These Days
February 14, 2010 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Help me become less selfish/self-absorbed.

All my life, I've been a jack-of-all-trades. I'm good at a lot of things, but I've never really persevered enough to become really great at something. If I think I can do something if I put in X amount of work, then I'm satisfied with just 'knowing' that I can do it if I want, and end up not doing it. Yet, I think that I can do most things better than everyone else, and that I know better than most, even though I've never really tried hard enough to accomplish anything in the recent past. I know that this is not true at all, not in the slightest, and I know that I'm not really great at anything, and yet I seem to have that view about things.

Also, for a while now, I've become selfish when it comes to interacting with people as well, even with my closest friends. If a friend of mine has a problem, I want to be the one to solve it for him/her. While this is not a bad thing in itself, I feel offended if they don't talk to me about it first/don't want to talk about it/don't want me to help in any way. Instead of being an understanding friend who gives them space, I suddenly become overbearing and want to be involved, whether they want me or not. Also, if I make plans with friends, and they get canceled (for whatever reason, even if it is something valid, and/or very unfortunate), I tend to get offended and instead of feeling bad about the reason my friends had to cancel (in case there was a problem that suddenly came up), I feel bad about the fact that the plans were canceled. And I mean, I get really upset about it.

These are just a few examples. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I don't think I was always like this. Over the past few years, I've had a string of people, who have been close to me, just leave without any explanation (or due to unforeseen circumstances), which is why I think I've become like this, even though I never wanted to. Does that make sense? I get really attached to people, and can't take it when they're not around. Also, I've stopped regarding anything as permanent (I don't mean permanent in the sense of 'forever', but even something relatively stable or long-lasting). I'm always looking for ways to 'future-proof' whatever I do. Even with simple stuff like buying everyday things, I question how long they will be around, and start thinking about worst-case scenarios. And I have a need for control in whatever I do. I find it extremely hard to just relax or let things go.

I'm not sure why or when I've become this way, but after a close friend (and girlfriend) recently left my life (for reasons neither of us could do anything about, life just happened), this has become a lot worse, and I'm having trouble dealing with this. I know that the obvious answer is "just get over yourself, shit happens, stop whining, pick things up and move on", and I've been trying (I've had enough practice, that's for sure), but this time something seems broken. Not sure what or why.

Also, I get tired easily these days, and feel like sleeping all the time. Even when I've had adequate sleep (8+ hours/day).

Any help would be really appreciated. How do I become less self-absorbed? How do I just relax, and let things happen? How do I stop being paranoid all the time (even about things that have not occured)? How do I stop getting myself down, even about minor things?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
This (even down to the physical fatigue) sounds like textbook clinical anxiety. You can definitely look at the archives here for all the great suggestions that have been made in previous questions for that.
posted by availablelight at 8:13 AM on February 14, 2010

You just do. Really, you just decide. You practice deciding that today, when you wake up, you're going to try to have perspective and let things go.

And that's the easy part. The hard part is when things actually do go differently from how you wanted. That's where the practice really counts, and you remind yourself of what really matters. Will this matter a week from now, a year from now? If the answer is yes, you just live with it, accept it. That's just what life is.

You should remember that you're doing better than you think you are. Your question is proof. You are getting "there." The getting part, though, never stops. That's just life, and you're living it.
posted by DeltaForce at 8:14 AM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Push yourself to be selfless. Volunteer to help people who really need the help. Put yourself in a position where you can actually do something useful, and at the end of the day you can say "I accomplished these things today" or "because of me, this person isn't hungry today." Often, the best way to fix ourselves is to concentrate on fixing the things around us, instead.

You say that you think you can do things better than most, but every other part of this question is telling me that you have some pretty profound insecurities with who you are and what you can accomplish. You even say "I know that I'm not really great at anything"! The rest is a laundry list of all the things you think are wrong with yourself. So, push yourself to find the things that you actually are good at, and take pride in them, after determining your ability concretely. You need confidence to get through the day. Maybe helping other people can give you that confidence. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer.

And now, the rest of AskMe is going to suggest therapy, so you might want to consider that, too.
posted by Mizu at 8:19 AM on February 14, 2010

I'll get this party started.

IANAD, but your question sounds more like "Help me become less depressed/anxious" than "Help me become less selfish/self-absorbed."

Give therapy a try.
posted by sallybrown at 8:34 AM on February 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

But I don't think being selfish or self-absorbed is your problem. On the contrary, it seems to me that you're not concerned enough about yourself -- in a good, healthy way. All of the behavior you describe -- never daring to try to accomplish anything, being controlling and judgmental with your friends (and thereby distancing yourself from them), wanting to sleep all the time -- sounds like avoidance. You might want to start considering why you're avoiding taking an active, creative role in your life. There's a good chance that the bitterness, arrogance and inflexibility you're experiencing come from there. And if you continue the way you are, you run the risk of being very lonely.

To put it in a more positive way: what is it you really want in your life? What are you not allowing yourself, and why?

Any number of tools can help you with these questions: meditation, therapy, talking heart-to-heart with a good friend who will listen. Volunteering is a nice idea, but my hunch is that you need to work on constructing a "you" before you can really be of help to others. Otherwise, you're just keeping busy as another form of avoidance.

And, for what it's worth, nothing is permanent, or even stable. Nothing. The trick is to get to a place where this is cause for rejoicing and living each moment fully, from your guts, rather than holding yourself back out of fear.
posted by Paris Elk at 9:02 AM on February 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

I agree with the people who have suggested at least seeing a doctor; I am DEFINITELY not a doctor, but I do have some mental health issues and some of what you've said sounds really familiar (the anxiety, the tiredness, the inability to deal with the future -- I've got bipolar, actually, so the bit about being unable to commit to an activity and yet having this completely irrational sense that I'm great at everything and then becoming irritable with other people sounds pretty familiar as well). Not saying you have bipolar, you probably don't, but I have a fantastic doctor who is really good about working with me to make my life better and it doesn't seem like there would be any harm in at least checking in with a medical professional. This is especially true since a relationship that sounds important to you just ended and it sounds like getting an outside/professional perspective could be really helpful. Whatever you end up doing, good luck!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:04 AM on February 14, 2010

A very wise old sod once said to me, "Son, don't take yourself so damn seriously."

Believe it or not, the universe does not revolve around us. If so, it would be very crowded in the center. As Mizu said, get out of yourself by getting into others, especially those less fortunate than you. Help out at a neighborhood soup kitchen, anonymously pay for someone's meal at a restaurant, carry around "smile cards" with you, show kindness to insects and other small beings, always try to do better and learn from your mistakes, buy a basket of groceries and take them to the shelter, you get the idea.

The more you spend time focusing on others, offering a smile and a handshake, or even a hug if appropriate; the less you will be wrapped up in yourself, both your hubris and your insecurities. It worked for me, and I have never been happier.
posted by netbros at 9:11 AM on February 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

First of all, it's okay to feel disappointed when plans get canceled. You do state that you feel badly for your friend when they have to cancel because of X. And that's good, too. The issue here is that you've got the ratios mixed up. You feel worse for yourself than for your friend. That's normal, and getting the ratios right takes time and maturity.

Wanting to help your friends is also good. Giving them help when it's not wanted, however, is not so good. Wanting to be the one to "solve" their problem, and being upset when they turn to someone else is definitely not a good attitude. You want your friend to resolve their problems, so be happy when it happens. Period.

So how do you achieve that? Time, and patience, and work. Work on your attitude. Work on seeing "The Big Picture", and I mean really BIG. Frame this however works for you (children are starving in Africa, the universe thinks I'm a speck of dust, trust all things to God, etc.). Meditate on it. Pray on it if that's your thing. Develop an attitude of gratitude.

You likely are clinically depressed, and anti-depressants work wonders, so do try that route.

Finally, to address your first paragraph... I'm kind of the same way. To exemplify, I like to do artsy craftsy stuff, but I'm always trying new things instead of giving myself time to get really, really good at any one thing. But I know I could be great at X if I put in the time. I used to beat myself up about it, but I don't anymore. Instead, I look at it as me being a creative person (positive framing) and don't worry about the fact that nothing holds my interest for too long. If I'm a dabbler, so be it. Nothing to beat myself up about. As long as your "I'm better than others" attitude stays internal to you, the only person you affect is yourself.

I hope you feel better about things soon.
posted by wwartorff at 9:11 AM on February 14, 2010

I disagree that you need to work on constructing a you before you can be a help to others -for most people who are having problems, whatever work ethic they have and social pressure are enough to get you in a groove in a volunteer situation and you can build from that. In your case, I'd guess that doing well at simple, routine tasks that anyone could do and seeing how that work does, in fact, help a situation would be very grounding and relaxing.

I know several volunteer coordinators who have an almost violent reaction to the idea that someone should do volunteer work to work on themselves. And I have pointed out to every single one of them that this person or that person who is one of their favorite, most reliable workers, originally joined up to work on themselves. And I know a volunteer coordinator who started in the organization as the last step in working out of a pretty serious depression.

There are all kinds of reasons a person can suck at volunteer work (like thinking they are heroes, for instance, who should not have to pay their dues and show their commitment before being vaulted right up to key positions where they can use their oh-so-valuable skills to "make a difference."), and many many circumstance that cause people to bring their own drama in to gum up the works in a volunteer situation, that doesn't mean people who are not at their best have nothing to contribute or nothing to gain.

Of course, if you are not ready to take on anything new, therapy would be a good choice.

Agree with everyone that you sound withdrawn in an unhealthy way.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:14 AM on February 14, 2010

Also note, there was barely a sentence in your question that didn't include "I". Be more cognizant of your writing structure as well, and you'll start thinking in a less self-absorbed way.
posted by hwyengr at 9:18 AM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think this is a case for a wise aphorism or criticism or a hobby suggestion or a book recommendation. You need a sounding board to help you unpack all of these things, have a look at them in context, figure out what's driving them, and help you plot a healthier course. It sounds like you've done some thinking about what might be causing it all. I think what will satisfy you is more of that explanation. It can take some time to excavate down to that. If you want to do some self work, it can help to have an experienced guide. Answer's above.
posted by kookoobirdz at 11:36 AM on February 14, 2010

It feels like I could've written a lot of this. I am still struggling with many of the same problems, so keep that in mind for what it's worth.

I think your most significant problem, from which many of the others stem, is the one described in your first paragraph. You don't have anything you are great at, and anything to be passionate about, by extension. I say passionate in a very strong sense, i.e. something that drives you when you wake up in the morning, that can generate short and long term goals that you can follow, and that will bring more purpose and satisfaction to your life. Perhaps this is why you try to feel good about yourself in other ways, like being the best friend that one can turn to, looking up to others to complete you and make you happy, and so on.

Perhaps it is time to find something that you want to be really great at and concentrate your attention on it for awhile? What you describe sounds very much like you have a more general case of procrastination and/or perfectionism. If you think that may be the case, it would be a great help to educate yourself about these, whether by therapy or reading about them. In case of the latter, try to stick to books that are either written by scientists and researchers in the field, or at least survey the available scientific literature. I recommend Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now

I almost feel bad writing this since it sounds like cheap psychoanalyzing, but I hope it gives you something new to think about. Good luck!
posted by albatross84 at 11:47 AM on February 14, 2010

I know a few people who said "oh, I went to a therapist twice, and it didn't help," but I actually don't know anyone who put effort into finding someone they liked, and who then stuck with it for a significant amount of time, who didn't get a lot out of therapy and feel very grateful for having done it. I don't know why all people don't give it a try at some point in their lives. Sooner is better -- more time to reap the rewards.
posted by salvia at 3:04 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with Paris Elk that you're not self-absorbed, and I think it's a sad indictment of today's culture that you've been made to think you are. I think your dealing with a lot of insecurity with your personal relationships right now, and you are trying to strengthen those bonds the best way that you know how, which is a natural human reaction.

Think about this: today, we have to hire people to listen to our problems and get us through tough times - that's pretty messed up! That's what friends and family used to be for, until we decided that kind of connection was an unacceptable infringement on our independence, and you expecting that from people has come to mean that you're self-absorbed.

There's not much you can do to fix a dysfunctional culture that's let you down, so: therapy.
posted by AlsoMike at 6:42 PM on February 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

A lot of the above suggestions are variations on the popular Robert McKain quote, "action precedes motivation." It's a self-help canard, but neurologically, it's often accurate.

A similar idea underlies some types of therapy. If you have depression but can't or don't want to seek direct treatment, you might be interested in a couple of previous posts.

Living Life to the Full - a free, guided introduction to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy | MetaFilter

Online self-managed coginitive-behavioral therapy solution? | Ask MetaFilter

You can also find CBT and anxiety workbooks in libraries/bookstores.
posted by hat at 12:56 PM on February 16, 2010

« Older Skippin' out...   |   Cheapest plumbing snake Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.