Notes from an expert.
Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash
There?s an art to making everything about you, but it doesn?t paint a pretty picture. Those who master it will never cease to amaze you with their skill, and they might still surprise you, even if you thought you?d seen it all.
The worst part about people who make everything about themselves is that they don?t always realize that?s what they?re doing. It took me a good amount of work and self-awareness to realize I had a tendency to make everything about myself, and it still takes me a lot of work every day to contain the worst aspects of that impulse. Thankfully, I don?t think I ever fully mastered the art, otherwise I might have gone in too deep, past the point of no return. I still slip sometimes ? bad habits die hard ? but I?ve become much better at avoiding it.
I?m an expert on ?I make everything about me? behavior because I?ve witnessed it on someone very close to me for decades at this point, and the first thing I have to say about this particular case is that it?s a train traveling full-speed with no signs of ever slowing down.
That, however, doesn?t have to be you. If you think you might have a tendency to make everything about you and are afraid this bad habit is pushing people away, then you?re off to a good start by acknowledging the problem.
If you?re close with someone who tends to behave this way, and you wish they?d stop, things might be a little more complicated, especially since they probably have no idea of how toxic their worldview is, but don?t give up, there?s always hope.
One might think that the explanation for this behavior is narcissism, pure and simple, and that?s probably an accurate assessment. However, I hesitate to broadly classify anyone who engages in this behavior as a narcissist because a) narcissism exists in a spectrum ? we?re all narcissist to a smaller or larger degree; and b) this isn?t a story about narcissism, but about a specific behavior and how to understand it better, even though it can be an aspect of a larger issue.
When someone makes everything about themselves, they express a twisted interpretation of reality in which everything either happens to them or because of them, even if the role they play in the situation is secondary at best. If everyone is concerned about something that has absolutely nothing to do with them, they find a way to insert themselves, twisting and turning a situation to make it look like it directly affects them.
It happens when they have to take someone to the hospital on an emergency visit, then make it clear how upsetting it was for them to lose an entire afternoon in the waiting room because of their sick friend. It doesn?t matter that someone else was in pain, had to go through surgery or nearly died, it matters they lost an important meeting with a client, or missed the chance to spend and afternoon at the beach, or had to trash the tickets they had bought to the ballgame.
It happens when their best friend makes a public announcement that he?s going to be a father, and they feel betrayed and disrespected because they think thehy should have been told first, in private, not at the same time as everybody else.
When someone makes a mistake, it was definitely on purpose, especially designed to target them. Everyone is supposed to know what they expect, what they want and what makes them happy ? if someone fails to deliver, it must have been done on purpose to upset them.
What?s behind it
There are a lot factors that contribute to the ?I make everything about me? behavior. It might originate from a self-preservation instinct: if they can quickly identify how a situation directly affects them before they make any other assessment, they can act to protect themselves from harm.
It?s a selfish instinct, but a lot of people don?t see it as any different than ?putting their oxygen mask on first before assisting others.? What they fail to realize, however, is that not every situation is an oxygen-mask-needed situation ? only they make it seem that way to justify their actions.
They see the world as an ?every man for himself? situation, justifying their self-centeredness with the belief that everyone else is saving their own skin first anyway. If they don?t stick up for themselves, no one else will. These people, however, extend the concept of watching their own back to mean something active instead of reactive. The best defense is offense, and if everyone else is on the offense against them, they might as well strike first.
Perhaps they were bullied in childhood, or even emotionally abused in their formative years by someone who should have been there to protect them. In any case, they have grown up with the worldview that life isn?t fair ? and it?s particularly unfair to them.
A victim mentality makes them prone to finding people to blame for whatever misfortune befalls them, small or big, real or imaginary. They?ve been singled out as a target in the past by a bully, but keep living as if the bullseye is still hanging on their backs. It makes them feel personally singled out by the universe to suffer, and even when everything is fine, they find themselves new bullies by attributing motives to people who?ve hurt them by accident ? by making any situation they encounter about them.
They refuse to be collateral damage, they?re always the primary target.
People who make everything about themselves have lower self-esteem than one would think at first glance. Their deepest fear is that they?re beneath other people?s notice, so they project the opposite: they imagine they?re at the top of everyone else?s minds at all times.
They don?t see themselves as worthy people on their own merits, which means they?re often not comfortable with themselves and seek validation the only way they know how, by twisting reality to make them feel like they matter.
People who make everything about themselves often suffer with feelings of loneliness and abandonment. Making things about them is a way to feel like they have some attention, that they?re less alone in a world they often fear has forgotten them.
They might have attachment issues, and often struggle to form healthy connections with friends and significant others. A big part of forming meaningful relationships is being able to be vulnerable with someone else, but people who make everything about themselves view vulnerability as an unnecessary risk. They want to matter to other people ? desperately ? but they?re not sure how to make that happen in an organic, healthy way.
How to deal with it
When you?re looking from the outside, people who make everything about themselves can seem quite ridiculous and desperate for attention, but you should keep in mind they don?t realize that?s how they come across.
Calling them out on it might not be the best strategy, since you?re giving them exactly what they want: a conflict that?s actually about them, reinforcing their sense of victimhood.
First, remember to be compassionate. You?re dealing with someone with low self-esteem who probably feels really lonely. It doesn?t mean you should indulge them in their fantasies either. Whenever they twist a situation in a clear effort to make it about them, you don?t have to agree or became an audience for their complaints. Sometimes, changing the subject is all you need ? or can ? do about it.
Limiting contact with someone whom you perceive to be toxic due to their habit of making everything about themselves isn?t completely unreasonable either, especially if they don?t take well whenever you remind them of the pain of others. It?s not your job to fix anyone, even less someone who isn?t self-aware enough to realize they have a problem.
How to stop doing it
The only way to really stop making everything about yourself ? or at least avoid it ? is to become more self-aware.
Recognizing you have a tendency to look at the world as if revolved around you is the first step in reshaping that worldview towards a more balanced, healthy perspective.
Listen to yourself when you talk and pay attention to the words coming out of your mouth. Pay attention to your thought process. Do you always think first of how you?re personally affected by every scenario? Do you always seek to find underlying motives behind how other people act not only towards you, but simply around you?
Once you?ve recognize the need for a more balanced perception of life, it?s time to put it into practice. Practice being less self-centered, more generous, more emphatic. It?s tough work at first, and it takes time to consistently improve, but it?s worth it in the long run.