Being Self-Centered is Not Being Selfish or Low Empathy

by Alicia Lile

I am self-centered. I don’t know whether this is because of Autism or not. I have always been Autistic, so I don’t know how to point to one part of me as Autistic, and another part as not. But being self-centered has nothing to do with being selfish or without empathy for others; being self-centered is about caring about my own thought process, about my actions, and about my world, including caring about my relationship to others.

Because I am self-centered, I focus on myself, on how I think and act. I try to be a better and honest person, to know myself, and to live with what is real for me. I do understand that others have feelings and, because I know my own feelings, I feel deep empathy when someone is suffering, and I feel joy when someone is happy. I cherish the feelings of others as I do my own, not as less or more important. Being focused on myself does not make others less important.

Most times, others are so intense, this world is so intense, that I need to go into the deep center of myself. This is not the same as shutting down, and it is not negative. It is a necessary and joyful process to look for balance and meaning in this confusing life. It is not escaping either; people like me don’t function by ignoring our rich inner reality. I was forced by wrong and dangerous medications to do that; those were the most terrible moments I’ve had. Life stopped existing, and all that was left was despair, apathy, and emptiness.

I now cherish being self-centered and the strength that it gives me. To live in this world, I need to have a deep inner life and be aware of it. It protects me and allows me to continue living.

Many people — if not most people — try to run away from themselves. They have a busy social life, full of activities, and they can sometimes even go to extremes, like being a workaholic or becoming addicted to alcohol. Sometimes, they just think outside themselves, focusing on the outer world, the world of others, always ignoring the knowledge of their own being. These kinds of people are not self-centered, yet they may not be empathic or altruistic, either. They may just go on with their lives without looking inside themselves, without thinking about their realities with depth.

So when I say I am self-centered, I don’t use the negative meaning. Quite the opposite: being self-centered makes me caring and empathic towards myself and others.

I know that as an Autistic, I need to protect myself from this world and from its intensity. I feel too much and care too much. As a defense, I might look cold. I can seem self-absorbed, but I am just protecting myself.

The majority of people in the world are neurotypical and, according to the “experts,” they have empathy and they care. So why is there so much violence, hate, war, crime, and abuse out there? Are we going to say that all evil things are made by sociopaths, Autistic people, and others  with a “zero-empathy” neurotype? That makes no sense.

Being self-centered is not being selfish or egocentric.

Empathy has nothing to do with any neurotype, but with individual people.

About the Author: Alicia Lile is an autistic woman in her twenties who lives in Latin America. This piece first appeared on her blog, Moonlit Lily, and is reprinted here by permission.

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3 thoughts on “Being Self-Centered is Not Being Selfish or Low Empathy

  1. Tsara says:

    Wow. Wow. I needed that! I have a habit of challenging people when I catch them assuming that a word or phrase means the same thing to others as it does to them. Then I read this post and realized I’ve been walking around assuming that ‘self centered’ meant to others what it has meant to me. I’ve always seen self centered as sort of a trapping of your energy and truth. I know that sounds cheesy but for me that’s how I pictured it. I have learned to look out and smile at the world; sing out loud and share my positive energy with strangers around me. I was beginning to feel as though that is the right way to be, not just MY way to be. Thank you for reminding me that looking inward can also be beautiful when done with intention. This is a beautiful post!

  2. ictus75 says:

    “I know that as an Autistic, I need to protect myself from this world and from its intensity. I feel too much and care too much. As a defense, I might look cold. I can seem self-absorbed, but I am just protecting myself.”

    EXACTLY!!!!! I said something similar to my therapist and their response was, “No wonder you’re always so tired.” Yes, it is tiring, but necessary to protect myself. A great post!

  3. Andy says:

    Awesome post. I can only concurr. I have autistic/OCD tendencies and smile and joke a lot instead of being cold, when I protect myself from the confusing world. But the effect it has towards others is the same. And as ictus I also have heard it from my therapist: no wonder you’re always so tired, hahahaha 😀 … in pursuite of happiness and laughter …. hahaha

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