Self-absorbed. We all know someone who is. Or maybe someone has used this term to describe you at some point. I have certainly witnessed this behaviour before and that’s why it was an easy concept to relate to in Matias Dalsgaard’s Don’t Despair. In the book, we learn early on that Rasmus, the protagonist, lives with a backwards facing eye and is constantly comparing himself to others. What I came to understand as I continued to read the book, is that these behaviours are symptoms of a much greater issue: self-absorption.
Self-absoprtion, by definition, is the state of caring only about one’s own self and one’s own activities and not showing interest in others and the rest of the world.
The concept of self-absorption is a self-contradictory phenomenon. Before reading Don’t Depsair, I would have assumed that self-absorbed people had a high opinion of themselves. But as Dalsgaard explains, people who are self-absorbed, like Rasmus, are ultimately dissatisfied with themselves. They are uncomfortable with themselves and insecure, so it would seem unreasonable to call them self-absorbed. However, it is in the discomfort and insecurity that self-absorption lies.
“Your dissatisfaction with yourself is an expression of a self-absorption, a vanity, which always gets in the way of your truly coming to enjoy life.”
Rasmus doesn’t believe that he is self-absorbed. Like many self-absorbed people, he tells himself that he is hard-working, forward-looking, and focused.
Dalsgaard presents the concept of self-absorption in a different way than I was used to interpreting it. It is easy to confuse self-absorption with self-centred behaviour, but they are really quite different. Someone who is self-centred is capable of empathising with others, but believes first and foremost in their ideas and their ideas only. They believe they are always right. Self-centered people are a far more independent breed than their self-absorbed counterparts, who feed off of and depend on the opinions of others.
Self-absorbed individuals are obsessed not with themselves, but with their conception of themselves. They are concerned with ideas such as “Am I good enough” or “Is what I do good enough”. They feed off of validation from others. After all, if you don’t believe in your own value, you have to seek validation from outside sources. Self-absorbed people are manipulative in a way, they fish for compliments and they brag, all in the name of self-preservation. Unfortunately, nothing is ever enough for them. They only really take the negative feedback to heart. If they really believed the positive feedback, they would just believe it and call it a day but they can’t.
“Success and failure provide an opportunity for various conceptions, but you can’t conceptualise your way out of your conceptions of yourself.”
We have all been there on days when we really need the approval of others to lift us up. But in self-absorption, this is a chronic symptom of a greater unhappiness. Self-absorbed people are unable to take pleasure in the sunshine unless they know that the sun has never shown on anyone else.
If the topic of self-absorption resonates with you, I suggest you check out Don’t Despair. Dalsgaard offers a unique perspective on the topic, as well as providing insights to related topics that have unknowingly hindered our ability to become truly happy.
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