Question: My daughter is suddenly highly self-conscious and seems to think of herself as some kind of special, incredible being. It's hard to deal with! She recently entered middle school and we've also had a lot of stresses at home - I lost my job, a relative passed away, and our car was stolen. What's going on?
Answer: Your daughter is showing clear signs of egocentric thought. Egocentric thought normally appears in the late tween years and is healthy. Her self-consciousness comes from her believing she has an "imaginary audience," or an imagined group of people watching her every move. Her obsession with her "specialness" is indicative of the personal fable, another element of adolescent egocentrism.
Given how suddenly and strongly these signs of egocentric thought have shown up, more than mere development may be to blame. The many transitions your daughter's been facing may have made her adolescent egocentrism appear suddenly. When tweens and teens face educational or social changes, egocentric thought becomes more prominent. Even freshmen in college - who have left the egocentric stage behind - often show renewed signs of adolescent egocentrism as they enter college. It's no wonder that your tween - who is not only the "right" age for egocentric thought, but is also experiencing the middle school transition and changes at home - is suddenly acting more egocentric.
Why do transitions draw out egocentric thought? Probably to protect the adolescent and help them cope with the stress. By focusing on themselves and their unique features, the child can maintain a sense of stability amongst the changes. In other words, since the outside world is shifting so much, the transitioning adolescent escapes inward.
Intense egocentric thought has been associated with risk taking, substance abuse, vandalism and eating disorders, so remain alert for red flags. But rest assured that this is probably just a phase. As the changes subside and your daughter gets older, she will almost certainly show fewer signs of egocentric thought - and be easier to deal with to boot!
Schwartz, Paul D., Maynard, Amanda M., and Uzelac, Sarah M. Adolescent egocentrism: A contemporary view. Adolescence. 2008. 43, 171: 441-448.