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The term navel-gazing came into use in the mid-twentieth century, though the practice that this idiom is based on stretches much farther back in time. We will examine the definition of the term navel-gazing, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

In a literal sense, navel-gazing is the practice of mediating by intently staring at one’s own navel. The term is rarely used in this fashion. The expression navel-gazing is used as an idiom to mean being absorbed in one’s own thoughts, feelings and concerns, to the exclusion of all others. The word navel, in this case, refers to the bellybutton or scar where one’s umbilical cord attached to one’s torso while in the mother’s womb. The word naval refers to a navy, and is a misspelling when used in this idiom. While navel-gazing may be used to simply mean thoughtful contemplation or being absorbed by one’s meditation practice, it is usually viewed in a negative light. Navel-gazing is not often considered a mystical reflection or deep self-analysis. It carries the connotation of narcissism, practiced by self-absorbed people. Accusing a person of navel-gazing is most often a critique of engaging in excessive introspective thought, rather than taking action. Getting wrapped up in thinking about something may essentially be a way of avoiding making a decision. Contemplating a problem on one’s own, without the input or perspective of others, may not yield the best results. Another word for naval-gazing is omphaloskepsis, an Ancient Greek word that literally means naval examination. Navel-gazing is an esoteric meditative practice that has been used in many cultures, including Hindu and Greek. Synonyms of the term navel-gazing that may be found in a thesaurus are: selfish, indulgent, self-indulgent, self reflection, self-absorbed, introspection. A navel-gazer is someone who practices navel-gazing. Navel-gazing and navel-gazer are compound words, which are words that are derived from two separate words joined together. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, they are hyphenated compound words, which are generally compound words that are midway on the journey between being rendered as separate words to being rendered as one word. However, these terms are occasionally seen as two separate words with no hyphen. The origin of the word navel is the Old English word nafela, and gaze is derived from the Middle English word gasen.


By concentrating all of their media efforts on the problems associated with running their business, the public school administration and School Board are mightily guilty of navel-gazing. (The Winona Post)

The House That Jack Built is a tediously navel-gazing exercise in von Trier trying to explain, and make half-hearted atonement for, his “totally twisted, man,” worldview, an explication of his personal psychology that is almost heartbreaking in its conflicted self-regard. (Vanity Fair Magazine)

And when Cate Blanchett was growing up in suburban Melbourne amid the struggles for equal pay and paid maternity leave of 1970s Australia, acting seemed, at best, a navel-gazing indulgence. (W Magazine)

An attempt to say something important about the psychological effects of motherhood and postnatal depression, this comedy drama is blighted by navel gazing but saved by some gritty, insightful acting from Charlize Theron. (The South China Morning Post)