What Self-Absorbed Means, Signs & What To Do With Self-Centered People

Have you noticed that some people are extremely self-absorbed? All of us are interested in ourselves to some degree and may even boast about our achievements from time to time, but some people are relentless.

Self-absorbed people constantly one-up others, always bring up their own affairs or problems but fail to listen to yours, and even when you’re not interested in hearing what they have to say, they go on and on about it anyway. These are just some of the traits and characteristics that are shown by self-absorbed people.

In this article, we’ll explore some definitions of self-absorption to help you better understand exactly what it means. We’ll outline some of the most common traits of self-absorbed people and teach you to recognize the self-involved attitude in others as well as yourself.

If you notice the signs of self-absorption in your own behavior, don’t worry. We’ve also included some tips and advice on how to be less self-absorbed, as well as tactics you can use to deal with the self-absorbed people in your life effectively.

What does it mean to be self-absorbed?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers the following definition:

Self-absorbed (adjective): absorbed in one’s own thoughts, activities, or interests.

The term ‘absorbed’ is crucial here. All of us have some healthy interest in our own lives. We spend some of our time thinking about our thoughts, activities, and interests, but we also consider others.

Self-absorbed people are less likely to consider the thoughts, activities, and interests of others as separate from themselves. They might disregard them completely or immediately relate them back to their own life and the degree of relevance they have.

Synonyms for ‘self-absorbed’ included in the Merriam Webster dictionary include:

Though the traits and characteristics of the above are similar, there are distinct differences. For example, a narcissist is typically self-absorbed, but just because a person is self-absorbed doesn’t mean they’re a narcissist.

Signs of self-absorbed people

Defensiveness

People who are self-absorbed struggle to see the world from a perspective outside of themselves. When confronted with an issue or criticism, the self-absorbed person goes on the defensive. They focus on how they didn’t do anything wrong or will seek to blame or allocate responsibility on something or someone other than themselves for what happened. 

Superiority

Self-absorbed people might see themselves as superior to others. They share this trait with narcissists. Their own self-image consumes self-centered people. They go to great lengths to uphold that image, as they may even resort to viewing or calling out others as inferior to protect that inflated but fragile self-image. 

Selfishness

All of us exhibit some degree of selfishness. It’s good to be a little because that’s how we make sure we get our wants and needs met. Still, healthy, compassionate people understand their selfish tendencies and do their best not to allow those tendencies to get in the way of other’s well-being and happiness. This is not the case for self-absorbed people.

These people have a high level of selfishness and may not make any effort to make room and space for other people. They focus heavily on their own wants and are not overly concerned with others, to the point where they may even neglect others needs. In the same way, this makes it hard for the self-absorbed person and their partners to create and maintain a healthy, satisfying, and mutually beneficial relationship.

Related: How to Deal With Self Centered People in the 10 Best Ways

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Not listening

Have you ever listened to someone’s problems or concerns with compassion and genuine interest but found that when the time came for you to voice your worries or concerns, they zoned out of the conversation? This is one of the most common and most frustrating traits of a self-absorbed person.

Self-absorbed people like to be listened to and given attention whenever possible but are unlikely to return the favor. Even when it seems like they’re listening, you can notice that they’re not really listening by the way they respond.

They might throw some tired clichés your way, such as ‘it’ll all be fine in the end’ or ‘don’t worry about it.’ Their ‘advice’ is not coming from a place of genuine care and compassion but rather a disregard for the actual issue and a desire to stop talking about it.

Not listening also refers to your body language, not just the words you say. If you’re not interested in what the person has to say, having never shown interest in the first place and having not engaged them in a conversation, a self-centered person might keep talking anyway. They might go on and on about a personal achievement or a strongly held opinion, despite your evident disinterest.

When we’re not interested in talking, we typically show our disinterest through our body language. We might avert our gaze, play with our phone, turn our back, or even walk away. Self-absorbed people are so consumed by their thoughts and opinions and their need to express them to someone who’ll pay attention that they often don’t notice, or intentionally ignore your disinterested body language.

One-upmanship

‘I broke my arm,’ you recall in conversation. You might expect to hear some sympathetic response or a curious request to elaborate from the person you’re talking to.

However, if you’re talking to a self-absorbed person, you’re more likely to hear something along the lines of: ‘I broke both my arms last year.’ ‘I got a B in my exam,’ and you share with delight. ‘I got an A when I did my exams,’ goes the disheartening reply from the self-absorbed person. ‘I bought a new couch!’ you say. ‘I’m renovating the house,’ comes their reply.

This is an example of ‘one-upmanship’ and is one of the most frustrating traits of self-absorbed people. No matter what you have to say, share, and are proud about, they’ll have something more impressive or more significant to share.

One-upmanship highlights the lack of empathy often seen in self-absorbed people. Instead of commending you for your achievements and success, or equally your loss and tragedy, with a word of kindness and support, they’ll find some way to make it about themselves.

Am I self-absorbed?

If you’re wondering if you’re self-absorbed, that’s good news. If it turns out that you are, the fact that you’re researching self-absorption and asking the question means you’re on the right track to changing your attitude and becoming more interested and compassionate toward other people.

Sometimes we become self-absorbed when our mind is inundated with stress and worry. We might find it hard to give time and energy to others because we need to fix our own issues.

Prioritizing your own needs isn’t necessarily selfish or a sign that you’re self-absorbed, but if you neglect the needs of those you love in the process, then you may be a little self-absorbed. Below we have outlined some questions to ask yourself to recognize self-absorption. Later, we’ll offer some useful tips to help you become less self-absorbed.

Do I approach conversation as if it were a competition?

Think about a recent conversation you had. Did it feel like you were trying to one-up the other person? Did they talk about something they had achieved or something interesting that happened to them, and you couldn’t help but counter it with your own achievements or situations of greater interest? 

When someone tells a story, do you feel the need to share a better story just to feel confident and secure? Are you more focused on being right or winning an argument than genuinely listening to what the other person has to say?

Related: 15 Ways to Start a Conversation Successfully Without Being Awkward

Do I consider others’ feelings?

Self-absorbed people tend to find it difficult to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. If you’re wondering if you’re self-absorbed, consider how much time you spend paying attention to others’ feelings. It’s good to consider your own feelings and thoughts, but it’s not so good to neglect the feelings of those you love.

How do I respond to criticism and feedback?

Self-absorbed people typically dismiss others’ criticism and feedback. They view it as a personal attack and are likely to become defensive, turning the conversation around on another person’s perceived flaw. 

It’s important to stand up for yourself if you believe that someone else’s feedback or criticism is unfair or unsolicited. At the same time, it’s important to be able to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy criticism. 

If you’re always averse to feedback and criticism, you risk damaging your relationships. We’re here to support and enlighten each other, so sometimes, we need to hear what other people have to say about our behavior and attitude. If you can’t listen, you don’t give yourself and those you love the opportunity to grow. 

Next time you’re faced with criticism, take a moment to identify your immediate reaction. If your first reaction is to get angry and go on the defense, try to pause and deal with the situation from a calmer, non-egocentric, and more mindful approach.

Do I blame others when things go wrong?

When things don’t go your way, do you take responsibility for what you did wrong and how you respond? Or do you seek to blame others, pointing out what they could have done differently or how they’re making you react in a certain way?

If your instinctual reaction is to blame others and defend your own behavior in an attempt to preserve your self-image as incapable of making mistakes, you may be self-absorbed.

Do I care a lot about others’ perceptions of me?

Do you spend a lot of time worrying or obsessing over how other people see you? Do you go to great lengths to make sure people like you, have a positive opinion of you, or won’t talk about you negatively? 

Self-absorbed people tend to focus heavily on being perceived as interesting, adventurous, cute, charismatic, or special in conversation. You might be a self-absorbed person if you find yourself overthinking your recent conversations and worrying that you came off as somehow ‘less than’ the way you’d really like to be perceived. 

Alternatively, you might leave the conversation feeling proud of yourself for appearing confident and charismatic, without thinking about the content of the conversation or the feelings of those to whom you were speaking.

Related: How to Stop Being Toxic: Signs of a Toxic Person and How to Change

How to stop being so self-absorbed

If you recognize the signs of self-absorption in yourself, there are some steps you can take to change your behavior and improve the outcomes of your social interactions.

Figure out where you’re self-absorption is coming from

Self-absorption is a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), but being self-absorbed doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a narcissist. Self-absorption is also a coping mechanism often used when people struggle with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

When all of your focus is on yourself, and you’re not giving much attention or consideration to others, is it positive or negative? Are you consumed by thoughts of your own grandeur and success, or is your inner critic berating you for past mistakes and shortcomings?

Are you comparing yourself to others and making yourself out to be superior, or are you worried about what the future holds and what people will think about you after a conversation?

If you notice that you’ve been feeling depressed or anxious and that’s making you act in ways that are inconsiderate or rude to others, understand that those feelings of depression and anxiety impact your relationships. This is also a sign that it might be time to speak to a mental health professional.

Improve your listening skills

Self-absorbed people tend to direct the conversation back to themselves even when it isn’t about them. If this is something you do, the good news is that you can learn to take a different approach. 

Before you jump in with something related to you and your own experiences:

  • Take a second to pause
  • Come back to the present moment
  • Realize that your conversation partner is talking about something specific

Instead of waiting to reply, clear your mind and really hear what they’re saying. 

Imagine what it would be like to be them, speaking those words. If you’re visually-minded, pay attention to the images that arise when they’re talking. Tune into your emotions and empathy and acknowledge the other person when they are speaking about something difficult.

Nod, keep eye contact, become more responsive than reactive, and offer kind words of support and encouragement, whether the topic of conversation is heavy or humorous.

Related: How to Connect With People: 12 Effective Ways to Connect With Anyone

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Put yourself in someone else’s shoes

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes to better understand them. If your friend comes to you with a worry or concern about something that happened to them, try to imagine what it would be like to be in their situation. Next, consider what you would like the person in your position to say or do if you were your friend.

For example, if your friend tells you that their pet passed away, try to be a compassionate listener instead of immediately talking about the time your pet passed away. You can relate to them later, but first, offer them the compassionate ear that you would like were you in their situation.

How to approach self-absorbed people

Self-absorption is a character trait typically viewed as negative. However, sometimes the attitude stems from mental health issues. Therefore, it may be best not to color a person with this behavior as ‘flawed,’ ‘selfish,’ or ‘wrong.’ It may be better to simply understand why a person becomes self-absorbed and gently encourage them to consider others’ feelings and perspectives when possible.

Of course, you are not responsible for the self-absorbed person’s behavior and the changing of it. You didn’t sign up to be their teacher or guide, and it’s not your job to point out why their self-absorbed behavior is unhelpful and antisocial.

Still, if you find yourself in the company of self-absorption, there are some tips you can use to help you deal with the situation.

Stay grounded

Self-absorbed behavior can be highly frustrating for others. If you’re dealing with someone who is self-absorbed, try your best to stay calm and grounded. Remember that their behavior is not a reflection of your worth or validity, so if they’re not listening to you, that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be heard.

Set healthy boundaries

If someone’s self-absorbed behavior is affecting you, understand that you’re entitled to set a boundary. Let them know how their behavior makes you feel, and put some physical distance or rules of interaction in place to know they have to be respectful and compassionate if they want to spend time with you.

Summary

Self-absorbed, self-centered, and self-obsessed are all terms we use to describe people who are so consumed in their own lives and personal narratives that they neglect or forget to be there as an empathic listener and source of support for those around them.

If you notice that your self-absorbed behavior is impacting your relationship, it’s time to make a change. Ask yourself the questions we’ve outlined above and consider speaking to a counselor or therapist if you believe your self-absorption stems from mental health issues.

An affordable and convenient option to find a suitable therapist is Online-Therapy where you can speak with a therapist from the comfort of your own home. They have consultant therapists, cognitive behavioral therapists and practitioners to provide you with all of the help you need.

If you’re living or dealing with someone who’s self-absorbed behavior affects your well-being, learn how to set healthy boundaries and manage your expectations around that person.

Not everyone can be the way we would like them to be, so sometimes, you might need to approach someone else with an issue you may want to share or learn how to expect less from the self-absorbed person.

If you would like to help them, highlight how their behavior makes you feel and ask them to consider broadening their focus so that they are more mindful of other people.

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