We are all egocentric to some degree. That is, we frequently concern ourselves with our wants, needs, desires. And there’s nothing particularly unusual or unhealthy about that. So, when does egocentricity become pathological? Our self-focus becomes a problem when it keeps us from being aware of others and other important matters. Excessive or pathological egocentricity makes it difficult, if not impossible, to see the “bigger picture.”
All of us start out as egocentric creatures. In fact, as infants, we think the universe revolves around us. We even think of those around us as extensions of ourselves. We also think others exist solely to serve our needs. Most of us “grow out” of this primitive egocentricity. But some of us do not. Narcissists get “stuck” at the egocentric stage of emotional, psychological, and spiritual development. Moreover, their self-absorption keeps them from paying attention to and learning from what only caring, intimate relations with others can teach them. They end up becoming pathologically egocentric characters. (See also the two-part series: Narcissism and Character Development.)
Narcissists actually think egocentrically. And they do so often. That is, self-focused and self-serving thoughts frequently course through their brains. Always thinking about yourself, makes it really hard to think about others . (For more on this topic see: Egocentric Thinking.) It also makes it hard to learn to care.
Pathological egocentricity stems from too much egocentric thinking. Any pattern of behavior becomes pathological when it occurs too often, is out of bounds in intensity or with respect to healthy social norms, and occurs even when an alternative behavior would be far more adaptive. Narcissists become the way they are because they’re always thinking of themselves and what they want and what or whom might serve their desires.
The Culture of Narcissism
I wish I could say that pathological egocentricity occurs rarely. But it actually appears more the norm in today’s culture of narcissism. We live in an age of unprecedented self-focus and entitlement. We’ve lost the positive sense belonging that defines a true community. And many of us have also lost sight of the bigger picture. To be healthy, you have to both see yourself as part of something bigger and have the willingness to subordinate your purely selfish inclinations to a “higher” cause.
The Nature of Personality and Character Disturbance
Personality can be defined as one’s style of relating. And anyone’s preferred way of relating can itself be a problem. That’s the very nature of personality and character disturbance. And I have posted often on this subject. (See, for example, Personality and Character Disorders – A Primer and Personality & Character Disorders – Pt. 7: A Wrap-Up.} The typical manner in which a person thinks contributes significantly to their personality and character formation. Habitual egocentric thinkers can easily become narcissistic. And to deal with narcissism effectively, you have to confront egocentric thinking directly.
In the coming weeks I’ll be talking more about narcissism and character disturbances and how to deal with both more effectively.
As always, thanks to all for recommending my 4 books to others. They’re the foundation for the content on this blog. And your recommendations are the reason for their bestseller status. And look for an announcement in the next few weeks on my forthcoming book.