Have you ever been with someone—perhaps a person you haven’t seen in ages—and all they do is talk about themselves? They never stop long enough to ask you anything about you.
It seems we've experienced more me-isms of late. Although we’re good listeners who typically don’t like talking about ourselves, except when our books require touting, we really enjoy hearing about you and what you're up to. Honestly. But please. We’re not invisible.
A couple who met Margaret and her then new boyfriend--post her late husband’s death—spent the entire evening blabbing about themselves, their business, their kids and grandkids. They never asked Margaret and her friend how they met, what he did professionally and liked to do in his free time. Forget Margaret's life; that never came up.
Margaret experienced this another time with a couple she barely knew but ran into at a restaurant. The husband focused the entire conversation on their son's budding career. More than an hour later when the bill came and they were ready to bid adieu, the wife turned to Margaret and her guy and said, "We didn’t hear anything about you." Duh! Good night and good riddance.
Barbara, too, has experienced this much more of late. When she was dating after her divorce, one date, a prominent lawyer, droned on and on about his famous legal cases. It was fascinating, but not for really getting to know someone as a person and possible romantic partner. She didn’t need another litigator in her life. More recently, she spent time with someone from her childhood who chattered on about her new boyfriend, her work, nonwork activities, and her great home. Phew! Barbara finally sneaked in something about herself just to bait the other person who barely took the bait and did a switch—back to herself.
Is this part of an epidemic of Narcissism that's been talked about and is said to be sweeping the country, even before our current President took charge. He made it all about him and his family, except when he made it about others pursuing him unfairly in a witch hunt? Oh wait, that’s still all about him.
As me-ism pervades our culture, books on Narcissism are proliferating. In fact, the site GoodReads lists 312, covers the big N. from several angles including what has caused it, whether you can do anything about it, and how to run, not walk, quickly away from those with this personality disorder. It's easy to get caught in the web of these folks as they are masters of flattery and charm. And who doesn't eat that up!
Fortunately, not everyone who talks about themselves is a raging Narcissist. He or she just may be a bit full of themselves and clueless, yet able to bend a bit and change if they read an article like this or a book, or someone tactfully points out the errors of their ways. If you see yourself as someone who’s been inordinately self-absorbed, you might take a break and try out any of these ideas to make the conversation more balanced. After all, friendship is an exchange. And believe it or not, it can be interesting to hear about what someone else is up to these days. It will be appreciated and can make you feel closer to the other person, too.
A few suggestions to allow for an equal opportunity conversation. Ask the other person:
- What are you up to these days at work (substitute in your free time if the person doesn't work)?
- How's your wife/husband/partner doing? How are your folks? Kids? Grandkids?
- Do you still love your house and neighborhood? Any chance you'll add on or downsize or move? And where would you love to go?
- We were at this great restaurant in Napa, recently, ever been to that area? Or focus on your shared 'hood. Ever tried this new place we went to the other day; we just love the mussels with frites?
- I'm thinking of starting to volunteer; have you every done so and what's appealed; love to get your input.
Most important in any conversation, listen. Don’t be thinking about what you’re going to say next. Be there in the moment. And after the other person talks for a while, it's fine to bring the conversation back to you for a bit. Think of it as a seesaw that might tip too much in either direction for too long signaling an imbalance. A conversation should swing back and forth easily.
Books about Narcissism: If you' interested to learn more here are three favorites:
Why is it Always About You: the Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism by Sandy Hotchkiss (Free Press);
Narcissists Exposed by Drew Keys (Create Space);
The Everything Guide to Narcissist Personality Disorder by Cynthia Lechan Goodman (Adams Media)