Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the self-absorbed adjective as “absorbed in one’s own thoughts, activities, or interests. A self-absorbed person is someone who only thinks about themselves. Not always, but enough to make being in a friendship or relationship with them a bit emotionally taxing.
They seem to make every conversation about themselves, become defensive when other’s offer constructive criticism and feedback, and can’t seem to empathize with others because they’re so consumed in their own life and believe the world revolves around them. Sound like someone you know?
All of us have some self-absorbed people in our lives (it might even be you!). And we’re all guilty of being a little selfish or self-focused from time to time – that’s completely normal.
However, when a person is more self-absorbed than not, those close to them may soon grow tired of this behavior and no longer want to talk or hang out with them.
In this article, we’ll explore what it means to be self-absorbed. You’ll find some common signs someone is self-absorbed and traits of a self-absorbed person and a few reasons why people get this way.
Later, we’ll offer some tips and advice on how to deal with the self-absorbed people in your life in a healthy way and what you can do if you’re the one who’s been displaying these frustrating and self-centered behaviors.
How do you know if someone is self-absorbed?
Living or dealing with a self-absorbed person can be frustrating and overwhelming for even the most patient of people. Some instances of self-absorbed behavior may go unnoticed or not cause much frustration, but when a person consistently exhibits these behaviors, you might find yourself so annoyed and even confused that you want to completely stop talking to them.
It’s well within your right to talk, or not talk, to whomever you wish, but sometimes we find ourselves trapped in circumstances with people in which not talking to them or cutting them out of your life is a little difficult. It might be a coworker, a family member you live with, or your romantic partner. To cut them out would require a major life shift, and maybe you’re not ready for that just yet.
Whoever the self-absorbed person in your life happens to be, the good news is that you don’t have to suffer because of their behavior. There are some practical steps you can take starting from today to reduce their impact on your mental and emotional well-being.
Later we’ll discuss these steps in detail, but first, understand that you can’t do much about this person’s behavior if you don’t know it’s happening. So, let’s focus on step one – recognizing self-absorbed behavior.
Key signs someone is self-absorbed
There are several defining characteristics of self-absorption, but an individual may not exhibit all of these behaviors. They may be guilty of some but not others, which can make this personality trait sometimes difficult to spot.
If you think someone in your life is self-absorbed, look out for the following signs.
Poor listening skills
Self-centered people just can’t seem to listen. They give you the impression that they’re listening by nodding and agreeing or adding some ‘yeah’ or ‘mhm’ comments, but they’re not really listening to you. They hear the words, but their attention remains focused on themselves.
You might have an idea, a concern, or simply need to vent, but one word you said triggers in them an idea or a topic of conversation, and that’s all they think about until they get a chance to speak. They hardly respond to what you actually said, instead of giving you a brief acknowledgment or none at all, then diverting the conversation away from you and back to themselves.
Self-absorbed people are not the people to whom you should speak if you really want to be heard by someone who shows genuine interest. Their self-centeredness means they’ll turn whatever you say into something about them and won’t give you much in the way of constructive feedback or compassion and empathy.
Since they’re usually poor listeners, self-absorbed people can cause a lot of frustration, anger, and even confusion in others when they are approached with an important and emotional confrontation. Instead of actively listening to you, the confronter, they’ll immediately view the confrontation as a personal attack and enter defensive mode.
Not only will they not listen properly, but they’ll also come up with a thousand reasons why you’re wrong or how the issue of your concern is actually your fault, not theirs – even if you never insisted it was their fault in the first place.
Imagine your partner is self-absorbed. You have an issue – you’ve both been staying up late on weeknights watching movies, going out, or just chatting or playing games for hours. You’ve begun to feel more tired and groggy in the mornings, and you notice the same in your partner. You figure it’s best to go to sleep earlier.
You suggest to your partner that you guys could wind down a little earlier in the evening and turn off the lights by midnight. Instead of listening with curiosity and openness about your concern, they suddenly blame you for keeping the two of you up late.
They say it’s always your idea to watch movies or go out. You haven’t blamed them for anything, you’re simply suggesting a change in your mutual schedule, but they see it as blame or an attack and feel compelled to blame and attack in return.
One of the more subtle signs of self-absorption, but one that is impossible to ignore after you first notice, is one-upmanship. One-upmanship is the act of speaking or behaving in a way that makes the doer feel superior to others.
It might be buying a new car because it’s nicer or more expensive than a coworker’s, wearing outrageous clothes to one-up a friend who’s always known for wearing fashion-forward and avant-garde styles, or simply telling a crazy or wild story just after you’ve told one, but theirs was ‘more intense’ or ‘crazier.’
For example, James works in an office and returns from a much-needed break after having his broken leg in a minor motorcycle accident. His coworkers, concerned, ask him how he is and ask him to tell the story of what happened. Once his story is over, Luke chimes in with how he once broke both his legs in a motorcycle accident and was back to work in half the time.
Self-centered people want to be seen, acknowledged, validated, and praised. They want these things so much that their awareness of social cues can seem non-existent. For example, if your coworker starts to tell you a story about something they’re doing or something that happened to them.
However, you’re not that interested and would rather keep to yourself that self-absorbed coworker wouldn’t pick up on your disinterest, or they did. They would simply ignore it. Instead, they’d tell you the story, going on and on without any concern for you. They simply want to be heard, even by someone who doesn’t want to listen.
If they notice that someone else in the room is getting attention or positive comments and appraisals from others, they might feel jealous. They want to be the center of attention, so they’ll one-up that other person, spread a negative rumor about them, or feel ignored or neglected if the focus and attention of the room are not theirs.
Poor conflict resolution skills
Self-absorbed people tend to come to others for advice regarding their problems. We all turn to friends and family members for support when things get tough, but self-absorbed people share a common, often frustrating quality in such a context.
Instead of engaging with the person to whom they are speaking and taking the help offered by collaborating with them to find an effective solution or solutions to the problem they have, self-absorbed people will tend to ruminate on the problem repeatedly.
Coming at it from different angles and barely listening to the advice, they asked for. They’ll repeatedly ignore potential solutions and emphasize how they’re the victim. This characteristic is also often seen in those with a narcissistic personality disorder.
Is a self-absorbed person a narcissist?
Self-absorption is a characteristic of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Some people live with full-blown NPD, while others merely display narcissistic tendencies. Full-blown narcissist or not, people who behave narcissistically can cause a lot of unnecessary frustration and confusion for those around them.
Narcissists are typically self-absorbed, lack empathy, self-obsessed and are self-centered people. They have an inflated, grandiose sense of self and seek validation and approval from others. Though typically confident and outgoing on the surface, narcissists usually struggle with deeper feelings of insecurity and low-self worth.
How do I stop being self-absorbed?
If you’re lucky enough to have someone in your life who isn’t afraid to be blunt and honest with you, you may have been told that you’re a bit self-absorbed. It can be hard to hear and accept such feedback, but it really is something to be grateful for.
How did you react when that person told you they think you’re self-absorbed? Did you get defensive? Did you point out flaws in their personality or character? Or did you listen with curiosity and try to understand where that person was coming from, leading you to examine your own behaviors?
The former is a typical reaction of self-absorbed people. The latter is the reaction of someone who is not completely self-absorbed but may have exhibited such behaviors and caused upset or frustration to others which led to a call-out.
Recognize your behavior
Someone may have told you, or you may have identified with some of the signs of self-absorption outlined above. Either way, if you think you’ve been a little self-absorbed lately, and you’re wondering how to get back on the right track and keep your relationships afloat, you’ve got the right idea. Being honest with yourself about your unhelpful or self-centered behavior and seeking to change it for the better is a great first step.
Become a better listener
The next step is to hone your listening skills. When friends or partners come to you with concerns, how do you typically respond? Do you want to relate but end up making it all about you? Or do you immediately assume they’re pointing out your flaws and become defensive? To be less absorbed, take some time to really, deeply listen when people are talking to you.
Imagine what it would be like to be them in that situation, bringing up a concern or sensitive issue. They may be a bit nervous or feel insecure about something, so if you want to be a kind and compassionate person instead of selfish and self-absorbed, listen to them. Keep the conversation focused on the topic at hand without deterring it, and try to empathize, or at least sympathize.
Practice selflessness (and be happier!)
The third and final step is to ask yourself if you really want to be happy. It might seem obvious – everyone wants to be happy, right? Right, but we don’t always act, think, and behave in ways that serve our highest happiness and well-being.
Research published in the journal Peer J explores the relationship between self-centeredness, selflessness, and happiness levels.
Head researcher Michael Dambrun found that people who display self-absorbed or self-centered behaviors experience more fluctuations in happiness levels than those who are more selfless and try to connect with others on a deeper level. The latter tend to experience more authentic and longer-lasting feelings of happiness in their lives.
So, to be less self-absorbed, and therefore happier, try being a little more selfless and focus on creating healthy, mature, and positive connections with others.
How to deal with a self-absorbed person
Self-absorbed, self-centered, self-obsessed, selfish, obsessed with self-image, narcissistic. These are all terms you might use to describe someone who just can’t seem to really care about others and focus all their energy on themselves. You might think that a self-centered person is ‘bad; or ‘wrong,’ but there are several reasons why a person might feel the need to be self-focused.
People who live with autism disorders and those who struggle with anxiety disorders may need to be selfish or inwardly focused as a protective mechanism against the exacerbation of their condition’s symptoms.
For example, someone with anxiety might feel an oncoming panic attack or intrusive thoughts if they experience guilt. As such, they might get defensive and turn your confrontation into a return attack because the guilt of wrongdoing might overwhelm their emotional stability.
A person with autism disorder may only be comfortable speaking about a set range of topics, so your efforts to broaden the conversation might make them uncomfortable. They stay within their zone in order to feel comfortable.
Another reason why some people are self-absorbed is that they are insecure. They seek attention from others and make every conversation about themselves because if they don’t, deeper feelings of unworthiness, inferiority, and low self-esteem rise to the surface.
Spend time away
Is it possible to spend some time away from the person in question? If it’s a friend, partner, or family member, can you take space? Creating some physical and emotional distance between you and the self-absorbed person whose behavior has become exhausting can help you get the rest and reset you need to allow them to remain in your life.
It’s important to understand that self-absorption does not make someone a bad person, and there may be several underlying reasons why they are that way that is out of their control, but that doesn’t mean you need to put your own wants, needs, and mental and emotional health on the back burner. No matter what’s going on with someone else, you always have the right to prioritize your own wants and needs.
If spending some time away from the person in question helps you feel better and recharges you so that you can go on with your life without being so affected, then great. Take time whenever you need it and don’t hesitate to look after yourself.
However, sometimes taking some time away simply isn’t enough. There are times when we need to cut people out of our lives completely, even if they’re a friend or partner we’ve had for years, and even if they’re a family member, such as your brother or mother.
Familiarity makes it hard to break away from people. On top of that, people don’t like to be left behind, especially if they tend to seek and revel in the attention and make things all about them. Still, if you need to cut someone out of your entire life because their behavior is negatively affecting you, then it’s crucial that you do so, and sooner rather than later.
Some people are reading this article because they want to know how to deal with the a self-absorbed person in their life. Others are reading because someone close to them may have told them they are self-absorbed, and they want to make a positive change.
The latter are fortunate to have someone in their life who is willing to be open and honest about how they feel. We don’t want to have to tell people what’s ‘wrong’ with them or show them how to be a better person, but sometimes it takes a confrontation by someone we love to show us the error of our ways.
Get your needs met elsewhere
If you need to talk about something important and you just want someone to listen with empathy and compassion, then it’s unwise to approach someone whom you know is highly self-absorbed.
You might turn to them out of desperation because there’s no one else to talk to, but you’ll likely end up feeling more frustrated. Instead, reach out to someone who is less self-centered and more able to give you the empathy and compassion you need.