Experts on pathological narcissism routinely speak of self-absorption as perhaps the most “identifying” trait of this personality disorder. And their descriptions of such an intense self-focus are anything but flattering. The self-absorption of narcissists betrays their grandiosity, sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, and exploitative relationships. Borderline personalities are also characterized as self-absorbed—so self-absorbed that these individuals frequently can’t discern what’s going on around them, not only interpreting what others say and do but regularly arriving at false conclusions as to how others regard them.
But though all narcissists and borderlines are self-absorbed, not all self-absorbed individuals warrant being appreciated as portraying either personality disorder. And as I indicated earlier, many other personality disturbances can be seen as involving self-absorption (histrionic, paranoid, avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive).
What mental health professionals sometimes fail to sufficiently account for is:
- The pivotal function that self-absorption plays in mood disorders—and in a large variety of other non-personality disorders as well
- How self-absorption is best understood as a key strategy that susceptible people employ to protect themselves from immediate mental and emotional threats.