A Self-Absorbed Person is defined by their behavior - in this case always acting in their own best interests and not allowing anyone else to do so - and not their traits. It helps to know their traits so you can become better at detecting them. But the important part of the phenomenon is their behavior: always putting themselves first and never allowing anyone else to do so.

I need to be sure to preface this by emphasizing that, in and of itself, there is nothing wrong with self-interest. That is an important part of survival. But it needs to be balanced out by a concern for the well being of the whole group, of others. Otherwise we would have killed ourselves off long ago and not survived as a species.

It is this balancing which is important. It is like blood pressure. Too high: we die. Too low: we die. Same with body temperature, weight, and a thousand other balancing acts of nature. If we have too little self interests, we don’t survive as individuals, and if we have too much self interests we don’t survive as a species.

So if someone acts in their own best interests, that’s not enough to call them Self-Absorbed. It is doing so without regard for the needs, feelings and rights of others. Most of the people in this group have traits or even a full diagnosis of Cluster B Personality Disorders - Narcissistic, Borderline, Antisocial and Histrionic - but a person can be Self Absorbed without being in one of those groups, based solely on their behavior of being Self Absorbed: in a world of one.

I also want to make the point that while it may be useful or helpful to know why they do this or the route they followed into this lifestyle, that is less important, for the purposes of this book, than the simple fact that they do it. My focus is the effect they have on you and the best ways for you to deal with it.

The following are examples of traits and behaviors common among Self-Absorbed People.

  1. Their behavior is all about them. The only time they act in someone else’s interests is when it is in their own best interests in the long run. Bette Midler, in the movie “Beaches” illustrated this when, after meeting her long lost best friend and talking about herself for a long time, cut herself off and said “But enough about me, let’s talk about you: what do you think of me?”

  2. They lack empathy, the natural awareness of the needs and feelings of other people. If we harm or negate someone we feel the pain we are causing and we stop. Without empathy, there is nothing to stop us.

  3. This leads to the troubling reality that, functionally, they don’t have a conscience, as we usually use the term. In this use, conscience means that part of how we are built which won’t let us deliberate cause harm to other people. Without empathy they have no reason to inhibit what they do just because it harms another person.

  4. Another trait related to a lack of conscience is a lack of remorse. Remorse is retrospective: we feel bad about something we did. Self-Absorbed People are notoriously devoid of remorse. If anything, the closest they come to remorse is, if they feel there could be consequences for what they did, they blame you, someone else, circumstances, anything but themselves.

  5. This leads to the next trait which is never really taking responsibility for their actions or the effect their actions have on others. Even when they say they take responsibility it is usually grudgingly and without behavioral follow through.

  6. They prefer activities and groups which draw attention to them but require little responsibility.

  7. Their relationships tend to be brief and superficial.

  8. They have a history of exploiting others in relationships, or an absence of healthy relationships.

  9. In their relationships they tend to try to possess and consume others.

  10. They find even basic expectations of a relationship or a job to be onerous and unreasonable and make up reasons why those expectations shouldn’t apply to them.

  11. They seldom if ever follow through on promises or expectations.

  12. They are prone to anger up to and including violence.

  13. They are prone to mood swings that are not the result of anything external.

  14. Their accomplishments turn out to be either exaggerated or non-existent.