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How Self-Centered Personalities Can Create Confusion

Discover why you may get tied in emotional knots and how to lessen your agony.

Key points

  • Self-absorbed people may show helpless behaviors and expect others to cater to them.
  • Impulsive, changeable demands and actions are a hallmark of impotent, self-focused personalities.
  • Dealing with self-centered people can cause others to feel jerked around and exhausted.
Engin_Akyurt/Pixabay
Source: Engin_Akyurt/Pixabay

Self-centered people with impotent personalities often create bewilderment and chaos for others. This is true whether in the family, at work, or in any relationship they are part of. They may emphasize the vertical pronoun “I.” They are primarily self-interested and self-invested in relationships, but are usually unaware of this role. It is unconscious. Homer B. Martin, M.D., and I discovered this “emotionally conditioned role," and explain this in our book, Living on Automatic: How Emotional Conditioning Shapes Our Lives and Relationships.

Acting Helpless

Self-focused people may have been trained and shaped to be in their weak role since infancy. Parents may have anticipated their every need and fulfilled every desire. Along with their self-referential penchant is their continual plaintive cry for others to do the work in giving them what they want. They do not put out effort themselves. They often make a tremendous hue and cry for others to do their bidding, and demand things of many people. Others work diligently to meet the requests of the self-absorbed person. But that person will usually remain rather inert. He or she is good at demanding but not at doing.

Changeable and Capricious

Another common attribute of impotent personalities is being unpredictable. They may vacillate with their demands according to their latest whims. A self-focused person may demand something and then the next moment demand the exact opposite be done for him or her. They see no inconsistency in the new expectation. They justify impulsive thoughts and demands by saying, “I changed my mind. I want this now.”

The Emotional Rollercoaster and Exhaustion

Co-workers and family members can become emotionally tied in knots when dealing with self-absorbed impotent personalities. People around those with these personalities can become exhausted from the effort they give trying to accommodate the person’s wishes. Other people become confused with the changeability of mood of self-absorbed people. With no consistency and no predictability, others find they work at cross purposes. They are on an emotional roller coaster, trying to keep up with the lurches.

We are familiar with the self-absorbed spouse or friend who commits to be somewhere with us or to do something with us and who changes the whole plan at the last moment, expecting us to adapt to their whim to alter plans without good reason.

In the Workplace

We have also worked for bosses with impotent personalities who demand extraordinary effort from us—working late, nights, and weekends—for a pet project they want done. When you turn the project in, these bosses do not want that particular project done anymore. They have changed their mind. They are upset with you for not reading their minds or for complaining about the effort you made in good faith. It is no wonder uncertainty reigns around self-absorbed people. They abdicate effort and are whimsical, leaving others to pick up the pieces, which can frustrate and exhaust others.

Projecting Onto Others

Another possible source of confusion when we are around self-interested people is their use of projection. Projection takes place when a person substitutes his thoughts, emotions, or ideas for those of another person. Impotent personalities may do this in unique ways. They can project their inertness and deficiencies onto others, accusing other people of not doing enough or caring enough.

Self-absorbed people can also project their strengths onto others. By so doing, they psychologically rid themselves of all capabilities. This enables them to keep feeling and acting powerless.

Confusing conversations can ensue with self-absorbed impotent people:

  • “You’ve never loved me.” (The impotent person projects his own lack of love for someone else.)
  • “You never pay attention to me.” (A projection of their failure to pay reasonable attention to someone else.)

Dealing With Disarray and Overload

Remember that in any relationship, it takes two to tango. If one person refuses, the other cannot carry out the relationship in their accustomed way. The first step is to observe and assess what you and the self-invested person are doing. Do you expect others to cater to you? Do you expect yourself to cater to demanding others? When one or both people recognize their interactions and accustomed emotional roles, then they can make changes.

The person doing too much can say "no” and stop catering to the demanding self-centered person. The impotent person, who may be doing too little in the relationship, will notice less attention being paid. He or she may escalate demands. If their requests are still not met, they may be forced to change by either asking for less or doing more for themselves. Upheaval and confusion in the relationship should die down.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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