Growing up, I loved being the center of attention.
I was a pretty outgoing child and enjoyed performing songs and dances for family and friends. This love for the spotlight eventually led me to audition for musicals, perform in talent shows, and take up dance classes.
I had dreams of being a famous actress, and at one point I even tried convincing my parents to get me an agent. All this to say, I thought a lot about myself and becoming someone great. Underneath my self-promotion, I felt desperate for approval and praise from people. I thought the applause I got would meet my need to feel worthy and loved.
As I grew older, I started reading the Bible and learned about God’s purpose for my life. I started to see how much everything I did was for myself. The dreams I had really only benefitted my image and my desire to be successful, and didn’t really give me the sense of security or love I was looking for.
The more I read the Bible, the more I learned that God loved me deeply. I also was inspired by the way Jesus lived – always serving and believing in people around him – and wanted to live that way myself.
The challenge I faced then and can continue to face is that I love to love myself. Selfishness is a sin that feels good and in some ways can easily go undetected, which is why we need to know and understand the signs of a self-centered life.
“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ 37 Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”Matthew 22:36-40 NIV
This passage describes a God-centered (rather than self-centered) life. A God-centered life consists of loving God and loving others completely. When we walk with God and obey the Bible, we live our lives God-centered and no longer prioritize ourselves. We instead value the things God values.
We can slip into being self-centered when we lose our love for God and other people. But how do you know when you’re living a self-centered life? It’s possible that we can be unaware or have a hard time admitting the ways that we are living to please ourselves.
I have personally experienced this, and have had friends experience this. From these experiences I have found five surprising signs that you have secretly slipped into being self-centered:
You get worried and upset over small things
“But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”Luke 10:41-42 NLT
Martha was hosting a dinner party for Jesus, and she was anxious about getting everything done. Like Martha, I can easily get worried and upset about all the daily tasks I have to do, many of which won’t even matter in the long run.
Although Martha wanted to do the right thing, she ended up focusing on the wrong things. She was worried about dinner, and Jesus reminded her that the only thing really worth being concerned about was her relationship with him.
I can certainly understand why Martha would be anxious about hosting a dinner party for Jesus. I would be concerned with how I look, performing perfectly as a host, and impressing my guests with my culinary skills. Unfortunately, all of these anxieties are self-centered.
I’ve noticed that anxiety is a very strong emotion for me, but it usually revolves entirely around myself. I can have anxious thoughts about how people feel about me, what they might say to me, or if I am valued and appreciated.
In all of this, the anxiety is just a symptom of selfishness and that I’ve lost my focus on what really matters — God. In these moments I have to decide to hold on to Scriptures that remind me of what is really valuable and important. This is one way I can rely on God and shift the focus from me to him.
- What are some things you’ve been worried and upset about lately?
- How do you think shifting your focus to God from yourself could lower your anxiety level?
You are too busy for the spiritual
“In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.”Psalm 10:4 NIV
Another sign you may be self-centered is when you have no room for God or other spiritual relationships. Some people may have very busy schedules, which isn’t necessarily an indicator of selfishness. It’s important to look deeper and understand your heart, like why you’re busy and what you do when you do have time.
Do you desire to be close to God? Do you think and care about God throughout your day? Are you eager and inspired to pray and read your Bible?
Whenever I have found I am self-centered in this way, I have to make a conscious effort to pray. This slows me down long enough to make room for God. In fact, it especially helps me to pray with friends.
- How often are you aware of God and his presence?
- In what ways does your pride lead you to be distant from God?
- How can you slow down and make room for God today?
You become easily bitter in relationships
“Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”Acts 8:20-23 NIV
In this scripture, Peter confronts a sorceror-turned-Christian named Simon for wanting to use God’s ministry for his own glory and attention. Simon was motivated by his self-centered way of thinking, and Peter pointed out that his heart is also full of bitterness and captive to sin.
When we are bitter, we only see things from a human point of view. We focus on and blame others for what they can or can’t give to us. That’s why a sign that you are self-centered is how easily you get bitter and resentful in your relationships.
Do you have a heart to give in relationships or do you have a heart that expects to be given to? Do you use relationships to get ahead or to make someone else greater?
Simon had the opportunity to change and to regain or renew his love for God when he acknowledged the truth, and the same is true for us.
You trust yourself more than you trust God
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV
One way to know you are self-centered is when you refuse to trust God more than yourself. This scripture makes it clear that God doesn’t want us to lean on our own understanding or our own perspectives. He wants us to trust him and realize that we can’t figure out everything on our own.
It takes humility to admit that only God truly knows everything. Thinking we know better than God is a sign our lives are centered around our own ego, emotions, and opinions rather than centered around God. It is in these moments that we have to explore our hearts and be honest with God about why we struggle to trust him.
In this Psalm below, we can understand what it feels like when we rely on and trust God.
“Why am I so overwrought? Why am I so disturbed? Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will believe and praise the One who saves me and is my life.”Psalm 42:5 The Voice
If we want to learn to trust God, we cannot just be content to express our emotions or unbelief in prayer. We have to also decide and choose to trust God despite all our emotions.
When we humble ourselves to see things from God’s perspective, we can actually have genuine faith and love for God and others (Philippians 2:1-4).
- In what areas of your life do you struggle to trust God?
- What emotions and opinions can you let go of to hold onto Scripture and trust in God?
You lack compassion
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”Matthew 9:36 NIV
Jesus had compassion for the crowds because he saw their needs and weaknesses. Another sign you’ve slipped into being self-centered is you don’t have compassion or empathy for those in need.
How much do you think about the needs of your friends and family? What about the relationships that are more challenging or intimidating? Do you feel compassion and work to understand those around you and what they are going through?
Identifying the signs of self-centeredness in our lives is an important step in becoming and staying God-centered. Reflecting on the condition of our hearts helps us know how to change so we can live out God’s purpose for our lives.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love [for others growing out of God’s love for me], then I have become only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal [just an annoying distraction].1 Corinthians 13:1 AMP
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT
Like 1 Corinthians 13 says, love is the most important thing we can pursue and have. The Bible tells us that the way to move past our self-centeredness is to love, and love for others grows out of God’s love for us. This means that the more we turn to God through prayer and reading Scriptures – instead of thinking about ourselves – the more we will have room in our hearts to love.
It’s comforting to know that being loving is not a personality trait or a talent, but a choice we can make every day to grow as we see God’s love for us. As we leave self-centeredness behind, we’ll find ourselves making a lasting impact on the world the way Jesus did — by genuinely caring about the people around us.
- Which signs of self-centeredness do you slip into the most?
- How do these signs of self-centeredness impact your relationship with God and others?
- How is God calling you to put him at the center of your life and heart?
- How do you think your relationships will change as you become aware of and let go of self-centeredness?