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When we hear the terms self-centered and self-absorbed, our thoughts often turn to narcissism. These two things, however, are not the same as being narcissistic. Furthermore, these terms are not the same thing, which is another misconception many people have.
Today, we are going to take a deeper look at people who are self-absorbed and those who are self-centered. We'll examine the similarities as well as the differences.
What Does It Mean to Be Self-Centered?
A person who is self-centered believes that the world revolves around them. They strive to always be the center of attention and will constantly ask “What's in it for me?” These individuals are not above using manipulation or lies to get their own way.
They can even be charming when you first meet them, until you realize that you are only going to be allowed in their circle if you can be of some benefit to them. The self-centered person believes that their wants and needs are all that matter.
They know you have wants and needs of your own, but they don't care. After all, theirs is more important.
What Does It Mean to Be Self-Absorbed?
A person who is self-absorbed may appear not to notice anything around them. Their thoughts are entirely centered on whatever interests them at the moment. Think about the absent-minded professor. For this person, they only care about what is in front of them at the moment.
When around others, they may constantly bring the subject to their own interests, barely even acknowledging the interests of others. For these individuals, it isn't that they don't care about other people, they simply believe that everyone has as much of an interest in their subject of choice as they do.
Self-Centeredness and Self-Absorption Share Some Commonalities
These two individuals do share some common traits. It is important for those around them to spend time looking for the differences because self-absorption and self-centeredness often appear the same.
Don't See the Big Picture
Neither individual sees the big picture. For them, the world is what is right in front of them. What they are interested in takes precedence over all else and they don't think about the fact that there is a much bigger world out there.
Both the self-absorbed and the self-centered are extremely opinionated. The person who is self-centered believes everyone should think as they do and find the individual's opinions superior to those of the rest of the world.
Only their opinion matters. The self-absorbed person simply can't believe that the rest of the world isn't interested in the same things or can't see the importance of these things.
Don't Develop Deep, Lasting Relationships
Because of their limited focus, neither of these individuals develops relationships that last. It is nearly impossible for others to concentrate solely on the needs and wants of one person or the limited things that the other person focuses on.
It is difficult to foster a relationship when you are never allowed to express yourself or feel that your thoughts are unimportant.
Don't Show Interest in Others
The self-centered person doesn't show interest in others simply because they don't care about others. In their view, others exist only to make their own wants and needs possible. The self-absorbed person knows is often clueless that the other person is feeling neglected.
They often express their interest in others by telling stories that relate to what the other person just said. This often makes the person who is seeking connection feel that they are being disregarded.
This relates to the above idea. Both the self-centered and the self-absorbed often interrupt during conversations. The self-centered individual does so to redirect the conversation back to them. They need to be the center of attention and anything that threatens that is not acceptable. The self-absorbed will interrupt for two reasons.
The first is that what you said reminds them of something they have gone through or done and they are attempting to show they understand but end up appearing as though they want the attention.
The second reason is that they think of something that relates to their main interests and they don't understand that the other person does not share the same passion and won't appreciate the change in topic.
Self-Centered vs Self Absorbed: 5 Differences
Now that you see how self-centered and self-absorbed people appear the same, it is time to take a look at some of the major differences. These differences often don't appear obvious at first, but it often doesn't take long to start seeing them.
One thing you may notice right away is how charming the self-centered person can be. They need to draw people to them so they are experts at pretending they are interested at first.
The self-absorbed person is less of a manipulator and is often difficult to connect with from the start unless you share some of the same interests.
Difference #1. Don't Care vs Don't Think
The self-centered person just doesn't care about you or your wants and needs. Your purpose is to make their wants and needs happen. They must always be considered the most important person in the room.
If someone else is getting attention, this person will be the one that will find a way to get the attention back. They may even resort to such means as suddenly “feeling faint” or getting bad pain. If accused of not caring, they will often get angry.
The self-absorbed person does care about the feelings of others and will often be surprised if they are confronted with their one-sided thinking. It isn't that they don't care, they are just so wrapped up in their own thoughts and feelings that they don't think about how others are being affected.
When it is pointed out that others aren't interested in the same things, they don't get angry but they are often confused as to why.
Difference #2. How Do I Benefit vs Doesn't Everyone
The self-centered person is in it for the benefit. Before agreeing to anything, they want to know how it will benefit them and their wants. They never do something that will benefit someone else unless their reward is even greater.
The self-absorbed person can't believe that everyone in the world isn't interested in what peaks their passion. They will try to get the others around them interested in doing what they want because they enjoy it and believe everyone will. It is about wanting to share the benefit they get with everyone.
Difference #3. Interaction vs Alone
The self-centered person needs to have people around to interact with. After all, you can't be the center of attention if there is nobody around to notice. You can't be the superior one in a group if there is no group. A self-centered person who does not have an admiring crowd will feel lost.
The person who is self-absorbed won't care if they are alone. If nobody can enjoy what they are doing, then why force the person to stay? If other people are interested in different things, let them go and enjoy those things and leave me alone to do what I want to do. That is the mindset of the self-absorbed. Their validation doesn't come from without.
Difference #4. Ego-stroking vs Sharing Interests
The self-centered person invites people into their circle who can stroke their ego. If they are going to keep you around, you need to prove to them that they are indeed the center of the world. If a person challenges them or that idea in any way, they are quickly thrown to the curb.
The self-absorbed person will leave you in their world if you share the same interest that captures their attention. They love discussing the topic that creates a fire within them.
In their mind, if you don't share the interest, they may actually feel sorry for you for what you are missing out on, but they won't spend a lot of time with you. If you aren't interested, they aren't interested in wasting energy on interacting.
Difference #5. Competitive vs Trying to Empathize
The self-centered person will often try to make everything a competition. You have a cold? They have the flu. You are struggling financially? Try dealing with the expenses they have. This person has the best, the worst, the most fascinating experiences and others simply can't match them.
The self-absorbed person often sounds like they are competing. You broke a bone? I once broke my leg when… They don't do this in order to compete. It is often an attempt at social interaction that falls short.
You see this kind of interaction very often in people on the autism spectrum. It is a way to show the other person that they can empathize with the situation, even though it comes off as them attempting to make light of your problem.
Final Thoughts on Self-Centered vs Self-Absorbed
People who are self-centered and those who are self-absorbed often appear to be the same type of person… but the subtle differences of why they are like this or where their interest lies make a difference. These differences reveal themselves slowly, but are noticeable if you know what to be on the lookout for.
While the self-centered person is always interested solely in himself, the self-absorbed person's focus may be on a project or a subject. For instance, a person with chronic illness may be focused on their illness and nothing else. It’s like a cancer affecting themselves and everyone they come in contact with.
If you think you may have personality traits that harm others, you can find out. It’s not too late to change and help is available.
Both of these personalities may benefit from counseling; although, it can be more difficult for the self-centered person because they never believe they are wrong. After all, how can you be perfect and wrong at the same time?
Finally, if you want to identify YOUR personality type, then take one of these 11 personality tests to better understand what makes you tick.