In the mid-1500s, Nicolaus Copernicus theorized the Earth, along with the other planets, rotated around the sun. This Heliocentric theory took about 100 years to become widely accepted. Up until that point, the Geocentric theory first proposed by Ptolemy in the mid 100s A.D was what was widely accepted. In this theory, the planets and the sun rotated around Earth. It took a long time for people to understand and accept this change. It wasn’t a smooth process either; people were persecuted for their heliocentric position.
Why am I referencing something from over 500 years ago you ask? Two reasons:
1) It has become somewhat commonplace to question and distrust the validity of science in favor of unscientific, and oftentimes divisive rhetoric. It appears more widely accepted to believe a talking-head’s opinion rather than the methodical, non-biased conclusions from trained professionals tasked with solving complex problems. Just because you don’t understand what the scientific community is saying doesn’t mean it should be dismissed, or criticized. Social media and media, in general, have a way of glamorizing these “influencers” who are exploiting the uninformed for viewership purposes, not because what these talking-heads are saying is substantive, but more for the shock value they provide. This is what makes “news” these days. This attracts a certain subset of our society who accepts this information as reason enough for why they feel the way they do.
2) We also live in a society where a great many people are what I would consider “self-centric”. These people believe everything in the world somehow has to do with them or affects them personally in some way. These people do not see their responsibility to their community but are the first to complain when the community does them “wrong”. What they do not take into consideration is how their behavior affects others.
Which “Self” are you?
Below I have listed some definitions for common terms. Some of them are necessary for a healthy fulfilling life. Others reflect a person or people who exist mainly for themselves.
Selfish: Lacking consideration for others, concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.
Self-centered (or self-absorbed): preoccupied with oneself and one’s affairs.
Self-awareness: the ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, and emotions do or do not align with your internal standards.
Self-care: providing adequate attention to one’s own physical and psychological wellness.
Self-fulfillment: the feeling of being happy and satisfied because you are doing something that fully uses your abilities and talents. Another term for this is “self-actualization”.
In order to adequately address your self-care, or work towards self-fulfillment, you must have healthy self-awareness. If you cannot recognize how your behavior is affecting others, or are not willing to see that everything is not centered around you, you may very likely be “self-absorbed”, or even “selfish”.
Now, one point to make here is nothing is absolute. Oftentimes this self-centric behavior is a product of some kind of psychological or emotional distress, specifically anxiety or depression.
When someone is experiencing a significant amount of anxiety, there is a tendency to internalize things. Your whole world feels out of control, it feels like the walls are closing in, everything seems overwhelming, and you physically feel sometimes like you are going to die. So naturally, all of your attention would be on yourself. If that anxiety persists, your self-focused behavior could be magnified and more pervasive throughout every aspect of your life. The longer that goes on, the more self-centered you become.
With anxiety often comes fear. Fear of the unknown is the most common. Not knowing what will happen in the future, and not being able to control it is an enormous source of stress and anxiety. Fear of not knowing anything about a particular person, culture, race, skill, or idea can further distance oneself from a more balanced mindset and implant them into a more polarized, fearsome, and unhappy existence. Fear prevents people from looking outside of themselves and causes them to push away those things that aren’t immediately comfortable or understood. They project negativity, fear, and hate onto others. Their behavior punctuates the illusion that what one believes is just better and more “right” than anyone who disagrees with them. They take extreme positions and are unwilling to see another side or to compromise.
When someone is struggling with depression, they too have a tendency to internalize. While they take little joy or pleasure with the things they used to, they also have very little drive or motivation to see anything outside of themselves. If they can barely get themselves out of bed, they are definitely not going to focus on what is happening with something or someone else.
People with depression are often despondent, feel hopeless and withdraw from society. But there are also those with depression who become more irritable and angry and behave irrationally as a byproduct of how they feel. If they see or hear something they don’t like or perceive that in some way affects them personally, they act out and feel justified doing so. Another way to view this is their depression is “expressed outward”.
I believe the less anxious and depressed you are, (and the happier you are), the more likely you will think and act more rationally. What does that mean? It means you will be more open-minded, more patient, and have the self-awareness to know the world does not revolve around you. It means you are more tolerant, have empathy, and welcome people and ideas that are different from your own. It means you have the security in yourself to acknowledge when you do not know something, are willing to learn, and are open to change. This is the path to self-fulfillment.
Now if none of this applies to someone who is projecting that negativity, fear, and hate, then we are dealing with something more pathological. In order for someone to step outside of themselves to connect with and understand others, they need to have empathy.
Empathy: the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.
A person without empathy either has a developmental disability or a personality disorder, like Anti-Social Personality or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. For this blog post, I am not referring to DD. I am referring to those who would otherwise be called sociopathic.
Sociopathy (or Anti-Social Personality Disorder): is a mental disorder in which a person consistently shows no regard for right or wrong, and ignores the rights and feelings of others.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.
People showing these traits, are usually not officially diagnosed with these disorders and are sometimes quite prominent in the public eye. They have an uncanny ability to influence and manipulate the uninformed, and those who exhibit the anxiety and depressive-related conditions described above. The attention they receive further reinforces their distorted views of the world and perpetuates the idea that “other people” are destroying our society and need to be stopped. Whether they believe what they are saying or not, they are getting the attention and admiration they desire They take no responsibility for their actions, and blame others when pressed.
The people who listen to these master manipulators go down a rabbit hole and enter an alternate universe. They get in so deep that this becomes their new reality. This reality is based on misinformation, fear, and distrust. Rational thinking goes out the window. It is difficult to have a normal conversation with someone in that state of mind because they aren’t thinking clearly. They can become more and more radicalized and isolated from friends and family. This doesn’t necessarily mean they become dangerous or something like that, they are just more difficult to communicate with.
If you want to salvage a relationship with someone like this, there need to be boundaries set. If that isn’t realistic, then you need to perform your self-care functions. If you have healthy self-awareness you will recognize when to step away from a potentially toxic situation and take care of yourself.
It is all right to question where you are in this world. Do you rotate around the sun, or does the sun rotate around you? It is also all right to question where the people around you are in this world. Sometimes it isn’t so clear where you stand. Sometimes you second-guess yourself around people like this because they can be so convincing.
Recognizing there is an issue is the first step (self-awareness). Talking to a therapist can help sort that out and put you on the path to self-fulfillment.