How To Deal With People In Your Life That Are Self Absorbed

self absorbed

Let me tell you about Dave (not his real name, his real name is Mike – only joking, let’s carry on…)

Dave has the fascinating capacity to turn every conversation back to himself.  If I say I’ve got toothache, he’s had root canal surgery.  If I like The Smiths, he will have seen them live in concert 5 times.  If I’m doing X, then Dave will have done X+10.

Dave is self absorbed.

Dave does not have the capacity to pick the ball and then pass it back under any circumstances.  It’s more that he sees the ball, grabs it and runs into the distance, totally beyond my view.  

Playing ball with Dave is not much fun.

But let’s press pause for a moment.  Let’s wonder what might be going on for Dave.

Two Ways Of Dealing With Pain

There are two ways in which we learn to be in the world and deal with the pain we experience in it.  

The first way is to become self absorbed.  We disappear into our own world and focus on ourselves.  This is what Dave learnt to do.

The second way of dealing with life is to become other absorbed.  We focus on others and put ourselves aside.  This is what I learnt to do as a kid and why I chose to be a psychotherapist.  Others come first.

There’s not a wrong way or a right way out of these two, we unconsciously choose the process that seems to make sense. 

And it does make sense.  Apply your chosen strategy and life and the pain you experience within it gets a little easier in the short term.

So how should you deal with the Dave in your life?

Here’s some simple steps.

Give Up All Hope That They Will Ever Change 

Unless you have a deep connected relationship with a Dave and you have both contracted to do the work and fundamentally change your relationship, then your Dave is just going to be Dave doing Dave things.  Dave will stay self absorbed.

Giving up all hope that your Dave will change can be a huge relief.

Here’s a personal example. My Mum (God rest her soul) was a bit of a Dave.  As she got older, it was hard to have any kind of proper conversation with her that wasn’t just pass timing.  

I’d talk to her about my life and before I knew it she was telling me about Mary over the road’s sister’s uncle’s cousin. 

When I was in my struggle phase with this, it would upset me.  

Somehow, probably through the large sums of money I’d invested in therapy, I got to a place of realising that my poor old Mum didn’t know what else to do.  I gave up all hope she would change and engaged with her where she was at.

I knew she loved me and knew that I would have to seek my deep and meaningfuls elsewhere.  This Dave was not open for business.  

The result of this decision was that I felt closer to her and our conversations flowed better.  Easier all round. 

This brings us on to point 2 …

Find Other Outlets For Real Conversations

You will have to get out there and seek people who are available and interested in others.  Dave’s don’t know how to do it, so go find yourself a Tony instead (Tony’s are good at this).

Don’t invest the energy in a Dave when it would be better saved for a Tony.  Simples.

Now this step may involve a bit of work.  

Though Daves are easy to spot, Tony’s are often reluctant little fellas who often find talking to others difficult.  Persevere because once you’ve connected with a Tony, they will be there for life!

Realise That Pass Timing With a Dave is OK

You know what to expect. 

Rather than getting angry with your Dave when they turn the conversation once more back to themselves, pat yourself on the back for spotting the switch, hold it lightly and appreciate that it’s just what Dave’s do, it’s nothing personal.

This kind of reminds me of why Denmark is the happiest country in the world.  It’s because they have low expectations.  You need to lower your expectation of your Dave!

Dodge The Hook

Now the danger of spending too much time with self absorbed Dave’s or investing hope in them is that they can leave you feeling very upset and disenchanted with the world.  This is not good, so how do you avoid it?

Back to values my friend.  Is getting hooked into wishing that Dave would be different going to move you toward what’s important in life?  

My guess, a resounding no.  It’s unlikely that on your deathbed you will lament the lack of two-way conversation with your Dave or that he didn’t ask how you were for once.

Good old Acceptance and Commitment Therapy defusion can help you if you’re getting trapped in thoughts about this.  There’s a post here you can read about defusion in ACT if it’s useful.

Learn From Your Dave

Maybe you need to be more self absorbed too?  Do you invest too much time in keeping others happy at your own expense?  Watch how Dave does it.  He doesn’t give a monkeys!

How can you be a bit more self focused? Maybe do what you want for a change and don’t worry about what others think. The Dave’s in your life won’t even notice.

Daves Are Harmless 

We’ve all got Dave’s in our life.  They’re ok and they mean no harm.  As an adult, you get to decide if you invest in the relationship with them.  My advice, save your energy for your Tony and leave Dave to talk to his mate Dave.

(I apologise if your name is Dave and you’re actually a Tony.  Every time you read Dave, substitute it in your head for Colin.  If you are a Dave and your name is Dave, then you probably won’t notice so no apology necessary).

Photo by Steve Gale on Unsplash

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  1. David on February 12, 2020 at 11:59 am

    Fantastic post, Ian; it really spoke to me and, though I’m a David (not a Dave!), I can relate to the other-absorbed pathway.

    • Ian Tomlinson on February 12, 2020 at 6:05 pm

      Thanks David. Pleased you liked the post and noticed that you’re more of a Tony!

  2. John on February 17, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    Great insight and perspective, thank you. Had a real effect on at least two lives in our family today, keep sharing Ian!x

    • Ian Tomlinson on February 19, 2020 at 8:28 am

      Great to hear John, thanks very much for the comment!

  3. Jane Sturgeon on August 17, 2020 at 10:59 am

    Great post, Ian and I love the flow, energy and humour in your writing and shared wisdom. Thank you. x

    • Ian Tomlinson on August 17, 2020 at 11:38 am

      Thanks Jane, that’s very kind of you to say!