Written with Kris MacKain, Ph.D
We live in the “all about me” generation. This is driven in part by social media, the focus on self-fulfillment, and by our insecurities about our lack of value. These drivers affect all of us; consequently, we all have the potential of succumbing to self-centeredness.
What are the signs that this condition is present and is becoming a disability to us as well as others?
Let’s look at some signs of self-absorption during interactions with others. Self-centeredness may be present when our conversational partner is:
1. Listening superficially. One indicator of this is when your conversational partner appears distracted and/or anxious to talk about their concerns. If this pervades most of your conversations, you may feel lonely or marginalized in their presence.
2. Talking in parallel. There is very little transpiring between the two of you in the conversation. Shortly after your conversation, your conversational partner cannot remember what you said.
3. Needing something from us like adulation or affirmation. When this becomes pervasive, you may begin feeling like you are simply an audience rather than a friend.
4. Expressing agitation, annoyance, or boredom (e.g., yawning frequently when others talk) when the focus is taken off him or her.
5. Showing disinterest in others with diminished or fleeting attention or answering in platitudes rather than thoughtful responses attuned to the speaker.
6. Showing an obvious lack of empathy or compassion, and/or immediately and consistently bringing the attention back to their concerns.
In reading this list, perhaps we also see ourselves! We may think about particular contexts or people that, for whatever reason, trigger a self-centered response from us.
All of us are self-centered at one time or another and sometimes that is necessary, particularly when we are in pain or in great need. However, if this has become a habitual behavior, resulting in feelings of disconnection or, worse, alienation from those we care about the most, consider these pointers to help transition to a more meaningful connection with others. (It should be noted here that this might be a difficult process, as flagged by the “warnings” under each item).
Steps Toward A More Authentic Connection
1. Turn the spotlight on us by becoming ruthlessly honest about our behaviors. Warning. The truth heals but it can also be uncomfortable.
2. Our conversational partners need to be healthy truth-tellers. Others can gently flag our self-centered behaviors and point us to healthier alternatives. Warning. It is not easy to have others point out our self-centeredness.
3. Find ways to deal with the history that lies at the root of our insecurity. Warning. This can be a painful process before it becomes fruitful.
4. Learn to be comfortable in our own skin. Warning. In doing so, we may need to manage moments of anxiety that are part of the process of liberation.
5. Experiment with healthy behaviors like learning to be present and setting (necessary) boundaries with others. Warning. Be prepared to go outside of your comfort zone.
6. Learn skills such as how to deactivate our “hot buttons” so that we respond rather than react. Warning. Don’t expect “cures” but, rather, learn to manage hot buttons with new tools.
7. Surround ourselves with healthy, life-affirming people who accept us, warts and all. Warning. They may at times make us uncomfortable with the truth.
8. Open our hearts to greater intimacy. Warning. We may risk pain but the benefits far outweigh the downside.
9. Come to embrace the goodness of our inner selves. No warning here, enjoy the liberation!
Imagine for a moment the joy of living authentically. Real intimacy and conversation occur. We feel comfortable in our own skin. We experience the power of being present with another and the deepening of those relationships.
With self-awareness, good companions, and helpful self-care tools, we can learn to embrace the soul part of the self. Leading with the soul takes us beyond habitual self-centered preoccupations, moving us toward a balance between our concerns and those of others.
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