The Conversational Narcissist

 


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conversational narcissist

"We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." - Epictetus

You pick up the phone.  It's Jill.  Again.

"Hi sweetie, just thought I'd give you a call!  How are you?"

"Good thanks Jill.  And you?"

"Oh, terrific!  I wanted to tell you about my blah blah blah blah blah ..."

We've all had those people in our lives who seem to yap on about themselves ad nauseam.  Once given the opportunity to talk about themselves, they'll snap it up in an instant showing little regard or interest in what you have to say.  Ever.  And if they do, you know it's a fake mask of politeness.

These people are the conversational narcissists in your life who hog every conversation you have, leaving your head spinning.  Basically, talking to a conversational narcissist is like putting your head in a blender.

So, do you have a conversational narcissist in your life?  There's only one way to find out ...

How To Spot The Conversational Narcissist

Not all narcissists are obnoxious or dislikeable people - in fact, many of them can be charming and appealing ... the only problem is that you hate talking to them.  Why?  Perhaps because you can pick up on the following character traits:

1.  They have an exaggerated sense of self importance.

2.  They're usually absorbed in fantasies of power, success, beauty and/or brilliance.

3.  They have unreasonable expectations of other people, i.e. that everyone else should unquestioningly comply with them.

4.  They overrate the importance of their achievements.

5.  They crave constant validation, admiration and respect from the world.

Keeping these symptoms in mind, it's no wonder that the conversational narcissist loves drilling you with every detail of their lives ad infinitum.  They truly believe that they're that special, interesting and important.  It's part of their personality disorder.


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Which Kind Of Conversational Narcissist Do You Know?

Luckily they're not like Pokémon.  You only have two species of the conversational narcissist to worry about, so don't worry.  These are the:

Active Conversational Narcissist's & Passive Conversational Narcissist's.

So let's explore the first.

Active Conversational Narcissism

This breed of narcissist always ends up shifting the attention onto themselves in conversations.  They do this by giving a few "supportive responses" so as not to appear rude, but end up using more "shifting responses".

Please note that it's normal and healthy to share stuff about yourself, as long as you direct the conversation back to the other person.  At least, this is what the common law of conversational etiquette says.

Example 1 - Supportive

Person A - "I'm going to buy a puppy today."

Person B - "Really?  What breed are you wanting to get?"

Example 2 - Unsupportive

Person A - "I'm going to buy a puppy today."

Person B - "Really?  I was thinking about buying a puppy for my daughter as well!"

Person A - "Oh, yeah?"

Person B - "Uh-huh, I thought that a golden retriever would be ... blah blah blah".

Passive Conversational Narcissismconversational narcissist

This subtle form of conversational narcissism occurs when you share something, and the conversational narcissist withholds their supporting responses until the conversation fizzle's out.

Supporting responses are for instance: acknowledgements that indicate you're listening, e.g "uh-huh", "OK", "Hmm".  They're also statements that demonstrate active listening such as "that's awesome!", "why did you do that?", "what are you planning to do now?"

Passive conversational narcissists withhold these statements, showing disinterest so that the conversation ends up dying - and is directed back to them.  Score!

Example:

Person A - "I'm going to the casino tonight!"

Person B - " (Pause) ... oh, right ... (pause)"

Person A - "I'm really excited because I won $200 last week!"

Person B - " (Silence) ..."

Person A - "Have you been there recently?"

Person B - "Oh yeah, I went a few weeks ago with my friends, it's really interesting because we ... blah blah blah".

How To Interact With A Conversational Narcissist

Talking to a conversational narcissist can be draining and tedious - especially if you see there's nothing in it for you.  How about changing the way you look at things?  Don't worry, I don't like the thought of changing something in myself either, especially when it's the narcissist who should change!

The fact is: you can't change anyone, so give up trying now.  The only thing you can change is your outlook and perception.  For instance, you could see talking to a conversational narcissist as a form of interpersonal training.  You could also see it as a way to forge many great qualities such as patience, self-control (forbearance) and focus that all come with listening to a self-absorbed, insensitive and egotistical person.

According to the research I've done, the best way to interact smoothly with a narcissist is as following:

1.  Don't demand much.  Don't expect much.

2.  Accept that you have to listen.  A lot.

3.  Don't worry about boosting the narcissists ego with your acknowledgements (it's not possible anyway).

4.  For swift conversation, resist the temptation of challenging the narcissist's thoughts and desires.

5.  Smile and keep quiet a lot.

I don't necessarily agree with this way of approaching narcissists all the time - but if you're not in the mood to stir the pot, these five rules will help you ease the tension that comes with talking to them.

On the other hand, if you're wanting to end a conversation with them quickly, I've found the following techniques work wonders:

  • Talk about something really boring, and keep repeating what you've just said in different ways.  You'll look a bit manic, but oh well.
  • Stop giving supportive statements and use reverse psychology instead, i.e. become either an active or passive conversational narcissist yourself.
  • Set a time limit.  After half an hour or an hour leave the conversation, no matter what.

I'd love to hear any stories you have about conversational narcissism.  So feel free to share below!

Photo by: Alexander Rentsch


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  1. TLB says

    My sister in law is a conversational narcissist and when her brother and I first got together I think she was threatened by me so made it quiet clear early on that I was on her turf and the attention should revolve around her. She is incapable of participating in a group conversation as it’s shared attention and will be silent or corner someone nearby that she will take out of the group conversation to make them focus on her.
    I found it difficult because she was pretty mean to me in the early years of me joining the family and what I would call bad behaviour seemed to be overlooked by her family, my partner included and I was shocked that she would get away with narky comments to me and selfishly talking about herself constantly. In my family I would have been put in my place. (Bearing in mind she is in her 30’s so has obviously always been indulged by her family in this way)
    I’m a very outgoing and friendly person and like a bit of attention too but as I’ve become an adult I’ve realised it’s an ugly trait to demand all the attention and I’m always interested in others and making new friends,
    She has had a child and is a single mother and has had some mental illness in the past and currently so I keep reminding myself that she needs the attention and her low self esteem is why she is talking about herself all the time and is craving praise so I should just give it to her because I’m fine with who I am and don’t need validation. But I’m finding it hard and I do challenge her sometimes and I feel really bitchy afterwards. I’ve even been interrupting her to brag about myself and then feel bad about it and the fact that I’ve sunk to her level. I also talk to my fiancé about it and I know he knows what she’s like and deals with it his own way but then I feel guilty for moaning about her to him because that’s his sister.
    I can’t avoid her completely because she is family and in the last few years she has taken more of a liking to me and we have become quiet close, also when she started being civil to me I just kept being super nice back because I was scared she’d go back to being nasty (and I know she holds on to grudges more than anyone I know) if I didn’t give her the attention and praise. But recently I’ve been coming away from a visit with her feeling really bad about myself and I just can’t make myself shut her out.
    How can I still be around her and not let her affect me? I think we’ve come to a point in our relationship where I’m not afraid of her anymore and could probably be a bit more assertive and end phone calls without panicking that she’ll hate me and go back to being mean but she is always shocked when I say I have to go. I often just wait for her to end the call.

    • says

      TLB, you both sound to be insecure people. If I was you I would try to work on myself first. The more you are comfortable around yourself, the more you can forgive yourself of YOUR flaws and pettiness, the more you will feel comfortable around your sister in law and the easier it will be to forgive her. Looking past her behavior into her pain is helpful, but you must truly be able to feel her pain (empathize) to not get so riled up.

      I hope this helps.

  2. Liz says

    I have just gotten to know a person recently. She is a very positive person with similar morals and standards. BUT she is a conversational narcassist both passive both active. It is beyond frustrating for me because I like to hear from everyone and I would like to talk about something for a change! Is that such a crime? She is constantly talking on and on about things she enjoys, or anything having to do with her. It is tiresome and wears me out to say the least. I have never really experienced this type of person fully to this extent. She is a great person with a huge heart. she is fun to be around until she starts the narcissism conversations. Should I still give her a chance?

    • says

      It depends Liz. Sometimes conversational narcissism is a product of the person not feeling heard or understood in their private lives so they come across as a bit self-absorbed when you talk with them. You could say for instance, “I just want to continue for a moment,” or something else to indicate to them that you want to have a go as well. If they are obliging, then go with it. Sometimes people are not self-aware and tend to get the picture after you give them a subtle nudge. If your friend isn’t obliging on the other hand, I would say: let her go. She might be nice and have a huge heart and that is great, but if you don’t feel heard and truly valued, then there really is no point in continuing to “lead her on.”

  3. Kay says

    My soon to ex narcissist husband could ONLY talk about himself..
    and was incapable of carrying a give/take conversation or ANY conversation that didn’t center around HIM, HIS JOB, HIS PROBLEMS, HIS
    MONEY, HIS HOBBY… blah blah blah.. We sat at the dining room table
    every night ( Not once in 3 yrs did we sit and watch tv together)… He’d go on about his big plans to be the best at this, that, or the other.. how everybody was jealous of him, and how everyone was jealous of our sex life… ( HOW would they know??) and he never asked about me.
    Once in a blue moon he’d ask how my day went.. but never hung around to hear an answer. I would get so frustrated trying to have a serious conversation … 3 min max. Then he zoned out or got angry.

    He is constantly on his phone — I think it’s glued to his ear. Talking about his big plans of being a big star to ANYBODY who will listen.

    I have decided to end our relationship. Selfishness does not begin and end with conversations. Peace.

    • says

      Kay, yes, that does sound the best. It is a self-respecting move, and in the long run I think it will also help your ex-husband as well (hopefully) wake up to the reality that the world doesn’t circulate around his axis.

  4. GD says

    This article was forwarded to me by a good friend who knew I was contending with one of the most extreme conversational narcissists I have ever met. He is part of a club I belong to and everyone in the club is trying to deal with him, the constant need for validation and attention grabbing, the delusions of self importance, the coopting ever conversation with minute detail of his work, family and problems, dreams and aspirations and even bald statements of self praise followed by question to the interlocutor to agree with him. I’m great aren’t I? I’m right, aren’t I? Never any interest whatsoever in your life. And should you challenge his right to monopolize any social situation, you will get a defensive response and maybe even a chastisement about your bad manners. Your statement that you feel like your head has been in a blender after exposure to this kind of person is right on. He is a prolific email narcissist as well, sending long paragraph after paragraph about himself with minute details that you will have to comb through to get to the actual part that involves the information you need. My question, if there really is very little that can be done to treat this disorder or personality, what happens to such people? How do they keep jobs? Friends? Do they calibrate others as to how much more narcissim they can get away with with one person over another? How does such a person function in life?

    • says

      Narcissists tend to be very self-confident, which is what tends to help them gain and keep jobs, and also some types of friends (usually the friends of narcissists have very low self-esteem). Narcissism is said to be a mixture of genetics and environment, so even though they have delusions of grandeur, it is not necessarily their fault. We tend to dehumanize people like narcissists, but I believe that they do experience things like loneliness (especially when people avoid them constantly), disappointment and frustration. It’s good to try and keep a balanced perspective as infuriating and irritating it can be to deal with people like this. Practicing assertiveness can help too, e.g. “Just a minute, I want to finish what I said,” “I need to continue for a few moments,” etc.

  5. Timothy says

    All my life it has always seemed like I had drawn all the conversational narcissists. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy helping them sort out their thoughts and offering support. However, there are also days when you just need someone to genuinely listen to you and understand that you are having a difficult day; these are not people who are cut out to offer you that help.

    So I was wondering, where can you find people like “us;” people who are NOT conversational narcissist? I have yet to find one in my life. Even when people seem to listen to me for an extended time (about 10-15 seconds), my gut still tells me that they are just being polite. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the topics I bring up are interesting because it always generates a healthy conversation. However, as this article clearly explains, there are a lot of conversational narcissists that take the opportunity to shift the attention to themselves. I’d like to be able to establish friendships with those who are not conversational narcissists.

    • says

      It sounds as though you have a caretaking personality. But although caretakers are kind, giving and selfless, they also tend to serve as enablers. I think you have realized this, and it’s great that you are wanting to reach out and have someone listen to YOUR needs for a change.

      Like me you might be a passive friend-maker. A lot of my life I’ve actually waited for people to befriend me out of shyness … but in the end I found that going out of my way to find friends was the best way. Think about your interests — what inspires and motivates you? Whatever it is, seek for a group of people who love the same thing. The deepest connections are formed with these people. So, you might like to go on a site like meetup.com, or look in a local forum or newspaper, but however you do it, make sure you seek out people who share something with you. Then, observe. Don’t jump into making friendships, but test the water before you commit.

      That was how I did it!

      Good luck. :)

      • Timothy says

        Spot on! Thanks for responding Aletheia! I appreciate your post so much.

        What exactly qualifies as a passive friend-maker? Usually, I am told that I appear stand-offish, aloof, and intimidating. I can’t do much about it since I have appeared to be like this since childhood. My mother commented that I rarely showed emotion, rarely cried as a baby, and tended to be very calm and observant. More recently though, I have tried to appear warm, but I feel that it does not appear natural and instead comes off as mechanical (like a salesman).

        My predisposition can be a defensive mechanism–I am not sure. Although I tend to be very distrustful of everyone in general until they have proven themselves to be trustworthy. Do these qualities constitute that of a passive friend-maker? As bad as it sounds, those who pass the “test” become my “friends” but it only goes so far as in its lopsidedness; I tend to be the one with the resources and they come to me for help. I usually do not need their help, and usually they don’t have much to offer for me anyway. I tend to be a very successful person, but it really gets lonely being at the top all by yourself. Although as well all know, we are human and we are not always in tip-top shape. Like I said, I have not found someone strong enough to support me in times of vulnerability.

        As for what motivates me: someone with a passion for intellectual discussion. My thoughts tend to be very deep and I have yet to find someone with a great listening ear who is willing and can humor me for a while and validate my thoughts. I would also like to hear what he/she can contribute. I love learning. It has been lonely for a while struggling to bottle in my thoughts.

        I’m not comfortable meeting up people online since I tend to assess people real time, like you said, and it’s difficult for me to divorce from my suspicious paradigm towards people.

        Anyway, do you have any advice for me in identifying such people that I am looking for? Especially those in immediate proximity to me (in public, school, etc.)? I would really appreciate it.

        • says

          A passive friend-maker is someone who waits for friends to come rather than seeks them out actively.

          I wouldn’t pass off meeting people from online. You don’t need to necessarily meet up with just one person — try a group instead. It can be intimidating and uncomfortable at first, but it really is worth it. Don’t pass it off.

          My advice in response to your question would be to pay attention to how you feel during the conversation. Do you feel heard and understood? If so, that is a good sign you have found a non-CN. Many people are CN’s so be prepared to be ruthless in your search for someone kind, responsive and open to giving and receiving.

  6. TaDa says

    I just had a major realization that my boss is a total conversational narcissist. She talks and talks and talks about herself, dog and morning activities. She and her best friend (whom also works in the same atmosphere) rarely ask me, “How are you?” After I have engaged them by asking a simple question. Then on, and on and on they go about their lives. Wow. Very enlightening to know that the Shut up and Smile recommendation was on here because that’s all I find myself doing around them. What an eye opening month this has been. I demanded respect on a financial level, and am now seeing other not so pleasant traits start to surface. Interesting enough, this was a very concealed operation on their part. I’m glad (not really glad per say, but I guess misery loves company) to read others comments here and see that this is affecting many other people.

    • says

      It can be frustrating … but what can you do? You certainly can’t change them (unless they are first willing), so you can only really change your perceptions and realize that everyone has something less-than-perfect about themselves — you and I included!

  7. td says

    This is a good article. I’ve recently come to the realization that I purposely become friends with narcissist . This is because I grew up in this atmosphere. Since I’ve been researching this, there are so many issues that I deal with that are because I don’t feel heard. Do narcissists breed narcissists? I think so. One thing I’ve found is that passive people tend to become friends with them because its easier to listen than to figure out what to say. And, as I’ve grown and my social skills have improved, I’ve found that you do end up talking about yourself because all of your narcissist friends never ask you how you are. So you become one by dealing with one. Does that make sense?

    And, I’ve tried recently to do better with my more passive friends by asking how they are and learning about them but they just won’t talk. This makes it harder not to talk about myself to fill the void. So I guess I’m seeing both sides of the coin here.

    • says

      I understand exactly what you mean TD. It’s all about the people you surround yourself with consciously or unconsciously. Luckily you are now conscious of your habit and can start to bring more open and less self-centric people into your life. The company we surround ourselves with does tend to impact greatly on our personalities.