Self-obsession
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Self-obsession is a new addiction

Research from the University of Derby has identified being self-obsessed as a new type of addiction, citing social media usage as an exacerbating factor. Dr William Van Gordon, a lecturer in psychology and a chartered psychologist, is behind the development of the new ontological addiction theory, and says it explains the third ‘missing’ type of addiction.

Among the scientific community, there is a general acceptance of two forms of addiction: chemical, for example a reliance on drugs, cigarettes or alcohol, and behavioural, such as an addiction to gambling or video games. However, his new theory proposes a third type of addiction – ontological addiction, which is the addiction to how we believe we exist.

Among the scientific community, there is a general acceptance of two forms of addiction: chemical, for example a reliance on drugs, cigarettes or alcohol, and behavioural, such as an addiction to gambling or video games

Dr Van Gordon states: “Previous models of addiction have largely overlooked the possibility of being ‘addicted to ourselves’, yet ontological addiction meets all of the criteria for a genuine form of addiction.” For example, people with the condition often experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to overcome it, often leading to relapses following interventions, and over time it can cause exhaustion in the people it affects.

The scientist, who practiced as a Buddhist monk for 10 years, derived the theoretical underpinnings of his ontological addiction theory from the Buddhist philosophical perspective that all phenomena, including the self, do not manifest inherently or independently. He explains: “The tendency to become addicted to self is probably something that human beings are born with. However, we cement or weaken our ego and belief in self-hood, depending on how much we live out our lives through the lens of ‘me, mine and I’.”

The scientist, who practiced as a Buddhist monk for 10 years, derived the theoretical underpinnings of his ontological addiction theory from the Buddhist philosophical perspective that all phenomena, including the self, do not manifest inherently or independently

He goes on to explain how problematic use of social media can cause people to be drawn further into ontological addiction and its negative consequences: “If we interact with social media and technology mindlessly and are used by them, they tend to draw us away from the present moment. This leaves us little time and space to investigate the true nature of ourselves and how we really exist. It tends to further blur our understanding of what reflects a true and distorted perception of reality.”

So, how can you tell if you’re addicted to yourself? The easiest way is to be completely honest with yourself, and investigate how much your ego governs your thoughts, words and actions. For example, when carrying out an act of kindness (such as volunteering), if you’re hoping for some kind of gain, reward or recognition as opposed to just doing it for the good of others, it may be an early sign. On a larger scale, people with ontological addiction may believe that they are “the centrepiece in a world in which all other lifeforms, objects and concepts are less important.”

So, how can you tell if you’re addicted to yourself? The easiest way is to be completely honest with yourself, and investigate how much your ego governs your thoughts, words and actions

It’s not all bad news, though – according to Dr Van Gordon, you can recover from ontological addiction in three steps. “Firstly, people need to be aware that they are addicted to themselves. They can then start to deconstruct their belief in self-hood before starting the final phase which is to reconstruct a new and more dynamic sense of self – one which understands that we are a vital component of a larger society.” He suggests meditation and mindfulness may also play a role in helping to overcome self-obsession.

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