The holidays are usually associated with giving to others and being selfless. However, in the American culture, individualism and independence are encouraged throughout the rest of the year, so it can be difficult to just turn that off.
Although we’re almost forced to put ourselves first in this society in order to succeed, being self-centered isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Some experts weigh in on narcissism and its relation to being self-centered, and how to recognize these qualities.
Laura Buffardi, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Universidad de Deusto in Spain, said in an e-mail that narcissism is “a trait that characterizes someone who thinks they’re pretty great. Narcissists see themselves in an overly positive way. They think they are more attractive, intelligent, and unique than others.”
Someone who is self-centered is not necessarily a narcissist, though narcissists are self-centered.
“Narcissistic people believe they are special and unique,” said Amy Brunell, an assistant psychology professor at Ohio State University at Newark. “They are arrogant, lack empathy for others, and readily take advantage of others. Narcissists have inflated, positive views of themselves, are self-centered, and are unlikely to consider how their decisions can affect others. They want others to admire them and will therefore show off and brag to get attention.”
The key is balance.
“I think there's a balance between taking care of oneself and taking care of others,” Brunell said in an e-mail. “It's a problem when one is overly self-centered. It's also unhealthy when one chronically puts the needs of others in front of his/her own.”
Like most Americans know, putting ourselves first can be vital.
“We could not survive if we didn't look out for ourselves first,” Buffardi said. “In American and other Western cultures, it is also ‘the norm’ to be self-centered because Americans have a highly independent view of themselves.”
She added that being self-centered is important in career success.
“To be competitive on the job market we must promote ourselves - or be self-centered,” Buffardi said.
There are also consumers who are self-centered, which helps drive the economy, she said.
“When there are consumers who think they deserve what they want and desire immediate gratification, there is a lot of money to be made,” Buffardi said.
However, being self-centered can be negative when it’s associated with ego-centrism.
“Being ego-centric means that you can only interpret the world in terms of your self,” Buffardi said. “Therefore, it becomes difficult to empathize with others, understand differing points of view, and compromise.”
There are certain ways a woman can tell she is being too self-centered.
“When she's so focused on herself, her beliefs, feelings, wishes, desires, etc., that she does not bother to think about others, lacks empathy for them, or fails to perspective-take,” Brunell said.
Being self-centered isn’t only a product of high self-esteem and narcissism. Those who have low self-esteem can also become self-centered.
“People with low self-esteem tend to be self-centered for different reasons - they are consumed with their negative qualities and inadequacies,” Brunell said.
Brunell said women tend to be less narcissistic than men and more communal, but Buffardi does give some suggestions for women to find out if they are being too self-centered, besides just analyzing themselves.
One way women can tell they're being too self-centered is to listen to what others have to say about them.
“If people are telling a woman that she is too self-centered, she should think about their observations,” Buffardi said. “If she is losing friends or getting into arguments with family members because they claim she is self-centered, she might want to take a step back and assess whether or not she is balancing her desires and those of close others in the best way possible.”
Those who are self-centered and narcissists aren’t necessarily a lost cause.
“In our research, we've found narcissists can become more communal (other-focused, as opposed to self-focused) when they are in long-term relationships with people who are not narcissistic,” Buffardi said. “It seems that one way for narcissists to become less self-centered involves their partners eliciting communal traits and behaviors in them over time.”
So what causes these behaviors? Brunell suggests it’s partly parenting, at least permissive parenting.
“Children learn that they can do what they want when they want and as adults they expect this pattern to continue,” Brunell said. “The self-esteem movement hasn't helped. Children were taught - and are still taught - about how they are special and unique. They get this from their families, from teachers, etc. So basically we train people from childhood to think about themselves rather than to think about others.”
Brunell said there are some ways to help prevent self-centered behavior in childhood and later on.
“We can teach children concern and empathy for others,” Brunell said. “When one child hits another, we should focus the attention on the child who got hurt … rather than on the child who misbehaved. Children would then learn care for others and how they are feeling rather than being consumed by what's happening to them in terms of their punishment.”
So what do you think? Are you too self-centered? Are you a narcissist? Do you care too much for others and forget about yourself? Or are you balanced? Do you think any of these qualities are negative or positive? Share your experiences.