Lack of clear perception into our selves often comes from our early environment and deficits in mirroring. If we consider generational and collective impacts too many of our parents and their parents and parents parents were engaged in a process of survival. Attention was tied up with outer, rather than inner concerns and losses may have made one parent less emotionally available to them, leaving psychic and emotional deficits and burdens. The research and work I have quoted from in previous posts from Mark Wolynn on multi generational trauma(It Didn’t Start With You) addresses these issues in some way and shows how people tend to disconnect from parents in this situation, feeling hurt, betrayed abandoned or let down, often rightly so. However there may be so much more to their story we never get to know.
Once we become more aware that our emotionally unavailable parents laboured under very real deficits, deficits that they passed down to us we can begin to take steps to address what we carry and hopefully become more aware of when and how we may have become self absorbed ourselves.
According to Nina Brown, author of Children of the Self Absorbed, the first step to reduce self absorbed behaviors is to accept that we may have absorbed some of them from our parents. She outlines ten key behaviors associated with self absorption we may need to address or work upon as follows :
- An attitude of entitlement. Feeling that you deserve preferential treatment. That you can do or say whatever you like to others and that they shoud not be upset. The idea you deserve special consideration or treatment. Insensitivity to others.
- Attention seeking. Behaviors such as talking loudly when it will disturb others. Dressing just for attention. Trying to distract or upstage others. Starting fights. Interrupting ongoing conversations. Dropping hints and teasers. (All with the intent to gain outside validation that you are significant, important, different to or better than others, or to reassure yourself that you are worthwhile, or to ease chronic self doubt.)
- Admiration seeking. Yearning for reassurance you are valued through different means including the attainment of material or ‘status’ symbols.
- Grandiosity. Taking over in situations where it is not called for. Feeling you are inherently superior to others. Arrogance. Displaying contempt. Failure to value the opinions of others. Acting big as a defence against feeling small or shameful inside.
- An impoverished self. This is the self that feels deprived, ignored, abandoned or unnurtured or treated unfairly. And this is all a matter of perception for as Brown points out me may not have a lot of support but still feel we are supported by the Universe. Focusing on weaknesses or what you do not have instead of what you do. Lack of ability to take constructive action to fix or address what you can.
- Lack of Empathy. Restricted or limited ability to sense what another person is experiencing inwardly in a specific situation without becoming enmeshed in their feeling or experience or reactions or overwhelmed by them. Being able to hear and sense what lies behind words and actions… the real message behind the words. (Brown notes we cannot be empathic with everyone all of the time and at times being too open to negative or toxic feelings can be inappropriate. Brown says “Many adults who were not subject to a parent with a Destructive Narcissistic Pattern.. are able to be empahic with many people some of the time. “)
- Seeing Others As Extensions of Self. According to Brown “the self absorbed person is only dimly aware of other people in the world as separate and distinct from her (or him), and at the unconscious level thinks others exist to serve her (or him). The self absorbed person sees everything in terms of self, as if they were the only real person in the world.” This leads to : lack of respect for other’s possessions and boundaries, making decisons that affect others without consultation, making choices and decisions for others who are able to decide for themselves, touching things that belong to others without permission. Asking overly personal questions.
- Needing to be percieved as unique and special by others. Everyone needs to know they are unique, special and worthy but when self absorbed this is taken to an extreme, or acted upon in a demanding way. This relates to having an extra high opinion of oneself that is not based in fact. It can lead to a lack of respect for others needs and rights. It can result in criticism of others faults and flaws. Making comparisons that put them up and the other person down. Blaming others for getting in the way. Needing to be complimented or praised first.
- Exploitation of Others This involves using other to gain benefit, coupled with the conviction that others are not as worthy. Taking advantage of another person’s kind, generous or caring nature, desire to please or need for approval just to serve the self. Expecting favours without reciprocation. Lying, cheating, misleading. Using “if you loved me or cared about me” to manipulate others
- Shallow Emotions. Adults with healthy narcissism can experience and express a wide and deep variety of emotions. In contrast, self absorbed adults are extremely limited in experiencing and expressing their feelings. Experiencing for them seems to be mainly limited to fear and anger and while they have the words when expressing other feelings, they don’t have the accompanying emotions. These people are not genuine in their expression of feelings, except for the variations of fear and anger. To get an idea of your range and level for experiencing emotions Nina recommends an exercise in which you make a list of each hour in the day and beside each time portion list all the feelings you remember experiencing. Beside the list of feelings list the names of people you expressed the feelings to. Review how open you were in either expressing or not expressing them. Did you have much variablity in what you felt? Did you primarily express negative feelings? Did you have an expansive or limited vocabulary for your emotions?
- Emptiness at the Core of Self. Arises when children become isolated and lack meaningful connection to others. When we are not received as kids we don’t develop a strong connection to and faith in the Universe. The capacity for experiencing and understanding our feelings may be severely limited as a result. If we were not shown compassion we cannot feel it for ourselves. If we are focused on our emptiness and hurt we are robbed of seeing the beauty and wonder around us. We feel separate and disconnected and so emptiness grows. Experiencing ‘holes’ and then reaching to substances or unfulfilling activities to feel ‘full’.
Bear in mind when reading this list that there is a difference between being self absorbed and self reflective. It’s only natural that when we didnt get want we needed we would dig in and come to mistrust or not understand where others are coming from. I have written another post to follow this one soon on the distinction between self absorption and self reflection. People with destructive or malignant narcissism cannot self reflect or introspect, they tend to attack or blame often out of the narrow range of feeling, Brown speaks about in her book. We are, in healing and becoming more self aware learning to strike a balance, its painstaking work.