Beyond Egocentrism to Wholesome Character


Egocentrism is the normal condition for all of us in early life. As infants, we see the world as a mere extension of ourselves. And we also believe the things that we think might bring us pleasure exist purely for our use and benefit. This kind of egocentric world view is both natural and normal when we’re very young. But as we grow, things simply must change, especially if we’re to grow in the dimension I call character. Keeping an egocentric view of things is the bane of all relationships. It poses danger both to ourselves and everyone else. So, naturally, the first step toward healthy socialization and sound character largely involves moving past our infantile egocentrism.

The First Step Toward Character

There are many important lessons to learn and values to internalize on the road to sound character. And, as mentioned above, overcoming egocentrism is an essential priority. It’s not a first step in a purely chronological sense. Rather, it’s a fundamental principle, that when embraced, makes genuinely embracing all the other values and principles essential to good character possible. (See also: Nurturing Good Character: The “10 Commandments”  and  Essentials for the Journey.) Without seeing ourselves as part of something larger, and without having a proper sense of self in the midst of things, it’s virtually impossible to achieve full character maturity.

A Proper Sense of Self

We need a proper sense of self to be emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually healthy. And that includes having a balanced sense of self-worth. We need to know what our true worth is and where it truly comes from. Otherwise, we’re prone to unhealthy ego-inflation or equally unhealthy impoverished self-esteem. And an impoverished self-image makes us unduly vulnerable to the exploiters and abusers I describe in In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance. (Mira, tambien: Lobos Con Piel de Cordero.)

Knowing ourselves and loving ourselves properly is not egocentrism. In fact, it’s everything but! Once you know deeply who you are at the core, and how unconditionally you’re innately valued, etc., you’re free of both the need to prove anything or feelings of worthlessness. Sadly, these days, a culture devoid of healthy character places many obstacles in the way of forming a healthy sense of self. And that’s how so many of our relationships end up being toxic. (See: How Did We End Up Here?.)

Hear more about this topic on the current edition of Character Matters.



15 thoughts on “Beyond Egocentrism to Wholesome Character

  1. “Knowing ourselves and loving ourselves properly is not egocentrism. In fact, it’s everything but! Once you know deeply who you are at the core, and how unconditionally you’re innately valued, etc., you’re free of both the need to prove anything or feelings of worthlessness. Sadly, these days, a culture devoid of healthy character places many obstacles in the way of forming a healthy sense of self. And that’s how so many of our relationships end up being toxic.”

    It took me a long time not to take people’s criticisms and behavior personally. I’ve come to recognize that often people criticize and shame for behaviors that are positive and in your best interest. And they want to discourage or demean you because they want to control you and have the advantage over you. To keep you down.

    I’ve learned to get away from the repeat offenders and to learn to ask my self if something is in my best interest. Also to ask myself if their criticism or request is legitimate. My father was very critical and also shamed me for any celebrating myself. For example I got lost driving to a memorial, he called me an idiot. (I was 35 and shot back that I was not an idiot and told him not to call me that).

    Another one was I got a new hairstyle and was a bit self conscious as a 15 year old. At the dinner table, in front of everyone, he said “you know, you look ridiculous”. It was so humiliating.
    I was learning golf and got two under par and was so excited I jumped
    Up and cheered. He gave me a shaming look and I just wanted to crawl in hole somewhere.

    Chronic invalidation will kill your spirit and self-esteem. It’s on my radar now. If someone is critical, I really consider the source and decide if it’s legit.

  2. Healing,
    Sorry you had to endure you critical dad. Daughters want so badly to make their dad proud.
    I watched my daughter go through instances of her sarcastic critical father, my X. I’d see her hurt.
    She once told him of her report card, one that she was proud of. You know what his response was? Yeah, well look at what you made last time! Her face sunk. When he left the room I had to tell her to be proud of herself for what she’s accomplished, that no matter what she does, her dad will find a way to put it down and criticize, that he a jerk, no matter what good anyone does, he will find a way to criticize. Don’t try to please him, do your best and make yourself proud.
    I should have left that man much sooner that I did. He harmed everyone in the family.

    1. Thanks, Lucy,

      I just posted a response and it disappeared into the ether….we’ll see if it shows up!

      It’s great that your daughter had you to be her enlightened witness and encourager. It’s amazing how that can help reduce the damage of these folks.

      Unfortunately I didn’t have that. I had it with my grandma on my mom’s side when I was little which I truly believe saved my sanity. My mom was no help as she was wrapped up in herself. My dad was critical and abusive, but the woman he married when I was 10 was very jealous of our relationship and did her best to divide us. She was Way Worse than he was, she was straight up evil. Either a sociopath or a psychopath. Think evil step mother in Cinderella, then add in gaslighting and triangulation. A piece. of. work.

      1. Healing
        Thank goodness we have enlightenment here on this blog and access to Dr. Simon’s articles to understand what happened. It takes a lot of memories and sorting and analyzing to understand all the different tactics bad characters use to make their “victims” miserable. I just don’t understand why a person can enjoy seeing someone else miserable and hurt. It’s not understandable, but it’s real.
        There are some messed up characters in this world. I’m still encountering them, fooled, and I know what to look for.

  3. I don’t understand how some can purposely harm others and have no qualms about it. I work on establishing good boundaries, I didn’t grow up with any because of the family dynamics and often don’t even realize when they are being trampled. I find educating myself about manipulators is my best defense. Even then it really takes me quite a while at times to realize I am dealing with a narcissist. Whats funny is that I will have a gut feeling about it but I got so used to distrusting myself that I talk myself out of it and believe that I am just thinking about it wrong. That maybe I am just being too judgemental or something else. Especially when someone else is not in agreement. I came to the realization my SIL is a narc, but my sister does not agree, she is not a target because her husband and her have always been close to her husband and she wouldn’t rock the boat on that. Instead, because I am pretty much estranged with her husband, my brother, I am an easy target to make a scapegoat of. I just decided I don’t need to go around them. I find it so helpful to read others comments about narcissism and it makes me feel like I am not alone.

    1. It is very difficult to wrap ones head around harming for kicks as well as instrumental cruelty. If I try too hard, it sets me back psychologically. Don’t think it’s truly possible for me.

      Think it’s common for those of us who were raised without being taught healthy boundaries as well as the boundaries we did attempt to establish being violated and or shamed. I ended up with a very high threshold for abuse. Didn’t realize I was being abused, it was normal. Abuse was normalized in my family and healthy behaviors got you ostracized! It’s taking me a long time to reprogram myself. I find the The Language Of Letting Go by Melody Beattie really helpful for this. It combines education on boundaries and our potential areas of difficulties with recovery principles and guidance on how to move forward. It helps to put things in perspective and focus on ourselves. It’s part of my daily reading and can’t overstate how much I love this book.

      That awareness of the doubt and not trusting yourself is part of the progress. It will get better, Kat! Keep trusting your gut. I found that it gets easier and easier to trust my gut and it just builds on itself.

      Really resonate about not feeling so alone while reading the comments. I am literraly all alone as my family are all toxic and I realized my friends weren’t really friends. It takes a while to rebuild from scratch and to vet people. This is really a lifeline for me.

  4. Healing,
    Thanks for the book recommendation, I definitely want to check that out! I feel very alone too, I am an introvert so its not easy for me anyways to for a circle of friends. Holidays are difficult. When I first left the ex, I choose another narc as a friend and didn’t figure that out until I found out what narcissism was, like you, I did not recognize abuse. I also attend alanon and I actually met another lady last night that has a narcissist daughter as well, she knew exactly what I was saying when we talked about it, what a relief to at least know one person who knows what I am talking about. Even my sponsor tells me that my daughter loves me “in her own way”. I guess it depends on how one defines love – if its waiting for every opportunity to discredit and criticize, and not being able to give her any information or she uses it against me then yes, but thats not what I define as love.

    1. You’re welcome! Hope you find it as helpful as helpful as I do.

      As a fellow introvert, I totally get it! It can be really challenging. Don’t know about you, but I became way more introverted after repeated abuse.

      So happy for you that you found someone in you group that understands what you’re dealing with!

      Yeah, that’s not love. It’s love of power, control, self and things I’m unaware of. It’s selfish and uncaring. Love doesn’t tear down or try to destroy. Love builds up and supports the other persons well-being and best interest.

  5. kat,
    I get what you’re saying about love “in her own way”. My counselor told me that she believed my X did love me. He showed love but he also showed betrayal and abuse once I told him I was leaving him. The way he turned on me was extreme. So the term “love” is confusing and a concept I can’t even grasp in my dealings with him. It doesn’t matter anyway.
    Is love a feeling? I don’t think so. I think love is the actions and loyalty towards a person. And many times love diminishes, once I find out the cruelty a person possesses.
    When can we get these people out of our thoughts? Do they ever go away? I keep getting triggered by things that brings back bad memories.

    1. Lucy,
      I think love is action too, someone who can treat others the way they want to be treated, is considerate of others and even wants to see them do well. For the narc its all about position, as you know.
      I sure can connect with what you are saying about being triggered, I felt like I had PTSD and still am dealing with some of it. Then with my narc daughter, I am still dealing with it . Her Dad left us, disappeared and left me to raise our kids on my own when they were 6 and 8 and he ended up moving here when they were grown and my daughter favored his company over mine – he was her “cool” Dad and I was just the responsible nobody. But knowing what they are, I shouldn’t expect anything else and its not about me, its about who they are. I took it very personally for so long, feeling I was somehow not enough but that was wrong thinking on my part.

  6. Question regarding the counselor who said she loves you ‘in her own way.’ Why do people and even more specifically counselors say that? How do they know if that person loves you or not? I’ve had people and counselors tell me that my parents, my then husband loves me ‘in their own way’ or ‘I’m sure they/he loves you’ when I’ve said plainly that my parents do not love me. That my then husband does not love me. I said it plainly, factually, in an attempt to accept that reality. Why is people’s knee jerk reaction to deny that reality? Is the idea of not being loved so discomforting? I find this very frustrating.

    I too believe love is a verb, an action. I defensively told a counselor that my parents, my now ex husband wouldn’t spit on me if I was in fire. Then when that ‘prediction’ was shown as true, the counselor was confused and I had to comfort her by saying ‘not everyone is capable of love.’ It’s so so strange.

    1. Charlie
      I don’t know if the counselors think that it would be comforting to hear that the person loves us. But it’s not comforting. It’s confusing. And coming to terms with the fact that another doesn’t love me is a big step in itself, but once it’s recognized and accepted, then the confusion is gone about why the bad treatment is happening. It’s accepted, dealt with, go through the emotions, then healing takes place. Then I become stronger. It’s not the “love” that matters anyway, it’s the actions.

      1. Lucy,

        I agree completely with everything you said. It is confusing to believe someone loves you and values you and is treating you badly on purpose. That is simply not a logical conclusion.

        I find the topic of value in regards to abuse and mistreatment also very confusing. This idea that because I don’t value myself enough that I’m at fault or responsible for staying in a relationship filled with lies, deceit and abuse. This idea that because I don’t understand my value it’s why I ‘accepted’ the abuse. Of course I understand my value, of course I think I’m a valuable person deserving to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s why I was able to withstand such a toxic relationship for as long as I did. I’m a strong, independent, empathic person who is loyal and brave. I’m understanding and not judgemental of people’s faults, flaws and weaknesses. I understand that I have faults, flaws and weaknesses as well and am more than willing to work on them when I recognize them.

        I don’t tuck tail and run when life gets hard or relationships get difficult. I am not a ‘quitter’ even when I should be. Just because I didn’t know when a relationship is too broken to repair doesn’t mean I don’t know or believe I have value. I may even be overvaluing my ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties. When I finally told my now ex husband that I wanted out of our relationship, that this relationship was just too hard and I couldn’t emotionally handle it anymore, he immediately told me that I lacked resilience. Truthfully, I think his realization that I was extremely resilient made me an attractive target.

        It’s only when I accept that I have no value to that person, that they do not love me, respect me or value me am I able to let go of that relationship. Let go of the responsibility that something I’m doing is triggering a response in them with a negative outcome. Only then am I able to move past the concept I cannot control the actions of others only my own and stop trying to improve myself, fix myself, to meet the needs of the other person. (We all have flaws and weakness that sometimes is only obvious when they impact another person, correct?). Only then can I stop accepting the blame and responsibility being heaped upon me by the other person. Only then can I see the intentions of the other party.

        Truthfully, the very traits that I’m so proud of, the character I’ve built that allows me to not be over reactive, over emotional that should allow me to walk confidently in the world, gets treated as if flaws and weaknesses. If my value towards myself is through my actions, thoughts and beliefs of good character and good character is not valued in the world, in truth do I actually have value? I may value those traits, but when mental health professionals see them as weaknesses and society sees them as weaknesses to exploit are those values realistically valuable? In truth isn’t having strong, good values and character also vulnerability? Isn’t having empathy and a conscience a serious weakness in a world deficient of those valuable traits? I know my ex husband, once the mask fell, informed me of exactly how stupid, pathetic and easily manipulated I was through my empathy and compassion and conscientiousness.

        Funny thing, those are the very traits that I think makes me valuable as a person, that my self esteem is predicated upon. I didn’t question my value when I was being mistreated but after I realized why I was mistreated, held in utter contempt and under the auspices of ‘therapy’ I certainly do now. I’ve been struggling with how to walk in a world, be in relationships with others when what I believe is my value is actually a flaw, a weakness. I don’t know how to ‘unring’ that bell, to become someone different particularly when I still believe in and hold those values as who I’m proud to be.

        Did any of that make sense or am I waayy off target here?

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