Have you ever wondered if your self-interest has crossed the line into unhealthy narcissism? It’s easy to get caught up in our own little worlds, filtering everything through how it impacts us personally. But being self-absorbed is not the same as having a narcissistic personality.
How can you tell the difference? As a psychologist and educator, I want to share some insights to help determine if your behaviors are normal or part of a bigger issue. The truth is that we all fall somewhere on the spectrum between healthy self-confidence and narcissistic personality disorder. The good news is that there are signs you can look for to better understand yourself and make positive changes.
Table of Contents
Defining Self-Absorption vs Narcissism
Self-absorption and narcissism are related but distinct conditions.
Self-absorption refers to an excessive interest in oneself and one’s own needs or concerns. If you find yourself constantly focusing on your own thoughts, feelings, worries, and desires, you may be struggling with self-absorption. A self-absorbed person has difficulty seeing beyond themselves to understand how their behavior impacts others.
Do you frequently interrupt conversations to bring the focus back to you?
Do you have trouble empathizing with what others are going through?
Are you overly sensitive to perceived slights and quick to feel hurt or offended?
Self-absorption can often be addressed by making an effort to listen to others, show interest in their lives, and be less self-centered in your thinking. Therapy can also help build self-awareness and empathy.
Narcissism is a more extreme form of self-centeredness that can qualify as a mental health condition. The narcissist displays an inflated sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. They believe they are unique or special and should only associate with equally special people.
Do you exaggerate your achievements and talents?
Do you take advantage of others or lack concern for their needs and feelings?
Are you jealous of others or believe that others are jealous of you?
Narcissism is a complex condition that often requires professional treatment. Psychotherapy can help the narcissist develop self-awareness, empathy, and skills for building healthier relationships.
Key Characteristics of a Self-Absorbed Person
If you find yourself constantly seeking validation and praise from others, you may exhibit some self-absorbed tendencies. Here are a few key characteristics of a self-absorbed person:
Lack of empathy
Self-absorbed individuals typically struggle with empathy. They have difficulty understanding other people’s perspectives and feelings. Their focus remains on themselves, making it hard to relate to what others are experiencing.
Excessive need for admiration
Self-absorbed people crave constant compliments and admiration from those around them. They believe they are special or unique and that they deserve to be praised frequently.
Difficulty Accepting Criticism
No matter how constructive criticism should not be taken as a personal attack. Self-absorbed people cannot reflect on their own behavior and acknowledge their mistakes or flaws. They always blame external factors instead of accepting responsibility.
Jealousy and envy
Seeing others succeed or achieve can stir up feelings of jealousy and envy in someone who is self-absorbed. They believe they deserve the success and opportunities that others are receiving. This makes it difficult to genuinely be happy for the accomplishments of peers.
Lack of Interest in Others
Conversations with self-absorbed individuals typically revolve around them. They rarely ask questions to show interest in learning more about you or your life. Discussions are often dominated by the self-absorbed person, who is really only concerned with talking about themselves.
In summary, the key hallmarks of a self-absorbed person are an excessive need for praise, a lack of empathy, difficulty accepting criticism, feelings of envy towards others, and a tendency to make everything about themselves. If these characteristics resonate with you, it may be worthwhile to speak to a therapist. Self-absorption can damage relationships and cause distress, but the good news is that awareness and a willingness to change can help build healthier habits.
Signs of Narcissistic Personalities
If you find yourself constantly seeking attention and admiration and believe you are more important than others, you may exhibit some narcissistic tendencies. However, full-blown narcissistic personality disorder is a serious mental health condition. Here are some signs to watch out for:
Narcissists often exaggerate their importance and accomplishments. They expect constant praise and admiration from those around them. They believe they are superior to others and deserve special treatment. In conversation, narcissists frequently steer the focus back to themselves.
- Lack of empathy. Narcissists have difficulty understanding the emotions and needs of others. They lack compassion for the people around them.
- Sense of entitlement Narcissists believe they deserve special treatment, admiration, and favors from others. They expect people to do things for them and believe the rules don’t apply to them.
- Exploitation of others Narcissists use manipulation and callous behavior to get what they want without regard for who gets hurt in the process. They lack remorse for their harmful actions.
- Jealousy. Narcissists are often jealous of others’ successes and achievements. They believe they should be the center of attention at all times.
- Arrogance. Narcissists come across as conceited, boastful, and pretentious. They believe no one can do things as well as they can.
If these signs resonate with you or someone you know, speaking to a mental health professional could help determine if narcissistic personality disorder treatment is needed. A diagnosis of NPD can be difficult to accept, but treatment focuses on gaining insight into how behaviors affect others and learning empathy.
The role of insecurity in both
While self-absorption and narcissism are related, there are some key differences. A self-absorbed person cares greatly about themselves, often to the exclusion of others, but a narcissist has an exaggerated sense of self-importance and entitlement. For both types, feelings of insecurity play an important role.
If you find yourself constantly worried about how you appear to others, needing excessive admiration and validation, or feeling jealous of others’ successes, you may be dealing with underlying insecurity. Both self-absorbed and narcissistic people struggle with insecurity, though they show it in different ways.
A self-absorbed person may be insecure about their worth or likeability, so they overfocus on themselves to compensate. They want others to admire them in order to feel good about themselves. A narcissist’s insecurity, on the other hand, is often rooted in fragile self-esteem and a lack of empathy. They need to see themselves as superior to boost their self-worth.
Insecurity can drive selfish and hurtful behaviors in both types. The self-absorbed person may disregard others’ needs and feelings due to anxiety over their own. The narcissist puts others down to lift themselves. Overcoming insecurity involves building self-confidence from your accomplishments and loving yourself regardless of what others think. Focusing outward on empowering others can help curb self-centered habits.
The good news is that self-absorption and narcissism exist on a spectrum. With awareness and effort, you can strengthen your self-esteem in healthier ways, become less self-focused, and improve your relationships. Recognizing insecurity as the root cause is the first step. With compassion for yourself and others, you can find the right balance between caring for your own needs and considering the needs of those around you.
Key Differences – Self-Absorbed vs Narcissism
While self-absorption and narcissism are related concepts, there are some key distinctions between the two.
Self-absorption refers to an excessive focus on one’s own feelings, interests, and affairs. If you’re self-absorbed, you tend to dwell on yourself and your own problems and concerns. However, self-absorbed people typically still have the capacity for empathy and care about how their behavior impacts others. They are just overly focused on themselves, often due to anxiety, insecurity, or difficulty managing emotions.
In contrast, narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, lack empathy, and exploit others for their own gain. Narcissists believe they are special or unique and expect constant admiration. They exaggerate their achievements and talents and lack empathy for others. Narcissism is considered a personality disorder by psychologists and psychiatrists.
Some signs of self-absorption vs narcissism:
• Self-absorbed people can acknowledge their flaws and mistakes; narcissists blame others.
• Self-absorbed people feel bad about letting others down; narcissists only care about themselves.
• While self-absorbed people can be supportive of others, narcissists constantly seek admiration and praise.
• While self-absorbed people respect boundaries, narcissists exploit and manipulate people for their own benefit.
In summary, while being overly self-focused is common to both, narcissism is a more extreme, unhealthy mindset that involves exploiting others without remorse. Self-absorption can often be addressed by developing self-awareness and empathy. Narcissism typically requires professional treatment.
The most important thing is to recognize these tendencies in yourself and take steps to build healthier relationships. Focusing on the needs and feelings of others, accepting your imperfections with compassion, and maintaining an open and willing attitude can help you move from self-absorption to empathy.
Are self-absorbed people always narcissistic?
While self-absorbed people can exhibit some narcissistic traits, not all self-absorbed individuals meet the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder. The key distinction lies in the underlying causes of the behaviors and their severity.
Self-absorption typically arises from a lack of self-awareness and sensitivity toward others. Self-absorbed people are overly focused on themselves and their own desires, but they do not necessarily have an inflated sense of self or lack empathy. Their self-centeredness usually comes from being too caught up in their own lives and problems to consider other perspectives. With effort and awareness, self-absorbed people can become more considerate of others.
On the other hand, narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by a pattern of self-centered, arrogant thinking and behavior. Narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, believe they are superior to others, and lack empathy. They constantly crave admiration and praise to validate their own self-worth. Narcissistic behaviors tend to be more severe and persistent, as they originate from a distorted self-image and an inability to connect emotionally with others.
So in summary, while all narcissists exhibit self-absorbed qualities, not all self-absorbed people qualify as narcissists. Self-absorption can often be remedied by developing self-awareness and making an effort to be more considerate. Narcissism requires professional treatment to address the underlying issues. The most important distinction is that narcissists lack empathy and have an unrealistic sense of superiority over others.
The Impact of Self-Absorption and Narcissism
Self-absorption and narcissism can have significant impacts on your relationships and well-being.
When you’re focused primarily on yourself, it’s difficult to maintain healthy, mutually caring relationships. You may come across as insensitive or uncaring toward others and their needs. Your self-centeredness can breed resentment, hurt, and conflict in your close relationships. Friends and family may start to feel used or unappreciated.
Ironically, excessive self-focus often stems from underlying feelings of inadequacy or lack of self-worth. You rely on the admiration and praise of others to feel good about yourself, but it’s never enough. This can fuel an endless cycle of seeking validation and approval. True self-confidence comes from self-acceptance, not obsessive self-interest.
Lack of self-awareness
Self-absorbed individuals tend to lack insight into themselves, their behaviors, and their impact on others. They tend to blame external factors instead of taking responsibility for their actions. This lack of self-awareness prevents personal growth and the ability to maintain healthy relationships. With support, awareness can be increased through conscious effort and a willingness to accept feedback.
Mental health issues
In some cases, self-absorption and narcissism can be symptoms of an underlying mental health condition like depression, anxiety, PTSD, or personality disorders. If your self-focus is causing significant problems in your life, consider speaking to a mental health professional. They can help determine if any diagnoses apply and recommend appropriate treatment.
While everyone exhibits these traits at times, maintaining an excessive focus on yourself can be detrimental. The good news is that self-absorption and even narcissistic tendencies can be addressed by building self-awareness, empathy, and a willingness to focus on the needs of others. With conscious effort and work, you can achieve a healthier balance.
How they view relationships differently
A self-absorbed person and a narcissist view relationships very differently.
- A self-absorbed person is typically focused on themselves but still values close relationships. They can show empathy and interest in others, though they may talk about themselves frequently or not always follow through on commitments when distracted by their own concerns.
- A narcissist, on the other hand, sees relationships as a means to an end to fulfill their needs for admiration, praise, and ego stroking. They lack empathy and exploit others without remorse to achieve their goals.
Self-absorbed people are capable of forming close friendships, though their friends may sometimes feel neglected or unheard. Narcissists struggle to maintain genuine friendships since they view friends as sources of supply rather than as equals. They drop friends when they are no longer useful and make new friends to start the cycle over.
In romantic relationships, the self-absorbed partner can be loving and attentive but may be less reliable or make their own needs a priority at times. Narcissists are more likely to emotionally and psychologically abuse their partners to assert control and feed their egos. They look for partners who are eager to please and will shower them with praise, but then devalue and discard them.
Self-absorbed people generally care about their close family members, though they may be perceived as selfish or oblivious at times. Narcissists frequently exploit and manipulate family members to get what they want, showing little genuine care or concern for their well-being. They are more likely to create chaos, conflict, and long-term estrangement within the family system.
In the end, the degree of empathy and ability to genuinely connect with others are what truly separates the self-absorbed from the narcissistic personality. Recognizing these differences can help you set appropriate boundaries and have realistic expectations in your relationships.
Self-Absorption on a Spectrum vs. Narcissism as a Disorder
The difference between being self-absorbed and having narcissistic personality disorder lies in the severity and pervasiveness of the symptoms. Self-absorption exists on a spectrum, while narcissistic personality disorder is a clinical diagnosis.
Many people exhibit some degree of self-centeredness in their thoughts and behaviors at times. This can range from occasionally being overly focused on your own interests and desires to consistently putting your own needs first in most situations. The more extreme end of self-absorption may significantly impact your relationships and daily functioning, but it does not necessarily warrant a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissistic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition characterized by an excessive need for admiration, a lack of empathy, and an exaggerated sense of self-importance. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, to receive a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, an individual must meet five or more of the following criteria:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance
- Is preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, or attractiveness
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a sense of entitlement and unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment.
- Is interpersonally exploitative
- Lacks empathy
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
If these traits significantly hinder your relationships and daily functioning, you may meet the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder. The severity and potential for negative consequences tend to be much greater for those who are self-absorbed. Speaking with a mental health professional is the best way to determine if you or someone you know meets the criteria for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
Are there any benefits to healthy self-absorption?
While self-absorption is often viewed negatively, some degree of self-focus can have psychological benefits. When channeled constructively, self-reflection and understanding your own needs and desires lead to:
- Stronger sense of identity. Examining your own thoughts, behaviors, values, and motivations helps establish a clear and stable sense of who you are. You gain insight into your strengths, weaknesses, priorities, and goals.
- Improved emotional regulation. Knowing yourself better, including triggers that provoke certain emotional reactions, allows you to anticipate and better manage your emotions and moods. You can identify coping strategies that work specifically for you.
- Effective decision-making Understanding your core principles and priorities in life provides a framework for making difficult choices. You can evaluate options based on what really matters to you rather than external pressures or influences.
- Healthier relationships. Self-awareness cultivates empathy for others and acceptance of differences. You have a balanced view of yourself and your own needs, so you do not rely on others solely for validation or happiness. You can set appropriate boundaries and choose partners that genuinely complement who you are.
In moderation, self-focused attention can absolutely be beneficial. The key is maintaining an open, curious, and compassionate attitude toward yourself. Judge yourself with the same kindness and generosity you would show to someone you care about. Appreciate both your strengths and your vulnerabilities, and use self-understanding as a tool for growth rather than a means of harsh self-criticism. With the right mindset, self-absorption can evolve into wisdom and inner peace.
Tips for Coping with them
Sometimes, we may encounter people who are difficult to deal with, such as rude customers, demanding bosses, or aggressive drivers. These situations can be stressful and frustrating, but there are some strategies that can help us cope with them more effectively. Here are some tips for coping with them:
Coping with a self-absorbed person
Coping with a self-absorbed person can be challenging, but there are some effective strategies you can employ.
Set clear boundaries.
Politely but firmly tell the self-absorbed person that certain behaviors are unacceptable to you. For example, say something like, “Please don’t interrupt me. I find it disrespectful. Enforce consequences if they continue to cross the line.
Don’t engage or argue.
Do not play into their need to make everything about themselves. Do not argue or try to reason with them. Remain detached and do not get drawn into defending yourself or your position.
Focus on your own needs.
Do not rely on the self-absorbed person to meet your emotional needs or make you feel valued. Connect with other supportive people in your life and engage in self-care. Make sure to maintain your own interests and set aside time for yourself.
Set limits on availability.
You do not need to be available whenever the self-absorbed person wants your attention. Limit the time you spend together and be selective about what events you attend together. Say no when you need to prioritize yourself.
Accept that you cannot change them.
As frustrating as it is, you must accept that you cannot force a self-absorbed person to change their behavior. You can only control how you choose to respond to them. Focus on surrounding yourself with people who treat you well and bring positivity to your life.
While coping with self-absorbed people can be difficult, establishing boundaries, limiting availability, and accepting what you cannot change are strategies that can help preserve your own wellbeing. Ultimately, you deserve to be around people who respect you and support your needs. Make sure to put your own self-care and mental health first.
Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissist
When dealing with a narcissist, it’s important to set clear boundaries and not engage in their manipulative behavior. Some strategies to try:
Avoid arguing with them or trying to change them.
Narcissists typically lack self-awareness and empathy, so confronting them about their behavior often won’t lead anywhere productive. Don’t waste time and energy trying to make them understand how their actions impact you. It’s more effective to remain calm and detached from their drama.
Don’t compliment or praise them excessively.
While narcissists constantly crave admiration and praise, too much will only feed their ego and sense of entitlement. Give compliments sparingly and only when truly deserved.
Set firm boundaries.
Be very clear and consistent with your boundaries. Don’t make empty threats or cave in to their demands. Stand up for yourself and say “no” when they try to take advantage of you. Enforce consequences when they cross the line.
Limit contact when possible.
If the narcissist in your life is not someone you can completely cut off, limit the time you spend together as much as possible. Be polite but brief, and avoid overly personal conversations. The less information they have about you, the less they can use against you.
Seek counseling or therapy if needed.
Dealing with narcissistic people can be emotionally draining and damaging to your self-esteem. Speaking to a counselor or therapist can help you work through these challenges, gain insight into the narcissist’s behavior, and learn strategies to protect yourself. They can also help determine if the relationship is salvageable or should be ended.
In summary, don’t engage or argue; set boundaries; limit contact; and seek professional help if needed. These approaches, while not easy, can help reduce the negative impact a narcissist has on your life.
Seeking professional help
If, after self-reflection, you still have concerns about unhealthy self-focus or relationships, seeking counseling could help provide clarity and strategies for growth. A licensed psychologist or therapist can offer an outside perspective to determine if your behaviors align more closely with self-absorption or narcissistic personality disorder.
- Speaking with a professional counselor allows you to openly and honestly share details about your life, thoughts, and behaviors. A counselor can then ask probing questions to gain a fuller understanding of your situation and mental wellbeing.
- Through counseling, you may gain insights into the root causes of your self-focused tendencies and how they impact your interactions with others. A counselor can also help you explore how to strengthen your empathy, improve your listening skills, and become more aware of the needs of people around you.
- If narcissistic personality disorder is diagnosed, counseling and targeted therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful for learning skills to build healthier relationships. While narcissistic personality disorder is challenging to treat, progress can be made with commitment to the process.
Seeking counseling does not mean there is something “wrong” with you that needs “fixing. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and counseling can be a useful tool for gaining self-awareness, learning new skills, improving relationships, and achieving personal growth. Speaking with a professional therapist or counselor is often the first step towards understanding yourself better and making positive life changes.
Self-Reflection and Assessment
To gain insight into whether you may be self-absorbed or actually narcissistic, honest self-reflection is key. Ask yourself the following questions:
Do you constantly seek attention and admiration?
- Do you feel entitled to special treatment and privileges?
- Are you preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, or attractiveness?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, you may exhibit some narcissistic tendencies. However, narcissistic personality disorder is a serious mental health condition that requires a diagnosis from a licensed professional.
Do you lack empathy for others and their needs?
- Do you exploit people to achieve your own ends?
- Do you envy others, or do you believe others envy you?
Those high in narcissism typically lack empathy, are manipulative, and are hypersensitive to perceived slights. If this sounds familiar, speaking to a therapist could help you gain awareness and make positive changes.
Are you self-centered, or do you make an effort to understand others?
- Do you boast or brag frequently to pump up your ego?
- Do you have a hard time handling criticism?
We all have moments of self-absorption, but if you exhibit these behaviors chronically, you may want to evaluate whether they are impacting your relationships and life satisfaction. Speaking with a licensed psychologist or counselor can help determine if intervention is needed.
Self-reflection is difficult, but facing hard truths about ourselves is the only way we can grow. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional if needed. They can provide an objective assessment, helpful resources, and a plan for improving self-awareness and cultivating healthier relationships.
Now that you understand the differences between being self-absorbed and having narcissistic personality disorder, you’re equipped to do some self-reflection. Look for patterns in your thoughts and behaviors that point to either excessive self-focus or a lack of empathy for others. If you do identify some troubling signs, consider speaking to a mental health professional. They can provide an objective assessment and help determine if you would benefit from treatment.
The truth is, we all have moments of self-centeredness. But if your self-absorption causes problems in your relationships or other areas of life, it’s worth addressing. You owe it to yourself and those around you to gain insight into your own personality and make positive changes. With support, you can establish healthier self-esteem, become less self-centered in your thinking, and build more mutually caring connections. You deserve to lead a happy, fulfilling life surrounded by people who appreciate you for who you are, flaws and all. The journey starts with you.
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors
- What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? – Source: APA Div. 12 (Society of Clinical Psychology)
- Common Traits Of The Self-Centered Person By Tina Vasquez
- Narcissistic personality disorder From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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