The unavoidable consequence of unprocessed trauma is self-reliance.
Fierce independence, isolation, inability to ask for help, perfectionism, workaholism, addiction — it comes in all shapes and sizes. But behind each mask is a desperate attempt to regulate an inner turmoil that we never made sense of.
When we feel threatened, powerless, or have any experience that overwhelms our senses and our ability to integrate reality, we dissociate, compartmentalize, disconnect, deny, suppress, intellectualize, etc. to create space between ourselves and the experience.
And to clarify, trauma is not the thing that happened to you, but what happened inside of you when you were left alone with your pain.
Trauma is disintegrating for sure. But it produces a dire need to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT (typically some version of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn).
Everyone comes up with their own unique set of adaptations, but at the core, in one way or another, it is a compulsive form of self-reliance. Which, if you wanted to look at it this way, could be viewed as almost a clinical deficiency in faith.
The universe is hostile, I can’t trust people, relationships aren’t safe, and I won’t get my needs met unless I manipulate, manage, mother, martyr, and arrange the world to suit myself!
I think of it as trauma-induced self-centeredness. Or perhaps a developmental arrest, trapping us in the selfish stage of childhood; a stage other kids outgrew when their needs were met by competent, emotionally attuned caregivers.
This makes traumatized people more inclined toward selfish, self-seeking, self-pitying, self-deprecating, self-righteous, self-aggrandizing, willful, arrogant, or self-reliant behaviors.
It’s rather unpalatable to be around, no doubt. But it’s not always the case that someone is simply an insufferable dickhead. Often they are tragically wounded individuals in need of compassion more so than judgment and condemnation.
What To Do If You’re Self-Centered AF
Unfortunately, in many cases, self-centered people aren’t even aware of how self-centered they are. The words of Jonice Webb come to mind, “You would need emotional awareness to recognize that you have no emotional awareness.” Which could very well be a corollary to the Dunning-Kruger effect — the metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their own ineptitude.
However, if a moment of clarity should coincide with a moment of humility, you may be open to hearing this truth about overcoming self-centeredness: You cannot use self-reliance to overcome your self-reliance. In other words, you can’t self-help your way out of self-destruction. What you need is exactly what was missing in the first place when you decided other people can’t be trusted — safe connection.
A trauma-informed therapist or coach may be a good place to start. A pastor or mentor even. Someone who’s got some experience with compassion and empathy. Because you can’t teach yourself healthy relating in isolation.