I have to admit I have a strange habit. I count I, me, mine and my. This started years ago when I was listening to a distinguished leader. He spoke in front of an audience of thousands. His words were recorded and broadcast around the world.

As he delivered his discourse, very quickly the only words I heard coming out of his mouth were I, me, mine and my. I completely forgot the content and turned to counting. He talked about his ancestors and his family tree. He moved on to how he did this or he knows that. I, me, mine and my were being flung everywhere. I soon lost track as the numbers moved beyond my patience to keep track.

Since then, this obsession of mine has shown up at lectures, church talks, funerals, business gatherings and in everyday conversations. People use I, me, mine and my to describe their inner feelings of needs. “I am important.” “People adore me, I am very busy.” “I know my close friend, ___________.” Fill in the blank with someone famous.

At a funeral, the family told how the deceased was so wonderful. “He often gave me gifts.” “I loved it when he called me.” “He helped me in my studies.” One was able to draw a picture of thoughtfulness of the dearly departed, but there was this undercurrent of I, me, my and mine that brought an unconscious focus on the living as much as the dead.

These rain showers of personal pronouns fall from the speech upon the whole audience. Most often the presenter is completely dry and oblivious to the self-centered deluge. There is a sad innocence to their blindness of their storm of first-person singulars.

Moving beyond public speech, there are the many private conversations where I is the centerpiece.

I am not innocent of “I-ing,” and it has been my own guilt that continues to plague me in both my written and spoken words.

Often in my effort to insert myself in the hearts of others and to show my connectivity with the audience, I will use personal antidotes. The internal feeling is an attempt to share, but sometimes the I, me, mine and my can become the resulting focus.

I have noticed that as a physician in counseling others, I often share experiences from my own history. The intent is to show literally that I understand. I say, “I know,” “I get it” or “I have been there myself.” But every sentence starts with the word I. So while the attempt is to be empathetic, I have to imagine I am still thinking about me.

I have also appreciated that “I” pops up again in an effort to be diminutive. I find myself qualifying my opinion with the idea of saying it is what I think, suggesting it may be wrong, but it comes out, “I think it is this, but I could be wrong.” Two I’s in one compound sentence disrupts the attempt to minimize myself.

There is an eternal round with I, me, mine and my. For those of us who feel insecure, we fill up the verbal airways subconsciously with I's blotting out the sun. By saying I etc. often enough, I push my self-value to soar. But as soon as I say the words, they fall into a giant pit that never fills. I, me, mine and my are empty.

Because the feeling of security vanishes so quickly, I have to toss out a thousand more me's or mine's just to keep from sinking.

There is a counting obsession in OCD. My keeping record of I, me, mine and my may be similar. However, it is not an attempt to ridicule. Instead, it is my tool to identify those in similar need.

To start your own obsession, count I, me, mine and my in this article. Better yet, count them in yours.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a practicing pediatrician for 30 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at [email protected].