Lost in your head? Self-observation v Self-absorption

What to do when you get so lost in your head that healthy self-observation becomes unhealthy self-absorption…

We hear a lot about the need for positive self-awareness in the world today (which is an important step forward in navigating mental health issues) but I think we need to make a very clear distinction between positive self-awareness techniques and the pitfalls of negative self-internalisation.

This Wisdom Room Advice Article helps explain the difference between Self-observation (an objective and detached practice that can promote personal growth and understanding) v Self-absorption (a subjective and self-centered practice) that can hinder social interactions, keep you stuck in old thoughts and lost in your head. Please read on to find out more…

Lost in Your Head? The Root of All Mental Health Issues

I see clients for all sorts of different emotional and physical health conditions but there seems to be one common thread running through nearly all my patients who display mental health issues whether that’s an anxiety disorder, OCD, social anxiety, depression or something else. It’s something quite simple and often overlooked. But it’s definitely there lurking beneath the surface.

Essentially, people with mental health issues tend to be too focused on themselves. Or more specifically – too focused on their own internal dialogue. Somewhere down the line, helpful self-reflection has turned into unhelpful self-analysis. Or healthy self-observation has become unhealthy self-absorption. Put simply, they are just too lost in their own head too much of the time. (Sadly, often to the detriment of themselves and those around them).

It’s no surprise then that people suffering from mental health issues often describe feeling overwhelmed, unable to open up and isolated. If you are constantly internalising your issues, focusing on negative aspects of your life or repeatedly in your head thinking about past regrets or future worries. Guess what? You aren’t going to feel good.

Also, if your mind is perpetually elsewhere, you are never really allowing yourself to be happy and present in the moment and so you run the risk of missing all the beauty and enjoyment available right here in the now. The only real and true moment there is.

Lost in Your Head? Signs you might be lost in your head

Sure-fire signs someone might be lost in their head is when they repeat old, outdated thoughts behaviours and patterns again and again. Find it hard to engage or communicate with others and are so preoccupied with themselves that they feel they have little time or interest for anyone else.

People in this headspace might even start withdrawing from friends and family or avoiding social situations altogether because they are so preoccupied by their own internal dialogue that they find it hard to connect. Sadly, a loud internal dialogue doesn’t leave much space for a real external dialogue!

If you often find yourself withdrawing into your shell, unable to fully engage and enjoy life because you are so busy ruminating on issues, catastrophising problems and feeling trapped in your head. Take heed. Because your internal voice is almost certainly out of balance too. I know this because I’ve been there myself and my heart goes out to you if this is the case. The good news it doesn’t have to be this way – so please continue reading!

Lost in Your Head? My battle with anxiety disorders 

I have battled anxiety disorders, depression, and social anxiety over the course of my life. And in my most fearful moments, I have felt totally isolated, self-absorbed and detached from the world. The harsh inner voice becomes so loud that you lose sight of what’s happening in reality (which is normally very different to the warped version of the world you have created inside your mind).

When you are lost in yourself – you can walk into a room full of people, or be in the middle of the most amazing experience and be so preoccupied by your own fear-forecasting thoughts that you don’t even engage in the reality of anything happening around you. And when this happens, we miss out. We miss out on genuine human interaction and we miss out on all life has to offer.

It’s those times in a meeting when you can’t focus on what the other person is saying because your internal voice of doubt is already overanalysing your response (even though you have something good to say). Or the times you feel socially anxious and are convinced that everyone in the room is focused on you. (When in reality everyone is too preoccupied with themselves.) Or the times when you want to be confident but every inch of you is screaming that you aren’t good enough in some way. (But of course you are) Or even the quiet moments when you feel trapped by your own thoughts and you feel like you are climbing the walls. (When in reality. You are safe and everything is OK.) Sound familiar?

Lost in Your Head? When your internal gaze is too focused

Of course, it can very difficult to point out to people who are struggling with mental health issues (who might be very sensitive or vulnerable) that they might be doing this to themselves. But it is true that if our internal gaze focuses too much on our inner issues for too long. It’s easy to move from the realms of self-observation slowly into the realms of self-absorption.

It’s like imagining the eye of Sauron (from Lord of the Rings) constantly focused inside our own head burning into the back of our skull. It’s not a comfortable place to be. As we fixate on ourselves and lose sight of the bigger picture. Our behaviour becomes all about us and we don’t become the easiest person to be around. That’s when other people might even start to view us in an unfavourable way because they don’t understand what’s going on inside our head.

It’s only when we can start reminding ourselves that we are not lone islands but in fact connected to everything and everyone else around us that we can start to break the cycle. And in doing so turn that fixed gaze inside out. So, we can focus on things and other people outside of ourselves for a while.

The biggest comfort I felt during my dark night of the soul was not focusing on me. It was losing myself in being of service to others. I massively ramped up all my 1-2-1 therapy work and devoted time to helping others. I remember a friend asking me. How can you spend so much time helping other people when you are having such a hard time yourself? The answer was simple. Helping others helped me. It’s amazing when we start shifting our attention outwards and start really listening to others how immediately it takes us out of ourselves and back into the world and a much happier connected place.

Lost in Your Head? Top tip if you feel socially anxious

Try this peaceful Change Your Focus Exercise… 

If you feel socially anxious, the best thing you can actually do is ask other people questions and then really listen to their answers. You don’t have to be a therapist to do this! Ask them how their week has been. What they are up to. What they had for lunch. People love talking about themselves! When your focus is on someone or something else outside of you, this will immediately shift that internal gaze away from you and alleviate some of your discomfort.

It also means you don’t have to talk about yourself to begin with in conversation (if this makes you feel uncomfortable). But other people will really appreciate the effort you have made to communicate because it makes them feel loved and heard. Win-win all round!

Start by attending less intimidating social situations and gradually work up to more challenging ones. This can desensitise you to triggers and help you build your confidence. Remember as soon as you place that focus outside of you. It will immediately distract you from any unhelpful self-talk and make you feel ten times better!

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Lost in Your Head? Behind self-centered behaviour lies fear

Just like shy people often get mistaken for arrogant people. People who are introverted often get mistaken for people who are disinterested, aloof, or selfish which is a shame. It’s not that people who display these characteristics are intentionally trying to hurt or disregard the feelings of others. The truth is that beneath this self-centered behaviour lies fear and fear can be immobilising. 

They are probably afraid of feeling unworthy, out of control, or not enough. Of course, we are all afraid that we are not good enough in some way. Not clever enough. Not eloquent enough. Not popular enough. Not rich enough. Not attractive enough. Not successful enough. The list goes on and on… But for those of us who fixate on that inside voice this can feel like the inner critic has been given a mega phone!

It’s all untrue of course. We are all worthy. We are all loveable and we are all good enough. Healthy works of life in progress. But when we keep feeding our inner-critic rather than our inner kindness and filling our head with doubt, doom and depressing thoughts. It’s amazing how warped our perspective of the truth can become.

Lost in Your Head? Be careful your self-talk is positive

We hear a lot about the need for positive self-awareness in the world today which is an important step forward in navigating mental health issues, but I think we need to make a very clear distinction between positive self-awareness techniques and negative self-internalisation. They are two very different things.

Self-awareness and self-observation are objective and detached practices that can help you neutrally observe old out dated thoughts and behaviours and be extremely helpful. While negative self-internalisation and self-absorption help keep you stuck in old out-dated thoughts.

There is nothing kind or caring about constantly hiding out inside your head and giving yourself a hard time in there. I always say this (so sorry if I sound like a stuck record) but you really do need to treat yourself like you treat your best friend. With care, consideration, and understanding.

While prioritising our needs and practicing positive and non-judgemental self-awareness techniques can be helpful. Constantly fixating on our issues, ruminating about problems and self-obsessing is never going to be the answer. The key is to always examine your motives behind something and ask yourself is this my Inner Critic talking or my kind compassionate voice of Inner Wisdom? You will know instantly by noticing whether you feel good or bad.

Lost in Your Head? The relationship between intelligence and mental health

Another factor just to take into consideration is the idea that intelligent individuals might have a higher capacity for critical thinking and self-reflection. Studies, such as the Terman Study of the Gifted (which tracked highly intelligent individuals over decades) suggest that those with higher IQs might experience higher rates of certain mental health issues, including depression.

This would make logical sense because higher intelligence might come with a greater awareness of life’s complexities and the world’s problems, leading to existential concerns and feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. Intelligent people may also feel out of sync with their peers or have difficulty finding like-minded individuals, potentially leading to social isolation

However, it is important to note that other studies have found no significant correlation or even suggest that higher intelligence might offer some protective factors against mental health issues, such as better problem-solving skills and coping mechanisms. The mixed findings highlight the complexity of the relationship and suggest that intelligence is just one of many factors that can influence mental health. Environmental, genetic, and social factors also play critical roles.

Lost in Your Head? Why our greatest strength can become our greatest weakness…

If you imagine your mind is a bit like a clock or a set of scales. Ideally, we would always set ourselves to balance mode (or 12 o’clock). But what tends to happen if we become out of balance is that we fixate or obsess about something and then the dial goes a few notches too far. This is why so often our greatest strength can quickly become our greatest weakness.

An example could be someone who is very precise, neat, and organised. These are all positive attributes when they are kept in check and can help us efficiently and quickly complete work projects. However, when taken to extremes, precision can become perfection, and perfection can cause paralysis. Then before we know it, we have gone a few notches too far and inadvertently self-sabotaged.

The same can be said if we our prone to self-observation. If we mindfully and deliberately practice self-awareness to help gain insight and a better understanding of ourselves and take the role of the neutral observer on our own thinking. This can be extremely helpful and healthy and encourage a balanced view of oneself in relation to others and the world.

If however, self-observation goes a few notches too far and becomes an excessive preoccupation with oneself. It can turn into self-absorption which means being overly focused on one’s own needs, desires, and experiences to the exclusion of others with isn’t at all healthy or helpful.

Lost in Your Head? How to make sure self-observation doesn’t become self-absorption

Self-observation and self-absorption are distinct concepts that differ primarily in their focus and impact on behaviour and mental well-being. Understanding these differences can help individuals practice self-observation to promote personal growth and avoid the pitfalls of self-absorption.

In a nutshell. Self-absorption involves an excessive preoccupation with oneself. It means being overly focused on one’s own needs, desires, and experiences to the exclusion of others. This focus often stems from insecurity, narcissism, or a lack of awareness of others’ needs and perspectives. It can be driven by the desire for validation, attention, or control. But ultimately it comes from fear.

As we have discussed, Self-absorption can lead to negative outcomes such as strained relationships, social isolation, and a lack of empathy. It may result in being dismissive or unaware of others’ feelings and viewpoints and cause us to get lost in our head.

On the other hand, Self-observation involves objectively monitoring and reflecting on one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It is a mindful and deliberate practice aimed at gaining insight and understanding oneself better. The goal is often personal growth, self-improvement, and increased self-awareness. By neutrally observing oneself, a person can identify patterns, triggers, and areas for change.

Self-observation tends to lead to constructive outcomes, such as improved emotional regulation, better decision-making, and enhanced relationships. It encourages a balanced view of oneself in relation to others and the world. Techniques like journaling, mindfulness meditation, and therapy can facilitate self-observation. It involves a non-judgmental and curious attitude towards oneself. And helps you get out of mental constructs in your head and find freedom and inner peace.


Lost in Your Head?

Self-observation V self-absorption

Key reminders:

1. Self-observation is objective and detached, while self-absorption is subjective and self-centered.

2. Self-observation aims for self-improvement and understanding, whereas self-absorption seeks personal gratification and attention.

3. Self-observation fosters empathy and better interpersonal relationships, while self-absorption can harm relationships and hinder social interactions.

4. Self-observation is characterized by curiosity and openness, while self-absorption often involves defensiveness and self-centeredness.


The Volume Control to your Mind

We all have times when our minds are racing and we speak negatively to ourselves. We focus on what we have done wrong not what we have done right and can end up indulging in destructive or self-limiting thoughts, such as fear, guilt or anger. I call this your INNER CRITIC.

On the other end of the spectrum, we all have times when we give ourselves wise counsel, we still our minds, take time to listen to our intuition and we focus on all that is good, right and positive in our lives. I call this your INNER WISDOM.

Our brains are a little like a radio transmitter / receiver. Whatever frequency you are sending out you tend to get back so make sure you are transmitting a good frequency today.

To start this exercise, I would like you to start paying much more attention to what you are thinking throughout the day. Become an observer on your own internal chatter and start checking the quality of your thoughts. You might be surprised by your tendency to think negatively whenever a particular situation arises. But something else that can help is to imagine having control of the volume button on the remote control to your mind.

Next time you hear that negative inner chatter. Imagine turning down the volume button so that unhelpful, annoying voice slowly gets quieter and quieter until it has gone completely.

Next time you hear your voice of reason, or your inner wisdom coming through. Imagine turning the volume button up really high so it pierces through that cloud of indecision or doubt.

Share the Wisdom around…


As well as being a writer & creative, Jane Eggleton is an experienced and fully qualified Integrative TherapistClinical HypnotherapistNLP Practitioner and transformational Coach.

Jane is also the Founder and Director of the Wisdom Room: a holistic therapy practice that helps people from all walks of life, across the globe. Her personal passion is to help people reconnect with their own Inner Wisdom and release any hidden fears and her professional aim is to help clients regain their sense of well-being, quickly, safely, and in a sustainable, independent manner.

You can also find Jane on Instagram or Follow her on Facebook or email Info@wisdomroom.co.uk


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