Self-absorption may be responsible for most mental health issues, psychological research suggests.

My heart was never wounded so badly, as by the words of my enemy. Of course, I had no idea that she was my enemy until months later, hence the sudden hurt. It seems I was self-absorbed, and of course, I had no idea that I was falling victim to this narcissistic quality. I replayed the moment in time when she approached me with venom in her eyes and a shaking finger and she said,

“You know what your problem is? Everything is always about you!”

Before then, I had no idea that feeling confident and special was such a bad thing. Not to say that it is, but apparently, I was displaying way too much of this confident air. I ran after my enemy, wanting to know why she thought I was self-absorbed, but she just brushed me off. It was as if I should know better. Thing is, part of me did know what I was doing, while part of me wanted to hold on tight to the elevated feeling which seemed so innocent. The truth in-between announced itself as “balance.”

How do you define self-absorption?

Being self-absorbed, self-pre-occupied and selfish isn’t always an easy action to recognize. Sometimes, its subtle qualities lull you into a sense of contentment. But, if you look closely at your actions, you begin to realize that maybe your “enemy” was right all along.

Self-absorption is defined as being pre-occupied with yourself to the point where you exclude the outside world. Seems simple enough, right? Nope, because sometimes this definition rests in a grey area where it’s hard to distinguish between self-care and the dreaded self-absorbed personality. It’s like teetering on the edge, between selfishness and altruism.

Mental dysfunctions

When being self-absorbed, the care of others’ feelings seems to fade into the background. Unfortunately, self-absorbed people don’t make the best of friends, and they tend to spend way too much time being concerned about themselves and even having grandiose thoughts of their special status. It’s like confidence on steroids, I would assume, or something of that nature. Self-absorption can be seen in serious character flaws and even illnesses too.

Psychological dysfunctions, such as bipolar disorder, PTSD and even addictions, have displayed traits of selfishness and self-absorption. Those who suffer from Borderline Personality disorder also display self-absorbed tendencies.

In this case, BPD patients have issues with understanding the truth of their environment causing the inability to successfully draw conclusions of others. And of course, we cannot deny the presence of being self-absorbed when dealing with narcissism. In fact, being self-absorbed is the major characteristic of the narcissistic personality.

It can safely be said that all Narcissists and Borderlines are self-absorbed, but not all self-absorbed individuals suffer from personality disorders. This is where the grey area gets even more faded. Psychologists have to determine the reasons for the mentally ill using self-absorption.

It’s apparent that self-absorbing actions stem from defensive feelings and a disconnect from reality. So, what’s the excuse for the rest of us?

Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT, said,

“Underneath their self-centeredness, they are likely afraid of feeling flawed, powerless, unworthy or out of control.”

Translate this into the description of the anxiety patient, and it fits perfectly. Those suffering from severe anxiety battle insecurities and vulnerabilities which lead to being negatively self-absorbed or even the other side of the coin, which is forced self-adoration in defensive tactics.

Adam Galinsky, social psychologist at Columbia Business School, in a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, said,

“When you get anxious, it narrows your attention. You feel like you have to go back inside yourself and figure things out- “Do you really like me?” or Am I really a good person?”

Is destroying self-absorption the key to unlock these disorders?

Now, there’s a controversial belief that says that being self-absorbed is the reason we cannot permanently heal from mental illness. I didn’t say that I believe this, but it’s a consideration that must be included. According to Buddhists, illnesses like depression are almost completely made from self-centered thoughts. Self-hatred is also a way to be self-absorbed.

During depression, according to the Buddhist belief, everything revolves around self: I am not happy, I want to die and so forth… A more common idea would be the act of feeling sorry for oneself. Unfortunately, the self-absorbing negative outlook becomes a cycle which is not easily broken, leading down even darker pathways.

Negative effects of self-absorption

There are many things which are birthed from being self-absorbed. Researchers have found that being self-absorbed shortens the lifespan and impairs the health. This malady can also affect relationships because unions are designed for the care of two, not one individual. Involvement in self-absorption can also cloud your view of the world and further damage your mental well-being.

So let’s fine-tune our character

If you are self-absorbed, or your “enemy” has tagged you with this noxious character identity, then there is hope. One of the best ways that I have found to curb that horrid self-absorption temptation is to focus on its opposite. No, the opposite of self-absorption is not self-denial and selflessness.

On the contrary, the remedy, it seems, is in practicing self-awareness and introspection. Always examining our motives is a good way to keep that self-absorbing monster in its place. I really think this is the key!

Other ways to break open this cage of self is to spend more time helping others and listening to their stories, issues and plans for the future. No, everything is not about you! Get over it!

When you can remind yourself that you are not the only concern and that you are worthy, just as anyone else, you will begin to break the cycle of self-absorption. I am appreciative to the enemy for showing me something that I didn’t even see in myself, but it’s best if you can see it before you have to be told. Self-examination reveals the truth in our motives, remember that!

There are billions of us, so take the time to appreciate the world outside of self. Hey, even your enemies may have a change of heart. Who knows…

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Amy oreilly

    So, as you said in your article, this research, hit a nerve. Perhaps it’s time! Thank you

  2. Ashley Henderson

    I agree. As someone who has worked in mental health for years, it is easy to see that selfishness and “only thinking of oneself” are the rabbit hole to mental illness. Once down the hole, you spend all your time worrying about whether your needs are being met, going to see a therapist to talk about yourself,going to couples therapy to talk about what the other person isn’t doing for you, blaming others for your current situation OR running through life leaving a wake of devastation in your path. I think it begins in childhood with some individuals having a greater tendency toward it. If you have ever been around small children, they are intrinsically selfish to get their needs met. Mine, me, my. If parents do not focus on teaching empathy, compassion and “thinking of others before oneself,” they are setting their children up for a lifetime of dissatisfaction, selfishness, and poor relationships. The key to happiness is selflessness.

  3. Violet

    The title of this article felt more like an accusation than a statement. I become self-absorbed when I am having a bipolar episode and cannot relate to those around me either due to mania or depression. When I am feeling stable, I am not a self-absorbed person. It’s important to differentiate between cause and effect.

  4. Steven Richter

    Wow – Just read this for the first time, and am glad to hear your perspectives… I live with and take care of my aging mother (she’s 86) who has early to mid stage dementia, and she presents many traits of both narcissistic personality and passive aggressive personality disorders, and dealing with her moment to moment agendas has created a situation where I feel unable to work anymore, or even leave the house for more than two hours without a significant negative consequence. Your words are affirming and could help me moving forward. Many thanks.

  5. Linda Rice

    Buddhists are correct in this analysis. Self centeredness is toxic. But don’t confuse joy with selfishness. Learn from the children. They are full of joy and as innocent as can be. Jesus said we should be like that. He is my joy. Of course, trauma is real. Please forgive and be healed.

  6. Patty

    Very interesting article! I am not a medical professional, but this captures my observations perfectly.

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