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Know a conversational narcissist?

Nurturing

ME, ME, ME Conversational narcissists may need to have an inflated sense of their importance in order to feel good about themselves.

Mental Matters

Jannah Walshe

Do you know anyone who every time you start to say something about yourself they jump in with their own similar, or even not so similar, story? When you start to say how you are, they start to tell you about how they are? Or they ask you about your day, but then proceed to tell you every detail about theirs? A term for tendency has recently been coined: ‘Conversational narcissism’.
The roots of conversational narcissism are many and varied. Could any of these apply to the conversational narcissist in your life?

Important to be important
Conversational narcissists may need to have an inflated sense of their importance in order to feel good about themselves. Hence, by dominating the conversation they are making themselves and their life more important than anyone else’s.

Anxious talker
This type of continuous talk might also be a symptom of anxiety. They don’t know what to say, so they just keep talking about anything and everything. Silence is so awkward for them that they fill it up at every opportunity.
Also, many people experience anxiety about not knowing how to reply to a person or of saying the wrong thing. This is most notable if the other person is sharing difficult emotions or experiences. Using conversational narcissism here is a way of keeping control of where the conversation goes and well away from any difficult emotions or deep conversations.

Validation seeker
Another cause may be that a person’s self-esteem is low and hence they seek constant validation from others, always running every detail by them to make sure they are doing the right thing. The struggle for them is to trust their own judgement.

The burst dam
Conversational narcissism can also have its roots in a lack of social support. If a person is so busy, never having enough time for friends or family, when they do get time they take hold of it with both hands and dominate the conversation. They have so much built up to say that there is no time for anything else.

The relater
Conversational narcissism is also a way of showing support. If a friend is going through something difficult and you have been through something similar, sharing this with them is a way of showing that you understand and that they are not alone. It’s just important to remember to steer the conversation back to them again once you have shared your story.

Could it be you?
Most of us listen to people already thinking about what we are going to say next. This is what keeps the conversation flowing. But if you dominate the conversation you will come away feeling great, you have been listened to, supported and maybe got some answers that you have been searching for, but remember that the other person is left feeling like crap, drained and reluctant to be in your presence again any time soon!
For more information on this topic visit the TED Talks affiliated ideas.ted.com, and read Celeste Headlee’s article, ‘How a great conversation is like a game of catch’ (ideas.ted.com/how-a-great-conversation-is-like-a-game-of-catch).
I really like how she describes a conversation: “When you play catch, you have to do an equal number of catches and throws … It’s not possible to play catch with somebody and throw more than you catch … Because then you’d just be throwing baseballs at them … This is the exact same ratio as a healthy conversation—you’re going to catch as much as you throw … you’re going to talk 50 percent and listen 50 percent.”
Food for thought – and maybe a two-way discussion.

Jannah Walshe is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Castlebar and Westport. A fully accredited member of The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she can be contacted via www.jannahwalshe.ie.

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