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How to Overcome Self-centeredness
By: Rick Fannin
Do you know someone that seems to be worried, anxious, and afraid of everything? Do you know someone that is very self-centered? You may hear other terms used when people speak about self-centeredness, such as self-serving, self-absorption, egocentric and selfish. Essentially, all refer to a pervasive focus upon self and one's own needs, wishes, and desires. Have you recently looked in the mirror to see if self-centeredness and fear are at the root of the problems you create in your life?
No one thinks about you more than you think about yourself. You are the center of your own universe. We tend to spend most of our lives attempting to minimize the pain and maximize the pleasure within our personal world. We tend to blame other people and situations as the core reason we are experiencing pain in our life. We blame others and situations because we are not pleased with the life that we are living. However, such an approach ultimately results in increased pain and suffering and a dramatic decrease in living a pleasing and rewarding life.
"You will never find a truly happy self-centered person. They simply don't exist."
How is Self-Centeredness the Root Problem?
Both fear and self-centeredness are evolutionary survival skills. These skills served the cave dwellers well. However, the human race has outgrown the need for these self-focused survival skills. We must learn to evolve beyond this neanderthal short-sidedness.
In nature, not all species members make evolutionary changes; personal self-evolution can be stalled or blocked. This occurs primarily from attachment to ideas, pride, fear, self-concept, and close-mindedness. We can get 'stuck' and are unwilling to honestly examine ourselves and our delusions.
In theory, evolution is geared toward selecting favorable traits that help ensure the survival of a species. That being said, it would be sensible to say that the old egocentric, competitive, and self-centered state of existence no longer serves the human race. An inclusive, cooperative, wholistic, and biocentric view of ourselves is how we must evolve if our species is going to survive on this planet.
I believe that we are all on this journey of awakening to the self. Each of us is at the exact place we are supposed to be at this point in time; genuine self-acceptance is required to see this clearly.
Today, self-centeredness is driven by a hedonistic desire to maximize please and the avoidance of real or imagined pain. This pain arises from a feeling that we are not worthy or safely and securely attached to others. The self-centered pursuit of pleasure may result in a momentary experience of happiness. However, this self-centered pleasure is not sustainable. It quickly fades, and we are desperate to find another external source of pleasure once again.
Being self-centered is costly. Many, if not all, irrational fears are rooted in self-centeredness. This is at the root of many psychiatric illnesses, including addiction, personality disorders, anxiety, and depression. That is correct. Many of the disorders, such as addiction, are really just a symptom of underlying core causes and conditions such as self-centeredness and fear.
Self-centeredness damages relationships because self-ruminations and resentments rob you of the capacity to tune into and attend to others. You cannot be empathic. You tend to be more concerned with how a situation impacts you and tend to be blind as to how the same situation impacts others. It is a vicious cycle because anxiety drives negative self-centered ruminations, which causes more anxiety. Depressed people experience compulsive negative self-ruminations that worsen self-esteem and self-worth, worsening depression.
In your interactions with others, your words and actions tend to be driven by these self-centered fears, further damaging relationships that are so meaningful to you. The fear of losing these relationships, anxiety, and sadness over the damage caused to these relationships worsen the depression. The sadness comes from a fear of never being able to repair what has been damaged fully.
John C. Maxwell
"One way to overcome our natural self-centeredness is to try to see things from other people's perspectives."
Self-centeredness may even contribute to more health problems and a shortened life span. Self-centeredness also drives addiction. Self-centeredness leads to disconnection, and disconnection fuels addiction, which creates more disconnection and self-absorption, and so on, into a downward spiral of misery. The person struggling with addiction attempts to self-medicate these emotions away with the temporary relief found in drugs or alcohol, which creates more problems and unmanageability in their life, which creates increased fear, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. It is a vicious cycle.
The early pioneers of Alcoholics Anonymous were intuitively aware of how self-centeredness and fear played the starring role in the addiction. Learning to become self-aware and overcome self-centeredness and fear are two of the fundamentals of how the twelve-steps help overcome addiction. More importantly, this achievement contributes greatly to living in harmony with life and accepting live life on life's terms without the aid of drugs or alcohol. Page 62 of the Big Book from Alcoholics Anonymous describes how self-centeredness is at the root of our problems.
"Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?
Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows, and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.
So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God's help."
There are many costs of self-centeredness. These costs pertain to the person who has self-centeredness and those involved with the self-centered individual through relationships and even simply associations.
Some of the costs to the person with extreme self-focus are:
- Difficult family relationships that may involve conflict, emotional estrangement, power and control dynamics, and/or abuse
- Difficult work relationships in which there is little teamwork but a tendency to set one's self apart or above and beyond coworkers
- Loneliness, alienation, and social isolation due to feeling others are less than, or due to rejection by others
- Failed relationships in which the needs, rights, desires, goals, opinions, feelings, etc. of others are disregarded, violated, or discounted
- Chaotic and disruptive reactions when one feels slighted, disrespected, disregarded, or criticized
- Inability to put aside self-centeredness to pursue a mutually supportive and intimate relationship
- Self-sabotage of one's own goals and ambitions due to becoming distracted by being at odds with others
- Feel entitled to special privileges and special regard, but feel hurt that those are not given
Some of the negative impacts experienced by family members and other associates of someone with extreme self-focus are:
- Feeling dismissed, discounted, disregarded, belittled
- Being 'used and abused' by excessive demands of the person with an excessive self-focus
- Feeling that nothing is ever enough to please or satisfy the person with self-centeredness
- Being vulnerable to manipulation, deceit, and boundary violations if there is something to be gained by the person with extreme self-focus
- Being unable to trust that the self-centered person will have your best interest at heart in critical times
- Internalizing messages such as you are not good enough and feeling poorly about yourself, believing you are less than the self-preoccupied person because you are treated that way
Fear and Addiction
Going hand in hand with self-centeredness is self-focused fear. Fear and addiction go hand in hand, and fear often becomes a roadblock on the road to recovery. Fear is a common negative thinking pattern in addiction. These are some of the categories of fearful thinking:
- fear of not measuring up;
- fear of being judged;
- fear of feeling like a fraud and being discovered;
- fear of not knowing how to live in the world without drugs or alcohol;
- fear of success;
- fear of facing the consequences;
- fear of withdrawal;
- fear of not having support;
- fear of the other things besides drugs or alcohol that will need to be changed, like toxic relationships;
- fear of being honest;
- fear of asking for help;
- fear of not fitting in;
- FOMO - Fear of missing out
- fear of trusting others;
- fear of feeling intense emotions;
- fear of not being successful in recovery
A basic fear of recovery is that the individual is not capable of recovery. The belief is that recovery requires some special strength or willpower that the individual does not possess. Past relapses prove that the individual does not have what it takes to recover. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you see that recovery is based on coping skills and not willpower. Practicing spirituality can help you see that recovery and serenity are based on living life in alignment with God's will, including your actions in alignment with spiritual principles and values.
"The lack of God-centeredness leads to self-centeredness."
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." - Matthew 22:36-40 NIV
This passage describes a God-centered rather than self-centered life. A God-centered life consists of loving God and loving others completely. It also includes having a radical acceptance of others instead of manipulating or brute-forcing them into being the way we would like them to be. When we walk with God and obey the Bible, we live our lives God-centered and no longer prioritize ourselves over others. We instead value the same things that God values. We live a life guided by the golden rule and treat others the way that we desire to be treated.
"Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love." - 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT
Like 1 Corinthians 13 says, love is the most important thing we can pursue and have. The Bible tells us that the way to move past our self-centeredness is to love, and love for others grows out of God's love for us. This means that the more we turn to God through prayer and reading Scriptures, instead of thinking about ourselves, the more we will have room in our hearts to love.
It's comforting to know that being loving is not a personality trait or a talent but a choice we can make every day to grow as we see God's love for us. As we leave self-centeredness behind, we'll find ourselves making a lasting impact on the world the way Jesus did — by genuinely caring about the people around us. We gain awareness that one of the greatest acts of love towards yourself is loving and service to others.
Spiritual Solution to Resolve Self-centeredness and Fear.
The chief cause of our defective character has been self-centered fear. It has been primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or fail to get what we demanded. Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration. We band upon the highchair of life because we want what we want when we want it. Therefore, no peace was to be had unless we could find a means of reducing these demands.
Self-centeredness occurs when you refuse to trust God and his instructions for life more than trusting in yourself. This scripture clarifies that God doesn't want us to lean on our own understanding of our own perspectives. He wants us to trust him and realize that we can't figure out everything on our own. It is a realization that we need God and our Spiritual need to be able to live in harmony with others.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." - Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV
It takes honesty and humility to admit and to radically accept that only God truly knows everything. Thinking we know better than God is a sign our lives are centered around our own ego, emotions, and opinions rather than centered around God. In these moments, we have to explore our hearts and be honest with God about why we struggle to trust him.
If you want to learn to trust God, you cannot just be content to express your emotions or unbelief in prayer. You must also decide and choose to trust God in your actions despite all your emotions.
Step three includes deciding to turn your will and your life over to the care of God. Personally, I use the third step prayer each morning to start each morning. The third step prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous states:
"God, I offer myself to you to build with me and do with me as you will. Relieve me of the bondage of self so that I can better do your will. Take away my difficulties so that victory over them will bear witness to your love, your power, and your way of life. May I do your will always. Amen."
I love this prayer because it starts each day with a desire to be "relieved of the bondage of self" and with the intention of doing His will instead of mine for today.
What Does It Mean to Live Life According to God's Will?
Often, people who lean toward being self-centered blame others for their problems and try to control or manipulate the world around them for their own comfort. A self-centered person's identity normally comes from the world. The self-centered identity is rooted in what we have, who we have, and what we can achieve versus the character of who we are and how we live our life.
What does it mean to be relieved of the bondage of self, self-will, and self-centeredness and what does it mean to live a life with a God and other focus? The list below includes a column of characteristics of self-will, and to the right is the corresponding characteristic of God's will.
|Selfish and Self-Seeking||
|Interest in Others|
|Giving and sharing|
|Purity and commitment|
|Take Appropriate Action|
|Indulgent, Gluttony, To Excess||
|Love & Concern for Others|
|Hurtful or Harmful Acts||
|Good Deeds, Helpful|
The self-will column illustrates how our "Problem" runs much deeper than using drugs or alcohol. Consider how jealousy, resentments, anger, impatience, dishonesty, laziness, lust, or pride have ultimately led to feeling disconnected from others and led to pain and suffering in your life.
Conversely, examine the personality characteristics of God's Will. The actions based on this column create a sense of peace, harmony, and connection with others, the authentic self, the world, and God. Research studies show that selflessness correlates with greater harmony in relationships and greater happiness.
30 Tips To Stop Being Self-Centered
- Practice being mindfully present in your interactions with others
- Focus on listening instead of talking
- Start paying attention to how others respond or react to you
- Put yourself in someone else's shoes to gain a different perspective
- Be mindful that others have different views, opinions, and values.
- Learn how to compromise
- Take the time to really get to know something
- Share the spotlight
- Let someone else be in charge
- Do not brag
- Celebrate the success of others
- Take on the heart of a servant and be of service to others
- Practice gratitude
- When you are wrong, promptly admit it
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable with the ones closest to you
- Say what you mean, mean what you say, but say it loving and kind.
- Treat others the way that you would like to be treated
- Embrace that it is ok to be wrong
- Release the need to be in control
- Be openminded
- Practice putting others first
- Be generous
- Ask others for advice when making decisions
- Give others space to learn and grow
- Be willing to sacrifice at times
- Manage your expectations of others
- Practice radical acceptance of others and situations that are out of your control
- Take a formal nightly inventory and look at Self-Will items
- Live your life according to Jesus's teachings