3 Reasons Self-Absorbed People Are So Draining
These essential skills can help you handle self-absorbed people.
Posted March 23, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
- Signs that someone may be self-absorbed include consistently "one-upping" others, failing to notice cues of disinterest, and suddenly shifting from passionate to disengaged.
- Recognizing these signs can also help people identify moments when they themselves act self-centered and change their behavior.
- Alternatively, behaviors that seem self-focused can also be due to conditions such as social anxiety and autism.
While narcissists get a lot of attention, people who are plain old self-absorbed can also be draining to have as friends, colleagues, or loved ones.
Here are some common interaction patterns of self-absorbed people. Seeing these patterns clearly can help you feel less hurt or frustrated when they occur.
1. "You've got a headache? I've got a brain tumor."
This might not be the most PC saying (brain tumors are no joke), but it conveys the point well. Self-absorbed people like to one-up others. They don't like the focus being on anyone else's distress, projects, or goals.
If you tell a self-absorbed person what you have going on, they will tell you about something bigger they're experiencing or doing. This could be positive or negative. For example, if you tell them about your COVID vaccine symptoms, they will no doubt have had more severe symptoms. If you tell them about a craft project, they will tell you their plans to renovate their whole house. If you tell them about a success, they will tell you about a bigger one.
2. They're immune to subtle cues you're not interested in a topic.
Self-absorbed people see their interests and adventures through their own eyes. They assume what's fascinating to them is fascinating to others. They assume other people value the same things they do, which could be, for example, money, status, technology, travel, or aesthetics. They're wrapped up in their feelings of excitement rather than paying attention to their conversation partner's reactions.
This self-centered perspective can result in them ignoring signs that their conversation partner isn't as excited about a topic as they are.
3. Self-absorbed people can run hot and cold.
Because self-absorbed people get very immersed in their feelings and endeavors, they can be inconsistent in their contact with their support people. They may want to talk to you often if they're excited and see you as an outlet for sharing that excitement. However, when they've moved on to another topic, they might move on to another person along with it.
If you're not fulfilling a particular need for them, such as a need for emotional support, they may all but disappear. They may become very interested in you if they sense you may help them with a goal (e.g., help you with their career) but then go "off" you if that doesn't pan out, or a new person catches their attention and seems more valuable.
Recognizing self-absorption in yourself and others
We all have flaws. And everyone has the potential to grow. If you have insight into patterns that negatively impact your relationships with others, you can change those patterns. Make specific if-then plans for how you'll change your behavior. And practice! For example, if someone shares their news with you, keep the focus of the conversation on them.
What if you recognize these signs in someone you love? As mentioned, recognizing a pattern can help you take it less personally when it occurs. It can also help you be more thoughtful about your response when you observe dynamics repeating. If you're close to the person (for example, it's your spouse or adult child) and have a generally good relationship, then you might point out the pattern in a light-hearted way. You can also try being blunt rather than subtle when you're not interested in a topic.
You'll likely need to repeat these efforts more than once for them to sink in. Alternatively (or if the prior suggestions repeatedly fail), accept the person's patterns and seek the emotional support you need elsewhere.
You may feel less frustrated if the person has some positive friendship skills, despite being self-absorbed. Try reading the post "10 skills to look for in a friend."
There aren't right or wrong ways to handle a self-absorbed person (or anything that will work for all people and circumstances), so you'll need to gently experiment.
Can these patterns have other causes?
Sometimes people display these interaction patterns for reasons other than being simply wrapped up in themselves. For example, someone who is on the autism spectrum may have intense interests and have a limited range of topics they feel engaged talking about. They may talk endlessly about a few topics but struggle when the conversation changes to a topic outside their wheelhouse.
Someone who is socially anxious may have their anxiety activated by someone else's distress, and immediately jump to verbalize their concerns. (Check out this blog post on ways anxiety can cause social difficulties and rudeness.)
Whether the described patterns occur in you or someone you care about (or work with), it's wise to be aware of these other explanations.
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