The Everyday Narcissist Revisited

JumperDuring the first year or so after I launched this site, my post about narcissistic behavior and the lost art of conversation was always a reader favorite. One of mine, too. I thought of it this past weekend when we were dining at a restaurant here in Colorado to celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday. Passing by our table, the hostess overheard mention of North Carolina. A Raleigh native, she stopped by a few minutes later to introduce herself. Here is what I learned about this woman during our conversation, all without the prompting of a single question. Let’s call her Ellen, a quite attractive blond who recently turned 40.

Ellen had married as a freshman in college and gave birth to three children during each of the following years. She and her husband separated when the youngest was three and Ellen subsequently reared those three kids alone, without his emotional or financial support. During all that time, she vowed that once the youngest had left home, she would leave North Carolina and make an entirely new life for herself somewhere out west. Two years ago when the third child finally went off to college, she packed up and moved to Colorado in order to start anew. Now she works as a hostess in a tony restaurant and gives riding lessons during the day.

At this point, I did venture a question. English or Western? When she answered English, I introduced the friend whose 60th birthday we were celebrating because he also happens to train horses. “Oh really,” Ellen said, without interest. My friend explained that he formerly trained Grand Prix jumpers but now keeps only a few lower level students. Out of modesty, he did not mention that he used to work with riders and horses on the the U.S. Olympic team.

Ellen didn’t ask for details and instead began a long discourse on her passion for riding, how all throughout those child-rearing years she’d kept up with it as much as she could. Despite the hardships, she always believed that there would be life after 40. Of course, now that she actually is 40, her body can’t take the jumping as well as she used to do. More aches and pains, more fear, slower reaction times. My friend mentioned that, for this very reason, he tends to focus more on dressage these days. Ellen talked right over him. Most of the riders at her barn rode Western, competed in barrel-racing, blah blah blah. But she loved her new life, even if it wasn’t always so easy. Sometimes, she also worked with local provisioning companies (not sure what that means) to make ends meet. She’s just glad that at forty she can still ride.

Look at my friend here, I told her. It’s his 60th birthday and he’s still riding. So even after 60, there’s hope!

No birthday greetings from Ellen, no interest whatsoever. On she went with her life story until duty at long last called her away.

Ellen is a run-of-the-mill narcissist, a self-absorbed person who by no means fits the profile for narcissistic personality disorder. I’ll bet she was a good-enough mother and that she treats friends and family reasonably well. Maybe she’s lonely. Maybe in that tony restaurant with all those well-to-do diners, she feels comparatively small and insignificant. Maybe her ego needed a little attention boost. The therapist in me (who never goes entirely off-duty) could feel her neediness.

But for Everyday Citizen Joe, it feels lonely being relegated to the role of spectator, audience-member only. I felt bad for my friend, too. He’s an interesting man with a long history in the equestrian world; if Ellen could have gotten past her narcissistic need for attention, she would have found they had a lot in common. They might have shared their passion.

Instead, she got her attention fix and went off to the next table. I’m sure she never gave any of us at that table a second thought.

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

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105 Responses to The Everyday Narcissist Revisited

  1. YOHAMI says:

    What did she want? is that attention fix enough?

  2. L K says:

    Oh wow I didn’t know my mother relocated to Colorado… I see she’s still lying about her age! Sorry I must stop using sarcasm to supress my emotions but actually this post made me laugh out loud. I wish I could go back in time twenty years and tell my younger self, ‘see the way your mother behaves, there’s a name for that – it’s actually a ‘thing’ and people have heard of it, moreover – there are other people out there like her… and IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT!’

    As a result of being the child of a narcissistic mother I now have zero patience for people like this. I am totally repelled by even the slightest hint of it in a person.

    I would love to be a fly on the wall when two narcissists meet. The conversation must be hilariously disjointed as each person fights for the attention. I often presume that when my mother says she doesn’t like a person it is in fact because that person is too much like her!

    Thanks for this Joe – another great post.

    • Willow says:

      LK, I’ve been present at quite a few of those conversations. They’re hilarious, in that each person is talking a mile a minute, telling their story, giving their advice, or whatever. Neither one listens to nor responds to what the other is saying, and yet it seems clear to me that as far as they’re concerned they’re having a conversation and both walk away satisfied!

      • L K says:

        That does sound funny. I don’t think my mother wouldn’t walk away satisfied. If she isn’t adored and lavished with compliments she soon gets very frustrated, she will say things like, ‘that person was so rude to me today…’ then proceed to bitch about them before moving on to her more favoured subject again. We rarely talk now because I lost the ability to pretend that I was interested a long time ago.

    • Rosebud says:

      LK….you said exactly what I was thinking about my own mother!!!! Bravo!

  3. Rich says:

    Dear Dr. Burgo:

    I think you are right about the waitress. I think she is a very lonely and anxious person. It is sad. I see more and more people like that around every day. I avoid them.

  4. Gordon says:

    Ellen sort of reminds me of me, at times. Maybe there are other reasons behind her monologue. Maybe she felt like she was not welcomed in North Carolina and when she heard about you all talking about her previous hometown she wanted to get your approval. Maybe she was anxious or tired and her empathy failed her for a moment. Later, maybe she thought about the conversation and regretted not asking your friend more about the passion they share and felt guilty for not giving him a birthday greeting.
    Because of this uncertainty, labeling someone a run-of-the-mill narcissist after just one conversation with them seems rushed to me, but I’d have to agree my first impression would be exactly that and I’d probably wouldn’t be interested in her afterwards.

  5. Sent for meds says:

    Great post. I’d love to hear more about “run of the mill” whatever whatevers that people often possess. We’re surrounded by them all the time, and we ourselves are probably one of the whatever wahtevers, so it’s easy and fun to relate to.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I think we all have our narcissistic tendencies, don’t you? Under the right (wrong) conditions such as too much stress or deprivation, we can easily become self-absorbed like Ellen and lose sight of other people.

      • Sent for meds says:

        Exactly!

        • Anna says:

          Then why label this poor woman “a run-of-the-mill narcissist” and “a self-absorbed person”? Why be so quick to judge?

          You seem to try to attract sympathy for your friend and make him out to be neglected, but he wasn’t neglected. He had friends (you) celebrating his birthday with him, he didn’t need the birthday wishes of the waitress so much (courteous as they would have been).

          And you say that if the woman had listened more, she might have shared with your friend – but she was likely constrained by her role of moving from table to table and couldn’t really open up to having a long, mutual conversation. Perhaps she would have in a different context; waitressing isn’t really set up to be the start of a relationship.

          Some people actually talk alot about themselves because they think it puts others at their ease, not for narcissistic reasons, particularly in this kind of situation (see: hairdressers).

          I don’t understand why you are so dismissive of “labelling” in the DSM but then so quick to label with your own labels i.e. “self-absorbed person”.

          • Cameron says:

            I think Joe’s point is that he was neglected “by the waitress”.

            The fact she didn’t wish him a happy birthday was (surely) given as evidence to the point that was being made: that she was generally a self-absorbed person. It’s generally considered good manners to wish someone a happy birthday.

            I don’t buy that her job as a waitress meant it was impossible for her to acknowledge the statements that were being made. I worked as a waiter for many years under constant time pressure and if I couldn’t make time to listen to someone I would excuse myself, again it’s basic manners to acknowledge someone’s comments when conversing with them.

            Presumably Joe’s friend was quite at ease when talking with him, and didn’t need a random person to engage in conversation with him. That’s another thing you learn when working as a waiter, some people don’t want you to talk to them, and doing so is inconsiderate at best.

            Finally, of course Joe didn’t know her very well but when someone repeatedly demonstrates they “talk to be heard” and pretty much treat you as a source of supply, what are the chances they are usually a good listener?

      • Craig says:

        I happen to know a true narcissist and her narcissism shows most when in “conversation” with her. If the conversation turns slightly away from her job, children, or everyday problems, she promptly redirects and it soon becomes obvious she has no use for what you have to add. I understand that we all can have “healthy” narcissism. I also get the fact that the difference in healthy and unhealthy narcissism is a distinction made by the disconnection with others. These people seem to need constant reassurance. Are their lives really THAT empty? I enjoy having my ego stroked occasionally but I’m also aware that others around me have needs that are important. Seems like these people don’t or can’t understand how much better life can be if you embrace vulnerability and allow yourself to connect with others.

        • Joseph Burgo says:

          Nicely put, Craig. I feel the same way. I like having “my ego stroked” too but I understand we all need to take turns! I don’t mean to sound glib — as if life is a kind of serial narcissistic display. I just mean we all have needs to be met.

  6. Wow – did she stop for breath? Wonder what kinds of tips she gets when the focus is her and not the customers. Also, unless the focus changes, no matter where she lives – there she is. She can’t escape her past if she has a death grip on relaying all the details all the time. I hope your friend had a happy birthday – sixty is a huge milestone.

  7. Cameron says:

    She sounds like a couple of people I know. I always liked the “two ears and one mouth quote” and the “big people monopolize the listening, small people monopolize the talking” idea, I find them very true.

    One of the greatest compliments I ever received was “you can have a real conversation with you Cameron”.

    That’s why I love talking with my therapist, it’s very fulfilling, I guess it’s wish fulfillment from my youth because I never really felt understood. I wish more people would get therapy, it’s incredibly healing and fulfilling.

    I guess I just used your great post as an excuse to blather on about myself, which is kind of ironic.

  8. Marjorie Roth says:

    Here’s a scene heard from my city row house front kitchen: Definitely one, & maybe two, narcissists talking. The 35-ish female Narcissist next door & a male acquaintance sitting on her front step bewailing the breakup with his longtime girlfriend. He, taking no notice that she is not the least bit interested because the subject is not she. She, who has never been observed doing physical labor of any sort, sweeping the street! Doesn’t sweeping the street, which nobody ever does, add to the disdain of her repeated response to his appeal for her attention & sympathy? She, over & over, in a voice full of annoyance,”Oh, you’ll find somebody.”

    Another day, same location, conversation between the narcissistic husband next door & woman across the street. She telling him that her young child refuses to drink milk. He responding that his young child does drink milk. She telling him what her doctor has to say on the subject. He responding with the amount of milk that his child drinks as well as which other beverages his child drinks. Each of them having a conversation with him/her self.

    My experience in attempts at conversation with The Narcissists Next Door is that they are constantly concentrating on what they intend to say next; & their responses make it clear that they were not truly listening.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Great examples. To what degree are we all a bit like that, though? Most of us want to put ourselves forward a bit. I guess it becomes narcissistic when we don’t reciprocate, when we take no interest in what the other person wants to express about him- or herself.

  9. Lauren Vork says:

    I’ve been this person on many occasions. Or rather, I used to be this person in most social environments, up until about my early 20s. The phrase “attention fix” is very accurate much of the time, but in many cases, it felt much less like a fix and more like something I *had* to do in fend off what otherwise would (to my mind) have been unilateral social rejection.

  10. Y says:

    Narcissism is on the rise. People rarely listen anymore, and it’s really quite shocking. My mother-in-law routinely walks away when I’m in the middle of trying to engage her in conversation, and others simply talk over me.

    My greatest (and most satisfying) conversations are with my husband,my therapist, and, oddly enough, complete strangers. How sad that the pool is so small. What is happening to us?

    Also, I think you uncovered the truth about Ellen. I think it would have been unbearable for her to listen to your friend. I wonder what would have happened if he’d been more insistent about telling his story.

  11. Marie says:

    Hi Dr Burgo,

    Do you really think her self absorption would have had little effect on her children? I find that my mothers lack of interest in any thing I did and her lack of interest in having conversations with me is part of the reason for my sense of low self worth. It took a long time to uncover this because she has always portrayed herself as faultless. I mostly remember her looking over me or around me and when engaging with me it seems like she is just disappointed in who I am. There is nothing overtly abusive but the self absorption is damaging all the same. Interesting post, thanks.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I suppose it would depend if she were the same way with her children. I can imagine that in her “new life,” feeling alone and possibly insecure about her future, she might be far more self-absorbed than she would have been as a mother.

  12. This story explains so well how we all can be sometimes get carried away hogging all the attention but failing to notice how kind people are to give it to us. Thank you.

  13. Marjorie Roth says:

    Y’s mention of someone’s walking away from a conversation brings to mind something we have all experienced–cutting off a conversation to check or answer a cell phone. Worse, when that happens, the phone answerer hardly ever remembers or attempts to pick up the conversation where it left off. What is this about? Is the phone answerer sending a message that he is hoping the next conversation will be more interesting than the present one? Or is he indicating that he is bored with his companion’s self-interested stories? (In this case, who is the narcissist?) Or is he signaling his own greater importance, i.e. that he is too busy to listen?

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      These are some very interesting questions. I’ve wondered similar things myself about texting and emails in the middle of a conversation. I think you’re on to something there — I wonder if people are afraid they’ll miss out on something if they just pay attention to the conversation at hand.

  14. Christina says:

    This used to be me, too. If I was in the mood, I’d seek out people like a vampire, perform my part and get my fix which might last all the way home. I couldn’t possibly SEE the other people present, I was like an alcoholic in a liquor shop, all I could focus on was to be “charming” and “funny” and get “admiration”. I’m on the wagon now, though, trying hard not to use other people as means to make me feel slightly better about myself. I’ve even been on the receiving end of this behaviour, and it’s not nice.

    I used to be concious of “real” people, though. Some people liked the performance and participated in the play, but I felt really insecure if there was someone present who I felt I couldn’t win over. I knew they were right and I was wrong, they were grounded and I was floating, and I was jealous of their confidence and calm. I was also scared of psychiatric health professionals, as I feared they’d see through me. Ellen must have been less picky in her choice of audience, or your dinner party consisted of good actors.

    (Oh, just written an entire comment about myself, guess I’m not completely on the wagon).

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Your comment doesn’t seem at all self-absorbed; you’re just identifying with the experience and relating it to your own.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is very painful to write.
      But I’ve found that unless you are “funny”, “charming”, “interesting”, and so forth—people don’t give you the time of day.
      I’m the one who visits other people at work, one or two reciprocate. I ask about their families, their vacations, what they’re doing. I invite people for coffee or lunch. Only one person in two years reciprocates.
      Every night is spent alone; no one wants to do things together! Not after church, not after work, not after classes. Oh, people meet up with each other, but not with me.
      Has this gotten narcissstic? I apologize if so. I’m sick of trying to make friends and not knowing what I’m doing wrong.i

  15. Michelle B. says:

    As to the art of conversation: She lacked the skills from which to contribute to an artful conversation.
    As a side-bar from the notion of narcissism, Ellen sounds as though her dream of moving out west is still a dream, however frenetically she tries to talk it into reality (perhaps she’d benefit from embracing western or bare-back riding as a tool for learning to be present in her life).
    I am Ellen in my landscaping hobby: I toil, trim, and transplant; all the while imagining my yard as perfect once finished how happy and proud I will be then…it’s disconcerting to imagine myself achieving this goal yet, so tied to the past effort it took me accomplish, not see that I’m a part of it. Worse yet, to not allow the people around me share the space I worked to create.
    Regardless, good job to you on what seems like a situation in which you consciously chose to be Joe at dinner, instead of allowing Dr. Burgo to hang his shingle and start work on Project Ellen.

  16. Orange says:

    Your friend sounds very adept. He probably knew that if he was more insistent, he would burst her bubble, so he didn’t. The waitress, unfortunately, I can relate to a little bit. I agree with Y, that this might be what she felt she had to do to fend off “inevitable” rejection or even “inevitable” imaginary rejection. Its like she’s saying “please don’t reject me, please don’t reject me”. I suppose its hard to tell what her tone was etc., but that is how the conversation reads to me. I’ll bet she thought about the conversation for a week afterward and wondered why she always has a hard time “getting in” with people, why she’s never good enough.
    I know that 40 years of untreated ADHD, and a very difficult home, often had me feeling that way. That, combined with a mother who taught me that its impolite to ask people “personal questions”, left me very confused about how to handle certain situations. I would say people had a very “hit or miss” experience talking to me, in other words, it would vary by quite a bit. I didn’t take my mother’s advice literally, but I would find myself uncomfortable and unsure when a friend would “hint” about something difficult that she wanted to talk about (crazy ex-boyfriends or something) and then I would fail to pick up the “ball” and ask her to tell me more.
    My mother still takes her own advice very literally, and it can be very lonely having a conversation with her. She is very friendly, but can’t “connect”. For what its worth, I found that old Dale Carnegie book “How to win friends and influence people” very helpful and entertaining.

    I have no idea whether that waitress was a narcissist, maybe had ADHD, or was just very insecure, but I can’t help but feel for her. Happy Birthday to your friend and thanks for the blog.

  17. Orange says:

    whoops…that was Lauren that I was agreeing with, not Y.

  18. Francesca says:

    I have to apologize but I find this post quite horrifying. There are so many other possible interpretations to that scene. The friend may not have mentioned the high status that he has in the riding world at first, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t coming across in his tone of voice and body language. After that she could have been being respectful and kind toward your friend… *he* may have come across as quite needy in the way he mentioned his credentials. The two of you could have been putting out all kinds of signals that you were not aware of. In addition, you don’t know what was going on in the restaurant: boss told her to act more friendly for the next while to see if it boosts business, boss told her to stay out the hostess booth for next 20 minutes while someone did some paperwork there… She could be fine with slowing down her riding and is just giving some strangers the polite explanation for why she doesn’t do it as much, with a bit oprah-ism tossed in to the mix. Your expectation that the interaction be the equivalent in sincerity of a therapy session (ie. your own needs) may have been the culprit. Not everyone is into that. And you don’t know what was going on in her head.

    • Cameron says:

      Is it possible there’s something in you’re own life that’s come up for you through Joe’s post and that’s why you’re coming up with alternate explanations?

    • SP says:

      I hear you Francesca and Ann,
      I’m a therapist who reads these posts each morning and this is my first response. Although I appreciate that the author is simply venting and sharing with us his interesting experience at dinner the other night, I couldn’t help to read into more about what was going on for him. It does sound judgement in his tone to me as well. We have no idea what was going on with this woman but the more important part of the story I heard was that it was a wonderful night of celebrating a friend’s beautiful 60th birthday.
      Happy birthday to your friend and I hope you all had a wonderful evening… Including the interesting conversation that happened after Ellen left the table!

    • Karen says:

      I disagree. I think the post is spot on. You were not there and the author of this article was.

      “And you don’t know what was going on in her head.”

      Do you know what was going on in her head? I think you tend to be speculating about this when you don’t have first hand experience as the author does. I have to wonder about your reaction to this article and what it brings up for you?

      Yes, her boss could have told her to act more friendly if one is prone to speculating about all the reasons why she could have behaved as she did. However, I think wishing someone a happy birthday and thanking him for celebrating his milestone birthday at the restaurant would have accomplished being more friendly. It certainly would have been more appropriate as well as professional. If this woman had been 20 then maybe you could have dismissed it as inexperience, however when she was indulging in a monologue about her life story she admitted to being 40–old enough not to behave this way towards others in a superficial WORK setting. Also why should a patron of the restaurant be expected to know what is going on behind the scenes and why would she need to politely explain anything with a bit of “oprah-ism tossed into the mix” to complete strangers about her life when she is there to do her work?

      “Your expectation that the interaction be the equivalent in sincerity of a therapy session (ie. your own needs) may have been the culprit.”

      Wow. Just wow! Where you jumped to that conclusion reading this article is beyond me. I do not think his article indicated such at all.

  19. Paul says:

    I work in commercial/investment real estate as a broker. I deal with run-of-the-mill everyday narcissists frequently, perhaps daily. I have associates who can’t stop telling a potential client how wonderful they are, that is how wonderful “they” are, not how wonderful the client is. Such colleagues don’t last long. They always walk out the door saying they don’t understand how they could fail because they know so much (and they told everyone how much they knew). It’s true how such people never really “see” anyone else but themselves.

    I try to get my daily narcissistic fix looking in the mirror in the morning, then concentrate on what my clients want and not what I need from them.

  20. Michelle B. says:

    I think most would agree that anyone -stranger or friend- who hears a single word of a private conversation as a launching pad into their own life story is unwelcome and begs the question of that individuals social skills (if not general mental health). I’m sorry to disagree so strongly with Francesca, but there are social constructions in place in which mental droppings are inappropriate: those of a server to a patron is a prime example. The possible, other-worlds sympathy in which you endow this woman are commendable; however, she demonstrates the difference between a failed versus a successful narcissist. The former is disruptive, grating, and throws off vibes that make one feel their personal space has been violated; while the latter is charming and able to converse on topics reflexively to draw others into their world. Had Ellen been my server, I would have had the tact of a six-year old and asked her if she’d tried finding a support group for her anxieties about her new life.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I know what you mean, but despite my irritation, I’ve come to feel more sorry for her than anything else. Imagine trying to start over at 40 — in Aspen, of all places, one of the wealthiest most exclusive enclaves in the world!

      • LK says:

        Michelle – my thoughts exactly. Also I find it surprising that so many other commenters are quick to question Joe’s judgements… after all, he was the only one out of the lot of us who was there!

        I find it frustrating that we must constantly figure out why people are rude and lack manners. It is important to have compassion and empathy but as a child of parents who had very narcissistic behaviours among many other damaging things I have built my life around being more understanding for other people than I am for myself. I would be frustrated and embarrassed if a waitress talked about herself to me and my friends while out for someone’s birthday.

        And Joe – your comment here is very compassionate but the young girl in me who is transferring her feelings about her mother onto this poor Ellen just feels like saying, ‘she chose to start over again at 40, she chose to move to Aspen – she could’ve made other choices if a move to Aspen was going to be so bloody difficult!’ My mother is great at complaining about the things she had full control over and I have lost all sympathy for her! I’ll maybe get to where you are in time!

  21. John Cogan says:

    It bothers me when people make excuses for this kind of behavior. Yes, it is unclear whether the waitress has full blown narcissistic personality disorder. There is nothing in Dr. Burgo’s article where he claims to label her this way. However, it is not at all unclear that she is self-absorbed and with strong narcissistic tendencies in the exchange described. Her self-absorbtion has nothing to do with her motives or whether she self-punishes after. It does make her impossible to connect with, that is what make her behavior narcissistic (too arrogant to ask about anyone else and with no concern or only feigned concern for others). I wish people would stop constantly apologizing for this behavior. A waitress is not going to act like this because her manager tells her to be more friendly with the customers. This is opposite of friendly. A waitress (server) is in a service industry, and is paid to do the opposite, tend to the needs of the customer and make them feel good. What customer goes to a restaurant to hear the staff’s life story without any reciprocation? I often believe if people stopped apologizing for this behavior, real narcissists would have to change, stop exploiting people and deal with their issues. As long as there are apologists (enablers) around this will not happen.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I’m with you there. I’ve wondered if some people come to the defense of a woman like Ellen because they see too much of themselves in her.

    • Karen says:

      I feel the same and that is probably why I responded to Francesca as I did. The article resonated for me and I felt it was a very accurate account of a narcissistic exchange. Like many of your other readers I have zero patience for this–the result of having to cope with narcissistic in-laws and my own family members (sisters). My mother has those tendencies as well. Unfortunately, I’ve had far too much experience dealing with these types of people.

      I get very tired of the excuse making and see it an enabling. One would think there would be more empathy directed towards the person on the receiving end of this behavior, but so often it seems like it is the exact opposite. I agree with all of the points that John has made as I’ve thought the very same thing.

      One of the comments following this article wonders about comparing Ellen to someone who is extremely shy. I was labelled as SHY, although I never SELF-labeled as shy. I wasn’t shy–I just could never get a word in edgewise given all that self-absorbed people that I was constantly exposed too, most who I would label as narcissists. They didn’t care about my feelings or what I thought or felt or anything that I had to say. They were exactly like most of the examples that you provide on this site and in this article.

      I’m sick and tired of the excuse making and people rushing to their defense. That people would identify so much with them is a sad state of affairs. It makes me feel rather hopeless.

  22. J B says:

    Interesting post. While you are probably right in your conclusion, I would like to pose an alternative formulation, that is, that she has underdeveloped social skills.

    To be so eager to leave her hometown may suggest she did not have much social support there and may have relied on deriving social needs from her children. If her initial social skills were poor, her children may model these and it becomes a feedback loop. Spending all her time almost exclusively socialising with children could have led to distorted conversation norms, so she might be used to talking over others (i.e. her children) and expects others to volunteer information (i.e. “mum I want this”) if they have something to say.

    Additionally, the social isolation may have led her to spend a lot of time ruminating and rehearsing the script that she spoke at your table. Not knowing how to engage in normal conversation, she says her script, it is so well known to her, then once it is done, she has nothing else to say and leaves.

  23. dbk says:

    Last week a friend and I went on an excursion to the beach where my family had rented a house for 7 years when our children were young. Much to my surprise, I actually encountered our next-door neighbor, quite elderly but still recognizable. She asked us to have coffee with her, and we sat for half an hour on her veranda, listening to the accomplishments/successes/ overall greatness of her son/daughter-in-law, granddaughter/grandson. When we left, I realized that she hadn’t asked a single question about my husband or (now-adult) children. I don’t think it even occurred to her – not so much out of absence of interest, as absence of the potential for interest in “the other.”

    In the end, I was able to feel a fair amount of empathy for her (after all, I was with a friend who wanted me to share my thoughts about everything, and whose thoughts I find both interesting and worthwhile), and I’d like to thank you again for your numerous posts related to narcissism – it would appear I’m not just reading them and the comments with interest, but gradually absorbing lessons about how to deal with “garden variety” types.

    [Of course, malignant narcissism/sociopathy fall in a different category as regards their destructiveness - as a person susceptible to their influence, I try if possible to practice avoidance in service to self-preservation, as recommended by Martha Stout - thanks for the h/t post-review of her book, it sounds very interesting!]

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      It’s interesting that you were able to feel empathy for your neighbor. As time as gone on, I’ve thought quite a lot about Ellen and have come to feel a lot of empathy for her. I feel as if I understand what was going on for her (although I could be wrong). Be that as it may, it’s much more satisfying to spend time with people like your friend, who wanted you to share your thoughts about everything, and whose thoughts you found both interesting and worthwhile. I can feel empathy for Ellen but that doesn’t mean I want people like that to interrupt my intimate moments with my loved ones.

  24. Fiona says:

    Very accurate account of a narcissistic exchange. Like one of your other readers I have no tolerance for people like this as I had a narcissistic mother. I too had a need for attention but I don’t think I was good at getting it – I had too much social anxiety to hold court for too long. Thankfully i don’t feel that need much any more – like everyone else I like attention but I don’t need it anymore- great relief.

    I so rarely meet people who are able to take a real interest in others. I often wonder if it’s me moving in the wrong circles or if the whole world is full of narcissists?

  25. Dolma Beck says:

    Hi Joe, Interesting story.
    Maybe Ellen, unconsciously, picked up the
    Energy at your table. She sure would have seen the two
    Males. A woman. Abandoned to rear three children alone.
    My guess, is she just needed/ desperately needed,
    Male validation for the work done. Picking up the therapist
    At the table( yeah, you Joe), she let loose..
    At times, we are all called upon , to offer
    Compassion/ acceptance/ validation. Sometimes, it erupts
    At the most unlikely places. Hence, vigilance.

  26. Chapped Hands says:

    This post has some pain in it for me. I have a narcisistic mother and suffered badly for it as a child, especially as she ignored my attempts to tell her about the sexual abuse I was experiencing. Years of therapy later, and while I am told I am not a narcicist, I do tend to switch into this behaviour at times of internal anxiety. The normal ability to listen and respond is overridden by emotional ‘garbage’ that is incessantly chattering within my psyche. Until it is cleaned out (by talking with my therapist or good friend), I find it hard to concentrate on anyone else’s issues but my own although I am well aware of what’s going on and try my best to control my behaviour.

    I would say that when a person is carrying damage probably inflicted in childhood, we who are psychologically sophisticated need to attempt to remain tolerant, as Dr Burgo demonstrated. Such a person can be miserable to be around but when we are their family, we are really all they have as true friends are few. Ellen is a sad example of this situation.

  27. Alyboy says:

    I wonder about comparing Ellen to someone who is extremely shy. They may look and conduct themselves very differently but are they really just two sides of the same coin?

  28. Dolma Beck says:

    Hearing of floods, hope you and family safe. Love

  29. MM says:

    I think a lot about this phenomenon… I think there is an inborn, but also a educational part in it. I believe, as parents, we should educate our kids to pay attention and to express a genuine interest in others. Sometimes it can be by ignorance, by lack of subtlety.

    On another note: I have noticed that these people can have lots of friends and they are not essentially repulsed by society. Some people doesn’t seem to dislike it… I could never understand it,

    Thank you for your wonderful website!

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Yeah, but how close are those friends? Is this type of friendship about reciprocal narcissism? — I’ll be your audience for a while, then it’s my turn at center stage. But no real contact or exchange of ideas.

      • Karen says:

        “Yeah, but how close are those friends? Is this type of friendship about reciprocal narcissism? — I’ll be your audience for a while, then it’s my turn at center stage. But no real contact or exchange of ideas.”

        That’s the bottom-line isn’t it. There’s no real depth as well as caring and connection. People may tolerate individuals like this because they haven’t been able to form better relationships or maybe they get something out of it to make it worthwhile to engage in a very limited way–like going through the motions. These exchanges are one-dimensional, shallow, extremely limited and not fulfilling.

        Most all of these people that I’d met who exhibited these behaviors–I was so happy to have them out of my life. I felt relieved when they would leave or I would be rid of them in some way. Trying to maintain that level of pretending always felt like an onerous burden.

      • MM says:

        I hear you. Yes, I think it can be partly explained by reciprocal narcissism and the limited, shallow relationships. I was referring mostly to the real friendship. Well, maybe the term is not adequate. Let’s say attachment, interest, bond. I have few (most precisely two) real examples from my life. I know two persons which exhibit exactly the behaviour you described in this post and surprisingly they attract people, many people wants to befriend them. Myself I became very affectionate with one of them only to end up extremely disappointed and sad after 2 years of a friendship which I perceived as being deep (with real contact and exchange of ideas). I still have no clarity as to why I was not repulsed from the beginning. It was so obvious that the person is extremely self centered.

  30. Grace Darling says:

    Geez, I might become paranoid about opening my mouth in a public venue now…just in case there’s a psychologist who turns me into a topic for their next blog post.

  31. Sarah Hymas says:

    I know a few couples, one in particular, in which both husband and wife come over as highly narcissistic and I am curious as to how the relationship works. Do they just talk at each other? Or does one of them drop their narcissism to listen from time to time? Can we be narcissistic in some relationships but not in others? Is there an element of power and competition? In other words, I am more important that you so I am not going to bother offering reciprocal listening/questioning about your life? I guess my point is that having been brought up to fall over backwards to attend to the needs/interests of others, I am curious as to what goes on with those who do not feel a need to please. Thought-provoking as ever, Joseph.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I’ve known those couples, too. I think they collude together to come across as “winners,” and it works for a while. These marriages often break down in acrimonious ways, where they then turn on each other, battling to see who will be the winner and who the loser. I think there’s always an element of competition and power in narcissism — I am the winner and you are my audience, there to admire me and look up to me.

  32. TPG says:

    If this woman is the hostess, then her approach to talking to clients must be working. I can’t imagine that the restaurant would keep her on if she was off-putting to customers. That would not make economic sense. Most likely, if she went overboard with it, it was an anomaly, rather than some personality disorder. And you know Southerners. A lot of them just love to talk! :)

  33. Fawn says:

    Ellen doesn’t sound so bad. I’m thinking I might have felt indifferent about her had I been present during that conversation. Like others have mentioned, I also tend to first evaluate possible reasons for the behavior, giving people the benefit of the doubt, before making conclusions. People who are nervous in social situations can sometimes ramble on about themselves. This is not unusual in job interviews. Et cetera. I see that you’ve already done this too.

    But you made a very important point here, one that I thought was worth repeating:

    “Ellen is a run-of-the-mill narcissist, a self-absorbed person who by no means fits the profile for narcissistic personality disorder. I’ll bet she was a good-enough mother and that she treats friends and family reasonably well.”

    I’m glad you said this. Many of the pop psychology websites portray a narcissist as someone who is self-centered, thinks highly of herself, arrogant, etc. Everywhere you turn, someone is saying “i don’t like so and so, he’s a narcissist!!!”. In my experience, people just don’t know what someone who suffers from NPD is really like. Many suffering from NPD don’t even talk about themselves. A mother with NPD might not talk about herself at all. Instead, she might derive narcissistic supply from the reactions she gets when telling others about her children’s achievements. In her mind, everyone’s ooohs and aaahs could drown out any ‘bad’ parts that she split off from herself. It’s as if she can’t exist without the narcissistic supply derived by others. It is a glue that holds her sense of self together. The common denominator I’ve observed with narcissists is, until that defense dissolves, they (unconsciously) think others see them as the idealized image they have of themselves. Others are the mirror who reflect back how she needs to see herself, and her behavior evolved to keep it that way. And the idealized image can take many forms-moral, righteous, most caring, smartest, prettiest, best mother…They expend a profound amount of energy trying to keep up with this image, ie perfectionist.

    And while I might feel indifferent around her (though I don’t know for sure as I hadn’t met her), I can understand the negative feelings you felt. When I am relating to someone with NPD, I feel objectified. And what I’ve observed is that those who suffer from NPD seem to implicitly view other people important to them as mere objects to meet their needs. The sense of entitlement might not be explicit as described on the pop psychology sites, but they will often have these expectations when it comes to his/her therapist. It’s as if their psychological boundaries surround both them and the other person, like a child. They are developmentally arrested, the other person is related to an extension of themself.

    In comparison, this feeling of being objectified is no where near the same as feelings of not being a part of the conversation, even if it is just you and them in the room. But neither are bi-directional interactions. People with NPD often seem to have a ‘pseudo attachment’. It looks like they are a in a relational dyad, but they are ultimately incapable of intimacy. That’s where professionals like you come into the picture Joe. =)

    The comments were also interesting, and i always learn a thing or two from the audience here. I also had thoughts of diagnostic assessments and how professionals don’t make conclusions without evaluating the whole picture. Which is another reason i’m glad you emphasized what I quoted above.

    Anyway, NPD isn’t something to take lightly. People who have NPD can really suffer, and I think they deserve compassion. Totally different from someone who might be labeled selfish, self-absorbed, as you pointed out. No matter what the diagnosis, your words provide some imagery as to what a therapist might feel like when used as a mirror.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      You’re highlighting the distinction I think is crucial — narcissism is everywhere, but there’s a big difference between full-blown NPD and everyday narcissistic behavior. I’m interested in the reasons why people behave in narcissistic ways, rather than in attaching labels.

  34. m. says:

    Hi
    Dr Burgo

    just wondering, maybe she felt out of her depth talking to someone that trained grand prix riders. I read it possibly as her being defensive with her passion for horses ( no fancy qualifications) and later with the ‘dressage’ going back to western riding etc.

  35. Mel says:

    I wonder if she felt intimidated?
    After reading the comments, I went back and read the post and felt more compassion for Ellen. I could get past the annoying-ness of her chatter and actually see her story; the babies straight from college, failed marriage, perhaps feeling she has wasted her chances in life, finally feeling she has a new beginning, and perhaps worried that it won’t work, that it’s too late to really start again. I imagine her self worth is fragile, and it’s possible she felt intimidated by your group (of self-possessed professionals?) and your friends level of accomplishment. It sounds to me like she tried to connect, perhaps trying out a new self-confidence, like an adolescent, needing to share it with someone. Your geographical connection was something to start from.
    I wonder if we can all think of times when we have gushed about some new exciting thing, or some new confidence and then shared this with someone who knows so much more about this thing. The line that struck me was ‘oh really’ she said, without interest’. To me that was the comment of yours that most surprised me- it felt assumptive. Perhaps Ellen was intimidated by her lack of knowledge and experience about teaching riding, and when she heard the level of experience of her friend (quite clear, even if he did hold some things back) perhaps she felt having her lack of knowledge exposed would knock her fragile, blossoming new sense of self. Perhaps she then became intensely self conscious- even feeling shamed, ‘who was I to think I knew something, was something, had something?’ and that ‘oh really’ she could have been shutting down.
    I wonder then if all the rest was the kind of narcissitic behaviour brought on by extreme self consciousness which leads to nervous chatter… I wonder if it could have played out differently, if your friend had not been a riding instructor, and had instead expressed curiousity about what Ellen was doing? Feeling interesting and confident, I wonder if Ellen might then have been able to ‘step out of herself’ and be interested in turn. I would like to remain open to the possibility that Ellen reached out to connect, then shutdown when her fragile self confidence felt threatened.

    I just wonder if it is too easy to label someone as narcissitic? Especially based on one meeting. It doesnt seem to take into account the whole person, their story, how we are relating to them, what is happening in that moment etc

    I have been so very impressed Joseph with your blog, and this is the first time I have really followed one, and the first time I have ever felt moved to comment!
    I have found you insightful, compassionate, and beautifully honest. For some reason though, this blog did not communicate the same warmth and compassion for what it means to be human, that all your other posts have. There is something that doesn’t sit right for me in having so many labels (so many different types of narcissist!) and something about you doing this that doesn’t feel congruent with the rest of your attitude that suggests openness to possibilities and acceptance of people.
    I realise my wonderings here could be misplaced, and that Ellen routinely ‘talks at’ people in a self absorbed way. I just feel that there must be room for examining our immediate judgement of people in a one off interaction, and especially if we then use this as evidence of more of ‘this type of person’ – this ‘other’. I think seeing and hearing the person’s story can help with this.

    Do you the line in Desiderata? ‘ listen to others, even the dull and ignorant, they too have their story.’
    I had the immediate reaction you did after reading the post initially, as I was seeing it through your eyes. After reading all the comments, I went back and read it again, and suddenly, seeing at from Ellen’s eyes told a different story.

    That was much longer than intended!

    I am a trainee child therapist by the way, and I found your blog when looking at shame, which I have been so touched by.

    Thank you

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I’ve come to feel more empathy for Ellen as time has gone on and I think your musings are spot on. The problem is that this was a social situation in which I was with close friends, celebrating a special occasion. I don’t want to have to work so hard to understand someone else’s behavior when she’s intruding on my private life. I don’t want to have to function as a therapist all the time!

      • Karen says:

        ” The problem is that this was a social situation in which I was with close friends, celebrating a special occasion. I don’t want to have to work so hard to understand someone else’s behavior when she’s intruding on my private life. I don’t want to have to function as a therapist all the time!”

        No and you shouldn’t have to work that hard either. No one should! I feel that it would be an unreasonable demand of others to expect that from you.

        It reminds me of a situation that I was placed in through NO fault of my own. I wrote on your next post about a therapist who had a mental breakdown who was also committed and I (her patient) wound up interacting with her lawyer (both), her psychiatrist, her sister-in-law, etc. Her attorney asked me if I could secure a ride for her from the facility and gave me the number of a couple who were named as her friends/neighbors. I spoke not only with the wife, but the husband as well. The wife complained that this therapist always wanted to talk about her STUFF and ISSUES. When I spoke to the husband I mentioned this and then reminded him that she is a therapist and has been for 25 years. That she listens to other people’s problems and issues for a living. That she probably needed people to talk too that didn’t expect her to act like their therapist 24/7 and who cared about her and allowed her to talk about what was important to her. The husband agreed.

        Despite what happened and the emotional fallout for me I was still advocating for her(the patient advocating for her therapist)–reminding people that she was a human being too with feelings and needs of her own. The last thing she needed of friends was for them to feel angry or bitter that she couldn’t act in the capacity of their therapist too. There are far too many people who seem to expect from others what they are unwilling to give themselves. Other people are invisible.

        The only reason I shared this is that you have every right to take care of yourself and that also includes not having to function as a therapist all of the time. I’m certain that you realize this, however from the responses it appears that some people don’t seem to feel much in the way of empathy and compassion towards you.

    • Karen says:

      Where’s your compassion and empathy for how Dr. Burgo felt in this situation. Of course the article is from the point of view of the author and not the waitress. He was attempting to explain through illustration how it feels to interact with an everyday or “run-of-the-mill narcissist”, more specifically how it feels to the person on the receiving end of that behavior.

      I’m not saying that you may not feel empathy or compassion towards Dr. Burgo–it’s more an observation about the focus (waitress) and how she may or may not have felt and all the reasons why. I’m not singling you out either since there are other commenters who have focused their attention on the waitress and how she may have felt.

      I’m wondering aloud why some people identify more with the waitress rather than Dr. Burgo and then go to such great lengths to offer alternative scenario’s and motivations about why she may or may not have behaved as she did.

      Do we find some stories more or less worthy of our caring? Do we find some people more or less worthy of our caring? Are we more, or less compassionate, depending on the social status and perceived success of the people telling us their stories? Is Dr. Burgo less worthy of compassion in this situation because he is a successful psychotherapist? Is his friend less worthy of compassion because he is older and more successful than the waitress illustrated by the fact that they are celebrating at an expensive restaurant?

      I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but like you musing and offering my thoughts.

      • Joseph Burgo says:

        Very interesting questions. I’m curious to see whether readers will try to answer them.

        • Mel says:

          These are very interesting questions, and I am fascinated by this whole on going debate- both by own own responses (‘am I enabling?’ …’am I stuck on an idea of defending the underdog ?’) and by other peoples responses. Everyone seems to be defending someone!

          My response was instinctive and authentic. When I read Dr. Burgo’s post about Ellen, something just did jar with me, and it did just feel different to other posts I had read. Perhaps it does touch a nerve with me- and others…I don’t know. There was this sense of the seeing someone as ‘other’ that surprised me, is all.

          If my therapist suddenly expressed something judgmental about others to me in a session, I would feel disappointed. Yet, I do understand than in this situation, Dr Burgo was not ‘ a therapist’ and in fact a therapist is just a human being, anyway- not some kind of perfect, all loving spiritual leader!

          I’m still confused about all this. My post is not meant as a criticism, or to be one-sided at all. It’s just questions I had, and musings, and a desire to put the other side across- as Ellen isn’t here to defend herself I suppose.

          I think this post has caused a stir, because it is so very human to experience conflict between wanting to be compassionate and non-judgmental on the one hand, and needing to assert ourselves and our own needs on the other.

          I have a couple of people like Ellen in my life, and I often feel how Dr Burgo felt when being ‘talked at’. Sometimes I can feel compassion for the reasons why these friends/ relations are like this, and sometimes it’s just annoying and makes me feel invisible. I can see too, how in certain moments I have been the same as them too- talking at, rather than conversing. All in all, we are none of us perfect and all of us are susceptible to annoying flaws.

          I just think that compassion and seeing things from the person in a ‘narcissitic flow’s perspective is helpful in easing our own annoyance as much as anything, and helps us to recognise it more when we do it ourselves too. Compassion supports self-awareness.

          I think we can assert our own needs and self, without needing to judge someone else as a different kind of human, as other. And I do feel labels tend to make us see each other as separate…

          No offence meant and I hope none taken

          • Joseph Burgo says:

            None taken. I agree that compassion supports self-awareness. As I’ve said, I’ve come to feel more compassion for Ellen as time has gone on, but at the time, I just wanted to enjoy my friends and not have to take her into account. I suppose that’s only human.

          • Karen says:

            Mel–I hope that you didn’t feel put on the spot as I was just trying to open up a dialogue. I feel that people–their responses is more about them than me and if need be I always remind myself of that when I feel that someone is reacting or over-reacting. Also when I was seeking caring and connection with others and when I would be open about my feelings as Dr. Burgo has–offering how I experienced the problematic or difficult behavior of other people I would get similar kinds of responses the one’s that feel like they are making excuses and enabling. The only people who “got it” or offered a dose of reality or understanding would be a therapist. That got me to thinking about people and their responses–if they listened at all, which is another problem discussed here.

            I noticed how I would tell a story made a huge difference and got different reactions–that people would be less defensive or less willing to launch into excuse making for thoughtless behaviors. I basically started to edit information and I noticed that when I did that I got different results and I am one of those people who has been on the receiving end of a lot of judgments and labels–one that I was “too sensitive”.

            As far as I’m concerned it’s a load of bull that people want you to be open and authentic–my experience has taught me otherwise.

            “These are very interesting questions, and I am fascinated by this whole on going debate- both by own own responses (‘am I enabling?’ …’am I stuck on an idea of defending the underdog ?’) and by other peoples responses. Everyone seems to be defending someone!”

            I didn’t see Ellen as either an “underdog” or a defenseless victim, so I didn’t feel a need to defend her. She offered a narrative about herself–one that I have no idea of whether it is true or not, but as I’ve offered in other responses here I’ve been in this situation more times than I’d care to experience, so my empathy was directed towards Dr. Burgo. I agree that people are defending against something or someone–the very real possibility of looking into a mirror and not liking what they see about themselves.

            “I think this post has caused a stir, because it is so very human to experience conflict between wanting to be compassionate and non-judgmental on the one hand, and needing to assert ourselves and our own needs on the other.”

            I don’t think people who fit the narcissistic category care about being compassionate or non-judgmental towards others unless they have an audience which they are trying to manipulate into thinking that they are someone who they are NOT.

            “Compassion supports self-awareness.”

            Generally I would agree, however I find it interesting that when I turned to others for caring and connection that they would argue for or defend the other person and then judge me as “too sensitive” — that’s the opposite of being caring or connected. For that reason these days my awareness and sensitivity is directed towards myself.

    • Karen says:

      One more thing–isn’t it interesting the different takes that people will have even when reading the same story. On that note it makes me wonder if we tend to paint other people’s experiences with our own and if we do what lessons do our experiences give us when we consider other people’s stories.

      I re-read the article too, but the line, ‘oh really’ she said, without interest’ didn’t have the same impact. I didn’t read it as assumptive on his part, but more an attempt to illustrate further how oblivious she was to reading social cues or maybe she did, but didn’t care. In fact, I feel it pretty assumptive for her to hear a private conversation and use that as a launching pad into her own life story.

      I also feel it quite assumptive for people like Francesca to suggest that Dr. Burgo’s friend “may have come across as quite needy in the way he mentioned his credentials, ” or ” The two of you could have been putting out all kinds of signals that you were not aware of.” And especially the following comment, “Your expectation that the interaction be the equivalent in sincerity of a therapy session (ie. your own needs) may have been the culprit. Not everyone is into that.” All I can say is my, oh my.

      I do agree with your assessment that Dr. Burgo is insightful and that he communicates with warmth and compassion. I didn’t feel that those traits were missing in this piece.

      Some of these comments made me wonder if we all read the same article. Certainly it sparked a variety of reactions.

      • Joseph Burgo says:

        It sure did. I’m still of the opinion that the post hit a little too close to home, that many readers (consciously or unconsciously) saw themselves in my portrait of Ellen, realizing that sometimes their narcissistic needs take precedence over their interest in other people, or even common courtesy. I think we ALL do this from time to time (I gave myself as an example in my later follow-up post), and it would be better to recognize it rather than to make excuses for it.

        • Karen says:

          “I think we ALL do this from time to time (I gave myself as an example in my later follow-up post),
          and it would be better to recognize it rather than to make excuses for it.”

          I agree that it hit too close to home for some. I identified more with your experience.

          I also agree that it would be better if people recognized the behaviors instead of making excuses. However, I find that very rare, if non-existent–at least that is my experience.

          I commented on your following post.

  36. Cameron says:

    I’ve been pondering this post a lot, both the original post and some of the comments, those people who try and defend the waitress I see (as someone else said) as enablers and rationalisers. I’m sure she deserves sympathy as a human being but that doesn’t mean her behavior was justified nor should it be tolerated.

    On a slight tangent here, but particularly odious are those people who use posts like this to try and psychoanalyze Dr Burgo, as if he needed some lay-persons opinion on his psyche! The delusion it requires to give advice to a published and experienced therapist staggers me.

    Anyway, I found this quote useful in summarising the real listening that makes a difference in people’s lives.

    “Real listening requires me to attune to your feelings, let you have your say, and allows the conversation to follow a course we mutually determine. Two-way listening makes a dialogue reciprocal, with each person adjusting what they say in keeping with how the other responds and feels. ”

    It’s a super-egoic process that is experienced as a spiritual experience. The Dalai Lama said divine friendships are the entire holy life.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Wonderful quote! Sadly, I find that kind of conversation to be rare.

    • Karen says:

      I agree Cameron and felt as you do. I probably called it enabling. I’m actually not surprised at some of the responses since I’ve encountered this so frequently myself. Sadly, or perhaps it is just flat out cynicism, I find most people’s behavior predictable.

      I’ve also heard the expression run-of-the-mill narcissist used previously or perhaps it was mainstream or everyday narcissist and I never took issue with it. Then why should I since I’ve been on the receiving end of this behavior so frequently and it isn’t nice and I don’t like it. I’m certain along with other personality types that it’s all about degrees of the afflicted which falls along a continuum from mildly offensive to pernicious. Unfortunately I’ve had too much experience with them, so I’m not highly invested in making excuses for them. I also don’t see myself as lacking in either empathy or compassion–it is just directed towards Dr. Burgo and those unfortunate people who have had to endure such thoughtless and destructive behaviors.

      Perhaps I’ve just become quite a cynic as a result of my life experiences. However your response is the type that provides me with a hint of hope. I appreciated it and the quote too and the sentiment behind it. It reminds me of a scene in a movie and another quote where a much revered medicine man– Kicking Bird says, “I was just thinking that of all the trails in this life there is one that matters most. It is the trail of a true human being. I think you are on this trail and it is good to see.”

  37. Melissa says:

    Ellen lavished attention on herself because she lavished attention on the needs of three children since she was 20 years old-while she starved for it. What she’s doing, as you pointed out, doesn’t feed her. Her reactionary grabbing of the attention and pouring it all over herself while others spectate leaves her alone. Sharing it with would break her isolation, but she’s too hungry to see. Actors do this for a living, the honest ones admit it’s a lonely life.

  38. Someone says:

    Do you ever feel the need to point things like this out? (Maybe this one is a bad example, because you don’t want the whole table to feel uncomfortable) For example if I meet someone who is really arrogant, all I want to say to him is:
    Why are you so arrogant?

    It’s not even that I want to fix him/her I just feel like being not truthful by not saying it.
    I would appreciate your thoughts on that, thanks in advance.

    btw: excuse my English I’m not a native English speaker.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Although I sometimes have the urge, I would never do it. If I had pointed out to Ellen that she was being self-absorbed or rude, I’m sure she would have felt painfully humiliated; as much as she irritated me, I wouldn’t want to hurt her.

  39. Ayana says:

    WOW! I think I may have had the same problem in the past, always talking about myself, and not much to really talk about. LOL but there I’ve been just running my mouth, and then after I thought about my actions, I realized that I was really the only one talking because no one could get a word in edge wise. Thank you

  40. Karen says:

    I’ve been pondering this post more too. This woman–the waitress told a story about her life–what she wanted you to hear or thought that you would like to hear. No knows her or if what she said was true or not. She offered a compelling narrative one where she is the heroine and a victim who rose above her circumstances–she’s the mother who raised 3 children alone without help and sacrificial to boot, because she set aside her interests for the sake of her children and some people bought it hook, line and sinker. No one really knows if any of it is true or not, but a lot of people here responded offering alternative scenarios and motivations, etc., even writing that she was abandoned. No one knows if any of it was true or not. Maybe it was designed to evoke sympathy and it seems liked it worked for some. Who knows what her motivations are. People trying to manipulate another person’s impression of them will offer such details as it hooks people. I’m wary of people who offer a lot of details and behave like that, but my experiences have taught me well to scrutinize what people say and what they don’t say.

  41. I am in awe that one simple encounter with a narcissist has garnered so much dialogue. IMHO I would just write it off and move on. Self-centered people abound and I don’t want to rent space in my mind to them. Sometimes it’s best to shrug it off and forget it.

    • keg says:

      I have found it profitable to confront anyone of a manipulative nature and believe we give too many a silent pass with our refusal to address situations that may cause conflict and/or duress. How many toxic people would not stop and consider that their conduct may best be altered, if they had to pay a price of at least a verbal rebuke, instead of nothing at all.

    • keg says:

      There are a LOT of such people out there in the real world and it seems that many have embraced as a legitimate raison d’etre, the popular dialetic secular screed “if it feels good do it”.

      That means to most that they are entitled to get theirs, no matter how it is accomplished, and never mind who is hurt/damaged in the process. This is the basic belief of the criminal carried over into what is considered “normal” life which is strewn with the emotional bodies of innocent people who have been victimized by others primarily emotionally.

      These people are numerous and inescapable lest one becomes a hermit and lives in the mountains. Such people. whoever they be, should be confronted when they try to play their games with each of us.

      The group I encounter most of the time are snake oil salespeople, who push investments that they have no part of, but try to sell to others which carries a fee for their personal aggrandizemental enjoyment, regardless if the buyer wins or loses.

      It is significant to note that even this moral corruption exists in religions of every sort where control is the name of the game and refusal to get in line results in rejection.

  42. keg says:

    I have been lurking here, watching the doctor, who after all, which does not usually happen, is the “good” doctor. While he is educated I am sure, I value him more than just because of that presupposition…his words carry the strength and wisdom of a knowledgeable common sense experiential capacity which strengthens his ability to be correct in things he addresses from a personal perspective. Good show Dr., you have my approval.

  43. keg says:

    It may be trite to say the least but in this temporal existence, the most important entity is relationships and those must be cultivated clearly with an eye to discernment of having ONLY others in our life who enrich it. The interactivity of true friends means that each lends to the other in his/her existence support, understanding, cherishment and cultivates the relationship with an eye to establishing security and confidentiality.

    I am sure Ellen had a hard and long row to hoe raising her children by herself and I wonder if she had anyone who qualified as a TRUE friend.

    I have a handful of true friends, the closest to me being one who gives to me and I reciprocate when life(people) present difficulties where my interaction verbally is required. Relationships and I mean healthy reciprocal ones are necessary for a temporal security and happiness that not many have.

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