you have a stomach ache, they’ll tell you about the time they got their appendix out.
Or if you say you’re going to the beach this weekend, they’ll tell you about the time they went to Cuba, Hawaii, and Jamaica.
Self-absorbed people don’t like the focus being on anyone else’s distress, projects, or goals, says Boyes.
“If you tell a self-absorbed person what you have going on, they will tell you about something bigger they’re experiencing or doing. This could be positive or negative,” she says.
“For example, if you tell them about your COVID vaccine symptoms, they will no doubt have had more severe symptoms. If you tell them about a craft project, they will tell you their plans to renovate their whole house.”
You get the picture.
5) They have a hard time holding onto relationships
Self-absorbed people are so self-focused that they don’t put their partner’s needs above their own.
But whether it’s personal or professional relationships, they demand that others fulfill their desires, says Adams.
“This is the only way they are not helpless. They easily raise a ruckus, throw tantrums, threaten, and may become violent.”
Others will work diligently to meet their requests and demands, and the “impotent personality” remains inert, says Adams, doing nothing or next to nothing.
“When thwarted, impotent personalities demand more and do it louder. This way of engaging in relationships is the only way an impotent knows how to interact because it was the only way [they were] taught as a child.”
It’s no wonder then that people eventually leave them.
A self-absorbed person’s preoccupation with themselves undermines the closeness, or intimacy that all relationships require if they’re to be nurturing and resilient, says Leon F. Seltzer, PhD.
Some strategies for dealing with a self-absorbed person
There’s no way to avoid every self-absorbed person on the planet, but you can tone-down their effect on you.
For one thing, don’t take the things they say personally, says the staff at the Cleveland Clinic.
“You cannot normalize these interactions, not take them personally. Because the minute you begin to personalize these types of behaviors, you’re in trouble.”
That’s because this just sets you up to be manipulated in some way.
“Set limits. They’re going to do what they want, but it doesn’t have to impact the way that you do things.”
It’s also advisable to set healthy boundaries, says behavioral health therapist, Ken Alexander, M.Ed. Communicate any needs and if they aren’t respected, then that’s your sign to withdraw.
Alexander says it’s okay to make time and space for positive interactions, but “on the other hand, limit how often you’re around self-absorbed people because it can make things healthier for you.”
Alexander adds that limiting your interactions with someone who isn’t invested in you shouldn’t be that difficult because you’re not getting any reward in return.
“So, distance is often a necessary component.”
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