If you’ve ever felt like you monopolised a conversation and, without meaning to, kept bringing the focus back to you, you just might be a conversational narcissist.
Some specific signs of conversational narcissism include not asking any questions, doing most — if not all — of the talking, interrupting when others speak and leaving people feeling bored or emotionally disconnected from what you are saying, explains Mary Spillane, clinical psychologist and mental health expert at Headspace app.
“It can be frustrating when people do not engage in a two-sided conversation and make the conversation about themselves,” says Spillane. “Further, it can feel invalidating and as though you’re not being listened to and the other person isn’t interested in what you have to say.”
The result? People will often avoid individuals who engage in this type of behaviour or worse, cut them off completely, Spillane says. On the conversational narcissist’s end, acting that way will also prevent them from forming deeper and more meaningful connections with people.
Interestingly, some conversational narcissists may actually be very anxious, psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D. told US publication Mind Body Green. “They bind their anxiety by talking about what is familiar to them — which may be themselves,” he says.
Wendy Behary, LCSW, added to MBG: “Conversational narcissists don’t necessarily meet the criteria for a formal diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). They’re usually somewhere on the spectrum, though.”
So, all this said, if you suspect you might be a conversational narcissist, how can you correct your behaviour? One way is to understand the difference between shift and support responses.
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“A shift response is a moment where you shift the focus of the conversation back to yourself,” reads an Instagram post by behavioural scientist Logan Ury. “A support response, on the other hand, encourages the speaker to continue the story.”
In other words, if someone is telling you a story you relate to, a shift response might be to tell them a story of when a similar thing happened to you, while a support response might include asking them more questions, without relating it to back you.
In her post, Ury gives the example of if someone were to say, “I’m training for a half marathon”, a shift response would be to say, “I ran my first half marathon this year, too”, while a support response is “What inspired you to sign up?”
“It can be tempting to shift the conversation back to yourself if you relate to a story, however, asking questions will encourage and support people to talk about what’s important to them,” says Spillane.
“When you ask a question of someone, not only are you finding out more about them, but you’re letting them know you’re interested in what they have to say. The more you practice this style of conversation, the more comfortable it will become.”