Beware Self-Absorption: Why You MUST Like Yourself

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” ~Maya Angelou

Note: Even if you do like yourself (that’s great!), this can serve as a valuable reinforcing tool or educational piece.

An interesting pseudo-paradox occurs when you don’t like yourself – you become completely obsessed with yourself.  Seems rather backwards, doesn’t it?  I don’t like myself, so therefore I’m going to focus on myself?  It’s true.  You might think it more sensible to focus on something else that you value more…and this happens too, at the same time.

I’m sorry if this has the sour taste of contradiction – that a self-loathing person could become self-absorbed and others-focused at the same time.  It will make more sense later.  The point right now is that not liking yourself has some pretty nasty consequences.

If You Do Not Like Yourself…

1. You Will Not Invest In Yourself

Investing is more than just a financial term – it applies to all of life.  Here are a handful of examples of investing in yourself:

  • Investing in others
  • Actively pursuing your dreams and personal growth
  • Thinking about your life critically
  • Productively spending your time
  • Reading valuable books
  • Exercising and eating well
  • Managing your finances
  • Setting goals

Examples of not investing in yourself – abusing drugs/alcohol, entertaining yourself all day (TV, Video games, etc.), carelessness with your health, wasting time habitually, using others,  accepting the life you’re given as is, and being passive overall.

2. You Perceive Yourself As Inferior

If you don’t like yourself, it is because you believe other people are better in some way.  There can be many reasons for this way of thinking – physical appearance, performance in school/other, a big mistake, a bad environment growing up, half-hearted living that leads to repeated failure, or any specific quality that you choose to focus on.

3. You Can Only Hope To Have Hope Someday

There is no hope in the mind of those who dislike themselves.  Hope is squashed under the heavy weight of pessimism and doubt of ever becoming a person of value.  Life has no flavor if you don’t like the character you’re playing as.

4. You Passively Define Your Value As A Person

Those who like themselves know they have value as a human being on a basic level, and more value based on their unique qualities.  If you don’t like yourself, your only idea of self-worth is what the world tells you.  Problem is, the world usually doesn’t always argue with you if you send the message that you’re worthless.  🙁

Self-absorbed – “Excessively self-involved”  (thefreedictionary.com)

Self-absorption comes in with that last point.  In the beginning I mentioned that self-loathing people focus on something else they value more than themselves – that something is others’ opinion of them.  They will look to others to provide them with the vital sense of self-worth.  Self-worth compels us to invest in ourselves; we need to know that we’re worth investing in.  You wouldn’t invest $5,000 in a pile of garbage, would you?

If you don’t believe you have value, you’ll seek to get validation somewhere else, and that is where your focus will be.  This leads you to focus on what everyone else thinks of you as it is your only source of critical self-worth.  As such, you’ll be so desperately self-absorbed in your self-worth crisis that you will instinctively try to manipulate people into giving you validation as a means of self-preservation (fishing for compliments, boasting excessively, etc.). People do not like being manipulated and used, even if you think your sense of self-worth is on the line.  This is how you end up focusing on yourself through others.  Pseudo-paradox explained.

The “Validate Me” Mindset

The problem with letting others define your value is this – if Jim tells you that you’re ugly, and you don’t like yourself to begin with, Jim has just dealt you a devastating blow.  You’ll not only believe Jim, but you’ll take it a step further by attaching your value to your physical appearance.  This is because you’re looking for something – anything and anyone – that can tell you how valuable or not you are.

This is flawed thinking.

You become self-absorbed when you’re focused on something (your value in this case) directly and only related to yourself.  You look to others to provide this information to you, hoping that it is positive.  But even when it is positive, you’re not convinced.  You look for more confirmation – as an addict looks for cocaine – fishing for compliments and recognition to keep you afloat.  The negative feedback you receive carries a lot more weight than the positive – because you’d already like yourself if you believed the positive feedback.  One negative remark overpowers a thousand compliments.

Breaking Free

The first step in getting out of a bad situation is understanding it.  If you read this and relate to it, then a change would do you a lot of good.  If you don’t like yourself, words may not be enough to change you.  Understanding that your value is not defined by any one quality or by others is enough to set you free.  However, you have to “get it” and believe it.  If you can’t, I’d recommend trying to change your mindset by leading with action.

Force yourself to invest in yourself.  Make yourself try new things, develop various skills, and meet new people.  Find out what it is about other people that you find valuable and then come up with a plan to BE that.  Don’t over think it, just go out there and do it.  When your confidence begins to build as you get closer to respecting yourself, it will snowball positively.

Taking action first is one of two ways that people can change – it causes a change in perception through experience.  The other way is a paradigm shift in one’s perception of reality by enhanced understanding (such as change from reading this post or a good book).

The worst thing you can do is hide behind something – an image, a tough persona, an addiction that helps you forget.   Address your problem head on, willing to fail.  Talk to friends/family/church about it.  Quality people love to help others.  Seeking professional help is a great idea – they’ve dealt with this issue before.

When You Like Yourself…

Life is exciting.  You have struggles and problems, but you believe you can overcome them instead of accepting them as permanent life roadblocks.  You focus on the merits and qualities of others because you already know you (and everyone else in the world) have value.  Instead of looking for validation, you’ll look to make a positive difference in others’ lives, and it is satisfying when you do.

The glass is half full, tomorrow is a chance to learn or try something new, and the world is one big open planet with no restrictions.  With the internet, all information is available at your fingertips and excuses are no longer valid.  Once you find out that your mindset is your biggest obstacle in life, things get very exciting very fast.  If you believe that you’re worthless, you will become worthless and the cycle begins.

On the other hand, if you believe you’re capable of climbing Mount Everest despite being blind, then you’ll probably do it.

I find depth extremely valuable, and I’m trying to live in congruence with that with this website.  Unsurprisingly, I have liked myself and invested in myself much more since starting it!  By doing this, I’m also pursuing my dreams.  No matter how much you like yourself now, find out what it is that holds great value in your mind and strive to live up to that; succeed and you will naturally like and invest in yourself and others more.  It may take some soul searching to find it, but when you do…it is AWESOME!

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Brandon Yanofsky

I agree: life is way better when I like myself.

And like you said, it’s hard to like yourself when your definition of self worth is based on other’s opinions. Definitely something I’m working through.

Raymond van Velzen

Hi Stephen,

It’s always a cold shower when someone can point out so clearly what’s wrong with you :-). Pfff. Most of the things you listed above apply to me, unfortunately.

It’s very difficult to see through things, to realize how all you’ve convinced yourself of might as well be replaced with the opposite. The whole point is that no one really “proved” that I’m no good, but still I am looking for something or someone to “prove” that I’m a valuable person. It only matters what you believe. It’s funny, tons of people believe in a God while there’s hardly any good evidence for it :-).

Thank you very much for this post. Now, please tell me where I can download some courage to change :-).

Douglas Prater

Hey Stephen,

You’re absolutely right that low self-esteem leads to self absorption.

A few years ago, I was in a funk of self-loathing that destroyed my confidence. I turned inward, decided I was going to improve myself in every conceivable way – It’s a funny paradox indeed that my self-loathing led to narcissism – I wasn’t good enough at anything so I obsessed over personal development to the exclusion of my family and friends.

Oh, I transformed, alright – I was in great shape (physically), extremely well-read, and growing as a writer – but I was still alone.

I was afraid that I still wasn’t good enough, and would never be good enough, to deserve the attention or respect of others.

You’re right that you have to take action and change the habits that need changing. The tricky part was the realization that I was my own worst critic – It nearly destroyed me.

Learning to accept yourself, scars and all, is challenging. But, as you pointed out, the rewards are well worth it. With a changed perspective, life’s challenges do indeed become fun. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish with a “glass half full attitude.”

Thanks for the great post!

-Douglas

Stephen Guise

Brandon,

It is difficult to find your own self-worth – truly. Society has a way of breaking into our minds and telling us what makes us valuable. I think it is a constant fight for just about everyone. Sometimes I’ll sleep for 12 hours and I feel as if I’m worth less as a person because there are some people out there that would think less of me for that.

It’s important to set your own standards.

Stephen Guise

Hey Raymond,

I’m glad you related with this, but I’m sorry you struggle with it. I think everyone does to a certain level, and the people who are most free simply know and value themselves. They set their own standards.

As for people believing in God while there’s hardly any good evidence for it – you inspired me to write a post that will go live soon (I hope you’ll read it). I do believe in God and I think there is very strong evidence for “something supernatural” existing. Whether or not that something is God is a matter of faith, but it is not irrational like believing in Naturalism (I explain why in the article).

Courage to change? Hmm… some of my other posts could possibly help with that indirectly, but I’m not sure at this time.

Stephen Guise

Douglas,

I love incessant optimism. Even when it isn’t rational, it still leads us to better lives (research agrees with this). It works like the placebo effect.

I think it’s good that you worked out and “built yourself up.” Personally, if I was out of shape, I would have a difficult time accepting myself because of my fitness and health values, so that method would be the cure for me. It sounds like your self-loathing was possibly deeper than that though.

This is very related to a post I want to write soon on self-image. Thanks for sharing your story! It sounds like you’re doing much better now.

Stephen Guise

I think one way to change is take the focus off of yourself. Focus on others, things you’re interested in, etc. I’ve found life is satisfying when I am others-focused. In a strange twist, focusing on others helps you to feel better about yourself.

Raymond van Velzen

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for your reply.

Glad I could inspire you for a new post about believing in God. Sounds like I’m not gonna enjoy it though :-). If you ask me, religion is purely a result of human needs for explanation of the unknown and comfort when life is hard. That is exactly how it is used. The “evidence” is collected as needed to support that. People just don’t like the idea we’re just a bunch of atoms governed by natural forces. To me it is especially hilarious that many overlook how incredibly *human* their Gods are. They just can’t see things from a global, even universal level, in a scientific way. Ah, this reminds me of the great book The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins :-). Great stuff for convinced atheists like me.

Hehe. This should be enough to get a nice debate started here 🙂 But hey, that’s what you get when you call your site Deep Existence 😛

Stephen Guise

Haha, you might still enjoy it. It isn’t about convincing you of God’s existence (impossible), it’s about laying the groundwork the the existence of something supernatural.

Science can’t prove or disprove God because it is limited to the natural and God is supernatural. Anything supernatural breaks the natural laws. The only thing that matters in this argument is where it all started – and that is where we’re faced with something supernatural.

That’s what the article is about. Since I wrote it for you, you should read it and then feel free to let me have it in the comments. 😛

Robin

Focusing on others will eventually burn you out. People will come to expect your goddies and will always have a hand out. You will be abandoned after everyone has taken so much you’re just an empty useless shell.

Robin

You were better off when you were alone.

Janie

This was a very sensible article. I have a group of teenage girls that I meet with weekly to help them grow in their walk with Christ as well as their relationships with each other and I sent it to them for us to discuss at our next meeting. One thing that occured to me while reading this is that God can’t use you in others lives when you are self-absorbed! I believe this will be a big eye-opener for them. Thanks so much for sharing the wisdom that God has given you.

Stephen Guise

My pleasure! That sounds great. I hope great discussion comes from this.

Self-absorption makes inside-out behavior (having a positive impact on others) almost impossible, because at its core, it is an outside-in perspective. And we learn a lot about loving others by loving and taking care of ourselves.

From Matthew 22:39 – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The prerequisite condition in this phrase is that you “love yourself.” If you don’t love yourself, it undermines your ability to love others.

Cheers,
Stephen

wendy

Thats how I feel. I, not so long ago, was accepting of myself. I could live with who I was, and I was happy much of the time. Now, I feel withered. It is hard to look in the mirror and recognize that as myself. I feel as if I am constantly under a microscope, that everything I do, say, think, are evaluted and left wanting. I finally worked up the courage to go to the Dr., and was put on Prozac. While it helps with the obsessive thoughts ( some), and the external issues(ie drinking), I don’t believe this solves the PROBLEM. How do I value myself? As someone left incomplete, because I don’t believe I am all I could be. There’s more to me than what others’ believe. So, why am I stuck inside?

Tiffany Bolton

Thank you so much for the information you provided in this post. As a recovering alcoholic, (almost 2 years of sobriety) I have been functioning with the assumption that my problems would be “fixed” once I got sober. Obviously, as more time passes, I understand that I have issues that have been hanging me up my entire life. Lately, I have begun to see how very self-absorbed I am…but didn’t really connect this with the self-loathing. It’s a relief to find out that I can do something about this, and your advice is more than helpful! I also want to mention that Stephen (previous comment) made a great point, which you also mentioned in your post. I think it’s very important to focus on qualities that help us develop compassion, empathy, and caring for others…and get out of our own heads. His story illustrates that perfectly. Superficial changes are just that…we have to go deeper. 🙂 Thanks, again!

Stephen Guise

Hi Tiffany, you’re welcome! I’m really glad you found this helpful. I wrote it because I thought many people didn’t realize what self-absorption actually entails (self-loathing and focusing on others in all the wrong ways).

Haha, I’m Stephen, and I think you meant Douglas’s comment, which I agree, was very good! Thanks very much for the comment. I’m really happy you stopped by the blog and would love to have you come back!

Oh, and let me just say, if you’ve discovered and admitted self-absorption, you are well on your way to changing. It’s usually a problem for people who have absolutely no idea that they have the problem. I used to be self-absorbed, but when I realized it, I started changing for the better. Cheers and good luck to you!

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