Self-conscious: feeling undue awareness of oneself, one’s appearance, or one’s actions
Self-obsessed: excessively preoccupied with one’s own life and circumstances; thinking only about oneself
A young member of Alcoholics Anonymous once told his sponsor he felt too self-conscious. His sponsor promptly replied, “You’re not self-conscious. You’re self-obsessed.”
Self-Conscious or Self-Obsessed?
Highlighting the definitive difference between self-consciousness and self-obsession might seem like a matter of semantics. Self-Conscious refers to the unnecessary amount of focus on the self. We are self-conscious about the way we look, act, or appear to others. Self-obsession refers to only thinking about oneself in an “excessively preoccupied way”. Arguably, one is inherent in the other. Thinking in a self-conscious matter results in self-obsession. Hyper focused on our insecurities, we might be completely consumed with self-conscious thoughts.
Either obsessed or conscious, one thing is for certain: humans spend a lot of time thinking about themselves. We can’t help that we do it. Our consciousness exists for a reason. Inner narratives serve many purposes: fulfilling hunger, intuition, making judgments, sensing and avoiding danger. There is a limit to how self-centered we need to be. Addiction to drugs and alcohol completely erases that limit.
In active addiction, self-centeredness and self-will run riot. Meaning, that when harmful substances enter and take over the mind it, becomes all about one person: the self. Most don’t mean to be so selfish. Yet at the debilitating demand of addiction there is no one else to act on behalf of. Drugs and alcohol take over some of the most basic functions of our minds even when it comes to taking care of ourselves. Survival functions like eating, sleeping, and hunting exist in the midbrain which is eventually reprogrammed to seek drugs as a way to survive. Considering the distraction of such self-serving needs, it is no surprise that the need of others aren’t readily apparent on the radar of someone addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Addiction exacerbates the inherent human drive to think about the self. As addiction progresses, so do the self-centered thoughts, actions, and behaviors. Problematically, the brain is vulnerable to programming. Hence, the way the brain changes in response to drugs. Habits are some of the deepest programming that occur in our minds. Through addict-behaviors we create habits that are both self-conscious and self-obsessed.
Recovery is also progressive. Through the work of recovery, we learn to create new habits that help us be of service to others.