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longtresses's avatar

Personal growth - How to overcome self-absorption?

Asked by longtresses (1327 points ) April 20th, 2011

Most of us in my opinion have been self-absorbed or overly self-concerned in some ways. This depends on the phase in our lives too; at times we can be wrapped up in obsessive thoughts or concerns. Children can be self-absorbed, and so are teenagers.

If you have been there, were there moments that burst you out of the bubble? How did you wake up to recognize what you were in hindsight? Did your spouse/family/mentor/friend/co-worker “ground” you or turn things upside down, gently or otherwise?

If you have been there, have you made a conscious decision to move away from that state? What’s the antidote?

I know this kind of question is hard to answer.. Thank you for any stories or suggestions. Hope to learn something from you.

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19 Answers

Hibernate's avatar

I cannot remember what made me overcome it.
Though it just passed.

I’ll try to take some notes so i can reply you later.

gmander's avatar

Living in another country was a life changer for me. Everything became more difficult. I only knew a small amount of the language. Driving was on the other side of the road. Some many small things were different that you are continuously being surprised that a simple task actually doesn’t happen the way you expected. When you come back home you realise how much of the time people are only half awake and living their life by the numbers.

lillycoyote's avatar

I’m not really sure. I think it’s basically about empathy. Either your parents raised you to understand that you are not the center of the universe, you make and effort to teach yourself that you are not the center of the universe or you have an experience or experiences that teach you and make you understand that you are not the center of the universe.

That all sounds very smug, I know. I was taught to not believe that I was the center of the universe but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t think that sometimes. I think experience is really, in this circumstance, the only teacher. I think that there are simply so many things, unless you have a natural or taught propensity for empathy that you simply will not and cannot understand until it happens to you or to someone you love.

stardust's avatar

There’s probably a few different factors for everyone. For me, I grew up knowing I was not at the centre of the universe. Alongside that, life has taught me a few lessons along the way. Loss of loved ones showed me that we’re all here on our own journey, nobody’s more or less important than the next.
Witnessing horrendous poverty while volunteering overseas has been my biggest lesson so far where this is concerned.
GQ. Reminds me to feel very grateful for being alive today. Thanks

BarnacleBill's avatar

I was raised that I was not the center of the universe. Marrying a very self-centered person and having children pretty much finished it for me.

Cruiser's avatar

In my real life I feel I am totally un-self absorbed…Cruiser though has at times gotten out of hand with my opinions and has received a couple good smack downs from others. I have mellowed quite a bit because of that special Lurve I have gotten! ;)

marinelife's avatar

Spend you time thinking about others: their comfort, their feelings, their point of view.

Try volunteering.

dabbler's avatar

one possibility is to indulge the urge thoroughly until you get bored. guaranteed that will happen (to anyone, not a personal attack). Maybe you are bored already and that’s why you’re asking this question. Take stock,make a list, of the useful things you know about yourself from your self-absorption (+ and -). That can help put some topics to rest and let you move on.
Get curious about the people around you…

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Volunteering to help others always seems to help. It turns the attention to the needs of others and puts life back into proper perspective.

laineybug's avatar

I’m still a teenager, but when I realized that the people around me had so many problems of their own and I knew how to help them at least half of my life became about making sure others were okay.

ariah's avatar

Make sure you don’t say anything about yourself in ¾ of the conversations you have unless they ask about you. Then give a short answer and move on. Eventually you will learn to do this automatically and by then you will actually want to hear what they are saying. It worked for me.

gm_pansa1's avatar

i might seem like I’m this way to someone who doesn’t know me, but I spend most of my time being worried about putting everyone else ahead of myself in some form or another. How to snap people out of this? Sometimes it takes for people to wear someone else’s shoes for them to realize anything, but then again, self absorbed people don’t really care much so it might not work. Or, at least this is my own experience with said types anyways. Thanks for this brilliant and thoughtful question! :D

longtresses's avatar

@dabbler Would you give this same piece of advice to someone who is dealing with a difficult person—to indulge the person?

BarnacleBill's avatar

I’ve been complaining the last week about my house falling apart and needing lots of money to fix/replace things. Had lunch today with a former coworker that I ran into in the grocery. He recounted that he’s recovering from cancer of the anus and has an artificial sphincter that only works sometimes, his 25 year old stepdaughter was arrested for shoplifting jewelry, and his only (adult) son has disappeared, and he hasn’t seen or heard from him for 4 years.

I’m feeling so much better about the water heater going out last night…

longtresses's avatar

@BarnacleBill Right.. seeing misfortunes of others can ground us marvelously.

dabbler's avatar

@longtresses , interesting point, I assumed you were asking for your self. My response was geared from that POV and, if that’s the case, the fact that you are asking a question here shows there is a grasp of the value of community. So in that case go ahead get in there inside and work it out. Find out what’s in there calling you. Come back out and share it with us.
Working on something like that with someone else is more complicated. I think that in some sense the answer is yes indulge the person’s introspection, however it would be in a manner that encourages self-discovery. When there is self-discovery there grows confidence for relating and relationships. It would be so personal you’d have to know the person some to get a bead on what to cultivate to provide positive reinforcement for looking outward instead of the habit of inward.
Your point about a decision on their part is critical, but it can be eased into w/o knowing it happened – hey I actually like hanging out with my friends, hey I have friends ! An appetite can grow for relating to others once the inner validation is sufficient.
Trying to change someone is risky business, we come into this world with a bag of psychological aspects and sometimes a lid is suppressing more than you can tell from the outside. For some folk hiding a lot of what’s inside could be the best that person can do.

kitkat25's avatar

I overcame being self absorbed when I was a young child. I was the 2nd oldest of 6 kids and so I had 4 younger brothers and sisters to care about and help take care of. For as far back as I can remember I have almost always put other people’s needs ahead of my own. Then when I became a parent myself I put the needs of my children above my own. Not that I neglect myself. I do take care of myself and my own needs but it has just always been easy for me to care for others and not be self absorbed.

thorninmud's avatar

I think of self-absorbtion as a “root and branches” problem.

There’s the root of the problem, which is our misunderstanding of our true nature. We identify with this bag of skin and its opinions, thoughts and preferences, and fail to see beyond that limited view to the fullness of our being.

Then there are the branches that are nourished by the root. These are our habitual patterns of thinking based on that root misunderstanding. A lifetime of seeing the world in terms of “self” and “other” wears grooves, so to speak, of habitual thinking and behaviors that we constantly tend to fall back into.

Ultimately, the root has to be cut. We have to directly see the illusory nature of what we have always taken to be our self – see its emptiness, lack of substance. Do that and your true nature stands revealed. This can’t be an intellectual undertaking. There is no way to convince your self that your self is illusory. This can only happen through penetrating insight.

One can prune away at the “branches”, making an effort to direct one’s attention away from self-interest and toward others, and that’s important work; but as long as the root is intact, the branches keep reestablishing themselves. Deep down, one still is under the spell of being a separate self in a world of others. Pruning the branches weakens that illusion somewhat, and may make it easier to eventually cut the root, but that stroke of insight is the only way to really dispatch it.

Even after cutting the root, the branches, those mental and behavioral habits, carry forward, even though they’ve been cut off from their source. It’s still easy to fall back into those old patterns. But once the emptiness of self has been seen into, something fundamental has shifted, and those old habits no longer have quite the same hold.

longtresses's avatar

@all It’s inspiring to hear so many perspectives. Thank you all for sharing, for courage.

@thorninmud Beautiful analogy, thank you. :-) I’ve recently gotten back on my meditation routine. With practice and some reading, sometimes I find that there’s space between the situation and “me.” I couldn’t be sure whether it was me who froze things out, or whether my mind learned not to pick things up like grabbing hot coal. But things change everyday, so.. Again thank you for sharing.

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