The term egocentric is a concept that originated within Piaget’s theory of childhood development. Egocentrism refers to someone’s inability to understand that another person’s view or opinion may be different than their own. It represents a cognitive bias, in that someone would assume that others share the same perspective as they do, unable to imagine that other people would have a perception of their own.
Another development theorist, David Elkind, expanded on this idea of egocentrism to with regards to adolescence. Elkind described “A heightened self-awareness and self-conscious,” saying that teenagers often feel that others are watching them and that they are extraordinarily concerned with what others think of them.
Although most people grow out of this egocentric mindset, we are aware that others do not and that they tend to bring some of these same self-focused traits in their adult lives and relationships.
Egocentric vs. Narcissistic: What’s the Difference?
Since the term egocentric describes someone who is self-focused and unable to imagine any other perspective than their own, you might wonder if this is the same thing as narcissism. Although there are some parallels, there is a distinct difference between egocentric and narcissistic personalities.
Some of the similarities between egocentric and narcissistic include:
Focus on own perception and opinion
Lack of empathy
Inability to recognize needs of others
Excessive thoughts of how others might view them
Decision making around the needs of self
- In addition to these traits, however, narcissistic people also demonstrate:
Excessive need for recognition and admiration
View self as extraordinarily worthy or important
Sense of entitlement
Manipulate others to get what they want
Arrogant and pretentious behaviors
Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power or beauty
A primary difference between being egocentric and narcissism is that someone who is narcissistic constantly seeks admiration from others with a need to feel important and valued.
Keep in mind that we all may have egocentric and narcissistic tendencies, but specific criteria need to be met in order for someone to have a clinical diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
The Impact of Egocentric Behavior
Egocentric people can find it difficult to connect with others or maintain meaningful relationships for a long period of time. The bias toward self can result in an egocentric person struggling at home, at work, and within their intimate relationships. The primary reason for these struggles is the lack of ability to empathize or imagine someone’s perspective other than their own. As you can imagine, this might negatively impact things like:
Closeness or intimacy
It can feel challenging to be around someone who is egocentric because you feel invisible or feel that you have no voice when spending time with them.
Some of the ways being around an egocentric person might impact us include feelings of:
Low self-worth. When we feel irrelevant we are left feeling low as if our opinions don’t matter
Self-doubt. You may question your own judgment or perception
Confusion. You may wonder if the person recognizes their egocentric ways
Sadness. You may feel sorry for the person or sad for yourself after interacting with them
Anger. It can be difficult to practice assertiveness with an egocentric person, which can lead to frustration and anger over not feeling seen or heard
Resentment. After a time, you might find yourself bitter toward them for the ways they behave and how you feel after interactions
Detachment. Unfortunately, if the pattern continues, you may desire to move away from the person as much as you can in order to protect your sense of self.
There may be times when you can simply choose to limit your exposure to an egocentric person, however, there are many situations in which it is not an option and you have to learn how to take care of yourself while in their presence.
Egocentrics in Relationships
For the egocentric person, life can feel isolating and anxiety-producing. When living with a cognitive bias, an egocentric person may believe that all eyes are on them and that every move or decision they make is noticed by others. This can create a tremendous amount of pressure for that person, causing anxiety around their decision making and social interactions. Even when they want to connect with others they may not know how to do that or may make efforts to connect and become confused as to why their efforts don’t work.
To be in a relationship with someone who is egocentric can feel very lonely and you might feel you are never seen, heard or valued in the relationship. Your partner may make important decisions without you, make plans based on their needs and schedule, or seem distant or uninterested if you come to them with an emotional need for comfort, reassurance or encouragement. The egocentric partner may believe that the relationship is fine when their partner is often left feeling invisible and devalued.
Common Egocentric Traits
It is common for most people to have some level of egocentrism. Research has shown that adults tend to have egocentric shortcomings in the following ways:
False consensus effect. When we overestimate how much other people share our perspective or preferences. We tend to think that others would agree with us or see things our way.
Curse of knowledge. When those who are experts in their field tend to talk above people around them on that topic. They forget that there is a difference between the level of knowledge they have on the topic compared to those around them.
Illusion of Transparency: When people feel that others can clearly see their emotional state in a given experience. For example, we might think that others can see how anxious we feel when we are giving a presentation at work.
Spotlight effect: When people overestimate how much others are noticing their presence or behaviors. We may walk into a room and feel like people are watching our every move when, in reality, they are casually interacting with each other and may not notice us at all.
How to Become Less Egocentric
Since we all have an egocentric slant to some degree we can all benefit from softening our egocentric edge. Being self-focused can be a benefit when we are are trying to stick to our values or when we are feeling disrespected.
However, when an egocentric mindset begins to negatively impact our everyday behavior it can cause problems. There are helpful tips for becoming less egocentric
Slow down. Sometimes we make decisions based out of fear. Fear likes to pressure us and force us to think in a very “flight or fight” way, even when we are not in the presence of danger. Slowing down can help you clarify what it is that needs to be decided, considering how your decision may impact those around you.
Look around. We like to think that life is all about us. There are people around us who care and want to be a part of our lives and decision making. Look around and see who is standing by you and willing to help.
Take a chance. Sometimes people become more egocentric because they have learned through experience that they cannot trust others to be there for them. As you look around and notice who is standing by you, take a chance to let someone show you what they can do. Not only are you practicing walking through your fears but allowing someone who cares about you to get close.
Stay present. Just as some egocentric people have learned to not trust others, some have learned to never show vulnerability. Even if you make a decision and someone notices a misstep, keep moving. All of us want to live well and it never feels comfortable when others see our mistakes. Staying present allows you to practice navigating uncomfortable situations, learning that you can move through them and still be okay.
By Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP