All wrapped up

Kari Swanson

Do you have a certain type of person that rattles your cage? Do you have certain people in your life that have similar traits with whom you struggle to be around and can only do so in short spurts? Can you pinpoint what those annoying traits are?

There are definitely people that can get under your skin because of the way they “always” behave. Generally, this is speaking of personality and personalities are tricky. You can’t change a person’s personality but you can learn how to change your responses to personality traits and annoyances.

Personality is defined by the Britannica as a characteristic way of thinking, feeling and behaving. Personality embraces moods, attitudes and opinions and is most clearly expressed in interactions with other people. Personality disorders are thought to possibly be triggered by genetic and environmental influences, most prominently childhood trauma.

There are many personality disorders and, being in the field, I am intrigued with personality disorders and how they may have originated.

Also, being in the field has allowed me to be a little more tolerant of people with personality disorders because I am aware that these traits have allowed this person to cope somehow or has protected them somehow.

I still get very annoyed with certain traits and I am going to discuss one of these below. When you can find someone’s behavior more interesting than annoying and tell yourself that it is a defense mechanism or a way that has helped this person cope; it can indeed help you in decreasing the amount of frustration and angst you have toward the actual person. When you are able to separate the behavior from the person that simple act can help in making relationships with difficult people somewhat more tolerable.

Have you ever been in the presence of someone as you are telling about a situation that happened to you and they interrupt to tell a similar story but with more drama and the main character in the story is himself or herself??

Have you been with someone who is going on and on about their day and never once asks how you are or what is happening in your life?

Have you had difficult situations occur in your life and never hear from this person during those situations, but when difficult situations occur for him/her, you are “expected” to be there?

Do you attend events for a person’s family but when events occur for your family they are absent?

Do you constantly initiate contact via texts, calls, visits, and when you stop doing so, you notice this person does not reach out?

These are difficult situations to comprehend and to understand. They create great levels of distress and upset.

This “person” could be a friend or a family member but definitely someone from whom you would probably expect similar reactions that you give him/her. Therefore, the main emotion is most likely disappointment. It is difficult when a relationship is one sided and you feel that you are making more effort to keep the relationship alive. You tend to question the depth of the relationship and the disposability of it.

I always say, if you can define it you can learn about it and then figure it out. You have to name it to tame it. So what I am referring to is someone who is all wrapped up in himself or herself?. Self-absorption. Self-absorption is a common trait in people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Self-absorption is defined as being caught up in one’s own emotions, interests and situations. People who are self-absorbed do not have time for other people’s complaints, interests or worries. They are not interested in listening to other people’s troubles unless they can somehow spin someone else’s issues to include themselves and then make the discussion about them. They don’t celebrate other people’s successes well and they do not sit well with people who are struggling. They struggle with reaching outside of themselves to even see that there is more to the world than their own issues or successes. They seem to lack true empathy but would be the first ones to tell you they are very empathetic. They love to proclaim family member’s or friend’s distresses as having great impact on themselves in order to get a pity party or floods of “I’m sorry you are going through this” when in actuality the situation does not truly involve them at all. They tend to be the one to tell someone else’s story, success or distress, in order to get the reactions first, when it is not their story to tell. They are not the first to compliment you but rather the first to suggest you have not been complimenting them enough or giving them enough attention or your time. Very often, you feel scolded or in trouble when in the presence of a self-absorbed person.

Self-absorbed people are draining. They are toxic and they are not aware of their toxicity. They may not even be really aware of what they are doing or the distress they are causing to their relationships because they have always been this way. They know no different. When you first encounter a self-absorbed person, they are very friendly and inviting. This typically wears off after you no longer can or want to serve or please them and then their true colors appear. Friendships are more or less a convenience for a self-absorbed person. This type of person is more concerned with being everyone’s friend and not with the quality of the friendship. This is because a self-absorbed person does not know when someone may be beneficial to them or their family so they save face with everyone and have loyalty to no one. As such, many people who are self-absorbed choose friendships that can benefit them in some way, such as with a coach who can help showcase what they think their child is “the best” at or with the wife of a higher up in the company they work for. Once it becomes clear that this person can no longer appease the self-absorbed person’s wants or needs the friendship is disposed of and the fault is usually placed upon the other person, certainly not upon the self-absorbed person. Accountability is not a strong trait of someone who is self-absorbed.

This type of personal interaction situation is a good example of how we impact our own mental health by the choices we make with other people. We are in control of who is in our lives, even family members. We cannot have someone like this in our life and say that “my anxiety (anger, depression, stress) is due to” this person when we have the ultimate control of with whom we spend our time and who we allow access to ourselves. WE are the gatekeepers of who comes and goes in our lives. Sometimes we don’t do very effective jobs in helping ourselves maintain good mental health when we willingly allow toxic people to have significant roles in our life. Toxic people can be in our life if we know how to tolerate this type of person and not allow them to have access to our emotional controls.

If you are constantly leaving a situation with this type of person and feeling upset or taken advantage of, reassess this relationship. Boundaries are very important, as in any relationship. If you are working harder in the relationship than the other person you need to be aware of that. Take a step back and see what you miss in the relationship. This is what I referred to earlier as “separating the person from the behavior”. Figure out what you are getting out of the relationship. Surround yourself with other people, who hopefully are not all self-absorbed. If all of your relationships are with people who are self-absorbed it’s time to self-evaluate why this may be. Another important thing is to remember that this person is not just doing these behaviors to you, this is how they relate to most people, if not everyone. Again, this is a personality issue, people don’t change personality types. Try not to take the behaviors personally. If you want to share how you are feeling with this person, which is usually a good thing to do, just remember that self-absorbed people struggle with understanding the world though someone else’s lens other than their own, so the response you may receive may not be what you want. If you can accept the flaws of this person due to the benefits you are getting out of the relationship are greater, than do so with the knowledge that you are not going to change this person. You will need to adjust how you receive their interaction, or lack of, in the relationship and adjust your emotional sails accordingly. This certainly can be done but takes brain effort on your part. You are in control of the investment you make in any relationship and the emotional toll such an investment has on you.

Remember our mental health is influenced, positively and negatively, by the company we CHOOSE to keep. Choose wisely and be good to yourself.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.


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