Narcissistic Behavior and the Lost Art of Conversation

[NOTE:  Narcissism and narcissistic behavior are a primary focus of this website; all posts on that subject can be found under the heading Shame/Narcissism in the category menu to the right.  If you'd rather read a more clinical discussion of narcissistic behavior, you might prefer this post on narcissistic personality disorder, or this one on the relationship between narcissism and self-esteem.  If you want to learn more about the basic signs and symptoms of NPD and how to recognize them, click here.  More recently, I've also written about aspects of normal or everyday narcissism that apply to most of us.]

 

Most people are narcissistic.

I’m not using that word in the clinical diagnostic way, or in the everyday sense of vain or conceited.  What I mean is that most people are almost exclusively focused upon themselves, their personal interests and their own emotional needs for attention. A certain amount of preoccupation with oneself is normal and healthy; it becomes a problem when you’re not truly interested in other people or ideas and only want to talk about yourself.

Here’s a fairly common experience for me:  I’m at a party or social gathering, speaking to someone I’ve just met, or an acquaintance I haven’t seen in a long while.  I’m asking questions, inquiring about the person’s background or catching up since we last met. Fifteen, twenty minutes pass … we’re still talking about the other person.  I get the feeling that I could be anyone; I’m just a receptacle, a mirror or an audience.  I provide needed attention to the other person; he or she has no interest in getting to know the man who’s listening.

As a therapist (by temperament as well as profession), I’m a good listener and adept at drawing people out.  As a student of human nature, I’m genuinely curious and, for the most part, fascinated by the variety of people I meet.  Sometimes I feel lonely, though.  I used to be surprised and disappointed that the person I’d just met didn’t want to get to know me. Now I expect a lot less.  Lack of genuine interest in others — that’s the hallmark of narcissistic behavior and narcissistic people.

Even with friends, conversation tends to mean waiting your turn to launch into your own story, waiting for the gap or the conversational trigger that will make the transition over to you seem more or less natural.  With some truly narcissistic people, the transition seems forced — they’ll use any excuse to change the subject.  It can even seem funny if you look at it from the right point of view, although painful when you recognize the reasons for that kind of behavior.  For those individuals, their families were so deficient and the expected kind of parental attention so lacking that there’s an unquenchable need to have other people listen and make them feel significant.  In this way, narcissistic needs go hand-in-hand with many other psychological problems; getting attention is often felt to be an antidote to the basic shame that’s the residue of emotional damage.

In my practice, I naturally expect my clients to be preoccupied with their own needs.  Of course they are!  After all, they’re paying me to listen and my personal emotional needs have no place in our relationship.  In my own treatment, I found it profoundly satisfying to be able to talk about myself as much as I wanted without having to ask questions back. My clients are usually needy and narcissistic and so was I.  But after many years, there came a time in my therapy when I began to have a greater regard for my therapist, to see him as a separate person who didn’t have an ideal life and who didn’t exist merely to give me what I needed.   With clients I’ve seen for quite some time, we usually reach the same point:  I become more real to them, less “Dr. Burgo” their therapist and more “Joe” who surely must have everyday pain and trouble, too.  I regard it as another hallmark (along with the ability to feel both grief and gratitude) of successful psychotherapy.

What I long for, and find rare, is the kind of conversation where we’re not talking about me or you but about an idea or current event, maybe a good book one of us has read.  I enjoy the back-and-forth of discussion, one person adding to or disputing what someone else has just said.  I want to feel I’ve learned something, or that in the conversational give-and-take, we’ve both come to a new understanding.

I can engage in narcissistic behavior, too — at times, I want to tell my stories — but for the most part, I know all my own stories and they don’t interest me.  I want to hear your stories, too — but after we’ve caught up, let’s talk about something larger than either one of us.

Finding Your Own Way:

With the holidays upon us, where parties and family gatherings are on the calendar, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to watch yourself and others at work. Is the conversation of the type I described?  Are family and friends just waiting for their own turn to be the center of attention?  Does one person tend to dominate?  How about you?  Do you ask questions?  Do you take an interest in other people?

Try another experiment.  Before you go to the next party or gathering, decide on a current event you want to discuss, something that truly interests you.  Read up on it, find out what you need to know and then come up with some questions.  Unless you’re sure of your company, stay away from politics and religion — you’ve probably heard that advice before.  Don’t talk about sports or TV shows, and avoid gossip about people you know.  We live in interesting times, the world is changing rapidly.  See if you can get a different kind of conversation going … and see if anyone else is interested.

You might want keep it in the realm of the personal but try to go deeper.  Which decision do you regret most in your life?  In retrospect, if you could have chosen any career path, what would it be?   Ask challenging questions. You might start off by making a personal disclosure and invite others to join in.  Talking about personal issues doesn’t have to mean serial narcissistic display as long as you’re actually interacting with one another.

[I continue this discussion in a subsequent post about the art of conversation.]

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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127 Responses to Narcissistic Behavior and the Lost Art of Conversation

  1. Miss Bec says:

    This is a really interesting article – and great advice.

    The constant asking of question after question, i find very tiresome, as most people LOVE talking about themselves, and therefore take no movement to reciprocate it.

    I love asking about people’s bucket lists, or careers that they would choose if they could just ‘walk into them’…however even that gets a little hard to listen to sometimes, when it’s all about them.

    To discuss an idea or a concept, or a theory is far more interesting. What great advice!

  2. Betty Spence says:

    Joe,
    My housemate is a narcissist….totally self absorbed. She also is ADD, so living with her can be quite a challenge. She is very needy…so I understand the why of her behavior..but fortunately I can be very candid with her and frequently will just stop her and bring it to her attention..She is very educated and works with special needs kids..and she can see their needs and how they act out and why…but when it’s about her or her own behavior she’s totally myopic..Its very interesting, but I like that she’s open enough to talk about it and even listen to my comments…Of course, it works both ways she will frequently comment to me about my depression and some of the related behaviors..such as binge eating..but I’m not a purger..so I’m just getting fat, right ? I know I’ve digressed from your original post, but I won’t be going to any holiday parties..so this would be my best example…Thanks for the topic, it’s one I really can identify with…

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Hi Betty, nice to hear from you. It sounds like you’ve got a good way of setting limits with your roommate. If you’re not careful with that kind of person, they can completely take you over.

    • Robin says:

      As someone who has ADD herself, your statements are 100% spot-on. It is unfortunate so many of us marry & have children, considering how messed up we are.

  3. Dr. Steven Brownlow says:

    Another indicator of treatment completion I look for, besides those you mentioned, and probably related to the basic shame you discussed, is the development of a genuine sense of humor about oneself. When people notice their own patterns and point them out humorously, they show me that they no longer need the pretense of perfection and that the minor embarrassment of owning an imperfection is no longer being experienced as an indicator of their smallness, weakness, lack of ability, or unworthiness.

  4. Kathy Morelli, LPC says:

    Great post. I find the art of informed conversation to be not even on most people’s radar screen. Many ppl just want to be right. It is difficult to always turn the other cheek.

  5. Lisa says:

    My husband and I see this all too often when we go out. We will often strike up a conversation with someone and they start chatting and it’s all about them the entire time, my husband and I are very polite and will listen, once the turn their heads, we just laugh! It’s amazing how selfish people are! Yes, I am caught up in my life, but I don’t discuss it with anyone because I’m still, at 49 trying to figure out how to become the success I envision for myself, which will remain private. When meeting new people, I love to hear success stories and stories of encouragement and struggle because they overcame the odds, good for them :) Great article!!

  6. Marla Estes says:

    I am thinking about basic shame and Dr. Brownlow’s comment about humor. The other thing I’ve really noticed in the small groups that I lead is the power of revealing something shameful in the presence of others. I love this quote which speaks to that:

    “Every time we go to someone we trust with an obsessive feeling of shame, guilt, or regret and get it worked out, or at least worked on, so that it loses some of its tyrannical grip, we are engaged in a healing intimacy. It takes courage to do this. It runs counter to our defensive impulses. It represents the ultimate collapse of the need to justify, to blame, to get even. For we are letting another part of us speak, the part that is in doubt, the part that believes we may be wrong, so wrong that our very worth is thrown into question. But unless that part can be allowed to speak, there can be no healing.”
    Robert Karen The Forgiving Self

  7. Mamie says:

    This post is so right-on. I am a great questioner, that is within ten minutes I can tell you more about a person I’ve just met that some of their friends know. But as I walk away from them, I often realize that they don’t even know my last name! I’ll try your experiment over the holidays.

    My blogger friend, Peggy, linked to your blog. I’m enjoying reading it.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I was actually a little worried about this post — afraid it might offend some people — but judging from the response, it seems to resonate with many visitors. Thanks, Mamie, and give my thanks to your friend Peggy, too!

  8. Stephanie says:

    Hi Joseph
    Oh you are so right here. Also as someone who has suffered from depression I know only too well how the condition can hinder ones ability to fully consider another’s needs.
    However what I want to talk about is your point around ‘trying to get a discussion onto a bigger dimension than you and yours’. When in social situations like supper with the girls I find there is the usual pattern of how was your day and catching up one recent events then things predictably go to children and family life. This can bore me senseless after 10-15 minutes so choosing a convenient moment I will bring the conversation onto something more interesting like a current world event or occurrence, some members of the group will pick it up and comment, I immediately respond and try it steer it further but always within 1-2 minutes someone will find a moment to bring it nicely back to kids and family and thats the end of that. I have pondered over this recurring pattern and I know its not because my friends are unaware /uninformed I conclude that many people don’t want to move out of their comfort zone of what immediately effects them and thier’s. As for me I must find more like minded people before I don’t die with boredom.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      All I can say, Stephanie, is you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink (or is it “whore to water/make her think”?). Finding like-minded people is a definite challenge!

  9. Renee L. Segal says:

    Sometimes I refer to people who do this as: “you put in a quarter and they just keeping talking and talking AT you, like they are some machine.” One could walk away and they might not even notice. I think you described it well.

    I can sometimes find my compassion for these people when I realize that no one listened to them when they were children and that is why they need it so much as adults. That helps me for a little bit. They are empty and nothing can fill them up.

    Thanks for the blog, you described it well. Renee

  10. Carl Lange says:

    Hmmm…Joseph, perhaps some people need to change the subject back to kids as they feel they are the most important thing in the world – literally. Also, some are not comfortable with people who seem to have a lot of information and/or views on current world issues simply because they are not able to say: “Oh, I have not really thought about that…”. I think they feel afraid to admit how little they know, or think they know nothing, or in the worst case, really know nothing and wishes no one gets that. Have you tested the same situation e.g. by addressing an issue which touches the local community on a daily basis – the price of gasoline etc. etc.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      That’s a good point, Carl. You wouldn’t want to make people uncomfortable. I think you’re right — you have to gauge your audience and find a topic that would personally touch their lives.

  11. Cynthia says:

    Wow — Thanks for an insightful article and discussion. I am one of those persons who loves good conversation, but almost never engages in a conversation about my day. Perhaps, it is because this is just about the only type of conversation my mother engages in, or when she has “something she wants to tell me”, in which I am just supposed to listen and hear her instructions. I don’t think she has ever even asked me “what I was thinking or thought about anything, including something she was telling me”. And she has no idea why I don’t have much of anything to talk to her about! I am in my 40s, and the article & comments gave me some insight with which I can try to be more compassionate. I also like the suggestions for preparing for more interesting conversations. It is funny because I have better and more interesting conversations at parties and family gatherings with people I barely know, cause I don’t know how and am not interested in having the “same old, same old” conversations with the relatives where we don’t upset anyone, but learn nothing new about one another. Thank you for a gentle understanding of narcisism. What is the oppposite of narcisism? Healthy interest in self and others? (P.S: How do you use HTML tags & attributes, as suggested when commenting?)

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Cynthia, I guess the opposite of narcissism would be the ability to feel compassion for and interest in others. And as for HTML tags … I didn’t realize there was a suggestion for using them in the comment function. I wouldn’t worry about it. Just write whatever you want, as you did in your comment about your mother. I totally relate to your remark about the same old conversations with relatives where nobody wants to upset anyone else. Understandable I guess, but not all that stimulating.

  12. A Reader says:

    Interesting article. It immidiately made me think of Eleanor Roosevelt`s “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people”.
    To go on talking without giving room for others to participate in the talk is bad manners or a mind diseased.

    Lots of thougths have passed my consciousness while musing on this topic, among them “people who needs people”, “oh lonesome me” and a spanish proverb stating “if you want a friend, close one eye – if you want to keep him, close both eyes.”

    Thank you for a good read, and for giving me a change to play a part.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I love that Eleanor Roosevelt quote! I’d never heard it before. What I often find is that people don’t know how to discuss ideas. Most of us grow up in environments where we don’t debate ideas or have conversations of substance so we don’t know how to engage in that kind of discussion.

  13. Carl Lange says:

    Cynthia: I share your point of view in having the most interesting discussions with people one barely knows. It does not take more than few seconds to evaluate if the person you are havind the discussion with is someone you would still like to continue and perhaps tackle some really interesting issues.
    A Reader: Wow, that comment made my day! Eleanor Roosevelt was one smart lady. I can quote her to myself, since I always keep on blurting out even some far feched ideas to my collaques and am a bit afraid for them to keep me slightly … hmmm … odd :) . Still, I sometimes feel a bit outcast when others are chatting on world events etc. since I keep myself in news deprivation, to some extent at least.

  14. Loved the article. For me, it boils down to proper empathy listening with proper turn taking. It is a rarity these days for someone to deeply, holistically listen to you without distractions while being other centered. I would love to hear your research presented at the International Listening Assoc. over at http://www.listen.org –just a thought.

    It makes me wonder if social media in itself promotes narcissism. . .is this post narcissistic? Do I want someone to respond?

    • I think that social media was designed to be conversational, but it has become narcissistic. Think about the early days of the internet when all we had was e-mail, forums, and instant messaging. These things would get incredibly boring if no one talked back to each other. Today, with sites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s much easier for people who like talking about themselves to post away without needing an immediate response. It must be a narcissist’s dream come true to see people “like” what they say about themselves. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using social media since it is highly capable of engaging in conversation with people all over the world. I just think that more people should encourage feedback in their post instead of just talking about themselves all the time.

  15. Elizabeth Costales says:

    A+++ Best article I have seen in along time. I have been guilty of waiting my turn :(
    Reading this article people would recognize their behavior and interact with others in a more meaningful way.

  16. Haley Weaver says:

    I’m not sure how I came across your Twitter site but given my love of Psychology I’m not surprised. I’ve been rather discouraged by the selfishness that IS the GenY generation…and much of GenX as well, this article caught my eye. I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly several times and just wanted to commend you on your honesty. I find myself rather irritated and frustrated with how times have changed and how self absorbed many people are. Sure, everyone has an agenda to a certain extent but I grew up on the golden rule and it seems like no one shares it. Enough ranting, but as a fellow student of human nature, I had to come and give you kudos for a job well done!

  17. Jen says:

    I’m not sure it’s a lost art, unique to ‘these days’ or that Gen X, Y or Millennials are any worse at conversation than past generations. It’s a personal journey and struggle to truly connect no matter what our age/experience.

    • E.C. says:

      I agree with you. I think it betrays a real lack of self-awareness, or even a form of projection, to say “I’m not narcissistic, I treat everybody well, but everybody under such-and-such an age is defined by their narcissism, as an essential and unchangeable part of who they are.”

    • GuyfromGeorgia says:

      I would tend to agree with you as well. I know I have several older family members who “talk at me” at every family gathering and always manage to turn conversations back to their own lives every time anyone tries to share anything from their own lives. One uncle made no real effort to be part of his children’s lives, not to mention his nieces and nephews, because he spent 40 years drunk. Now, when anyone tries to share something with them about their own lives, he hijacks the conversation and talks about himself. No effort at all to get to really know anyone or learn about things that happened in the past. Some from Gen X and Y may be self absorbed, but I think many of them learned it from their older relatives…

  18. Tre Michael says:

    thank you for this article. You’ve pointed out some flaws in my character that I want to work on. thanks for posting, God bless.

  19. LifeLong says:

    Another great article – thank you.

    I love to talk about ideas, themes, beliefs and experiences more than anything else.

    On another note.. The ‘idea’ I picked up strongly here was the one about your realisation that your therapist was indeed a real person that didn’t have an ideal life and who wasn’t there just for your therapy sessions each week.

    An ‘event’ took place during my therapy, about a year before I finished, that ‘came between’ my therapist and I. It was this ‘event’ that enabled me to see my therapist as a normal human being, with troubles, and a life that was not perfect (the way I had made her life ‘look’ in my mind). When we discussed it, my therapist said that it seems to be a part of the therapeutic relationship that ‘something’ happens to distance the therapist and client.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Interesting. I would describe it as follows: when the client idealizes the therapist’s life, they’re not really separate. The client turns the therapist into an ideal self that he or she would like to become; in other words, the therapist is a kind of projection for the client and thus a part of him or her. The “distance” you talk about is a healthy thing, where the idealization fades and the client can then see the therapist as a separate and distinct person.

      • Robin says:

        This might be the same thing, but I didn’t see my therapist as “perfect” but rather “normal”, which was what I wanted to be. Normal, not perfect. I didn’t think she had zero life outside our sessions, or was someone to idealize. Rather she had knowledge of something I was—and still am—profoundly ignorant of. It seemed reasonable to see her as an expert or a teacher.
        Something at least one other person has told me is how they prefer reading people, versus face-to-face interaction. It seems the only intimacy possible nowadays is by reading people’s thoughts, feelings, and ideas through their books, blogs, or other printed words. How sad, and yet is this truly a recent phenomenon? Especially when we read about how many friendships of past years were kept by letter writing. No phone, no telegraph, just handwritten letters, and how joyfully they were cherished & treasured! Perhaps the extreme ease of communication has spoiled us so we no longer value the voice of a friend.
        I apologize for this excessive post.
        Peace.

        • Joseph Burgo says:

          Not at all! It’s interesting, what you say about the epistolary friendships of the past. Maybe it has something to do with the “carelessness” of modern communication, the rapid, off-the-cuff reply, as opposed to the careful correspondence of earlier times, and the care with which one composes a book.

  20. Rebecca says:

    I enjoyed your article very much. Thank you for posting it. I find that I tend more towards narcissistic behaviors when I’m even a little bit on edge in challenging social situations. I’ve noticed a lot of mention about narcissistic tendencies having roots in the unmet needs of childhood, and I’m wondering if it can result from unmet needs at any point in life…for instance, the loneliness and hurt that results from living with a narcissistic spouse for years.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Absolutely. Narcissistic behavior can result from spousal neglect, although I think that would be more about a desperate wish to have emotional needs met by having people pay attention, a desire for real connectedness that’s missing in the marriage, rather than a narcissistic unawareness of other people.

  21. LifeLong says:

    Yes, that was exactly my experience – at the time I was idealising my therapist I was very much wanting to be a ‘part’ of my therapist’s life, I was very attached and in an unhealthy way. However, this attachment was necessary in order to ‘find’ myself and eventually detach in a healthy way.

  22. Beatrice says:

    Today a very good friend of mine who ALWAYS pours out her problems on me said that I had picked up some narcissistic ways this year. I didnt know how to feel about it?? How do you not get used as a toilet in friendship but still manage to be a good friend?? Am struggling!!!

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Did you ask you friend what she meant by “narcissistic ways”? Sounds a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. Maybe if you ask her what behavior she’s talking about, you could have a discussion about it. You might say something like, “I certainly understand why that would bother you. I’ll do my best to keep that in check because sometimes I feel the same away about you.”

      I think being a true friend MEANS not letting someone use you as a toilet, since that’s not really good for either one of you. And if she really is your good friend, she’ll want to take your feelings into account.

  23. Beatrice says:

    I actually did ask her as I was taken aback!! but I feel I am to blame to a certain degree. I have always played the good friend with her for many years and find it exhausting but I do love her so couldnt think of her not been part of my life. I am naturally a very very private person and always have people confiding in me however I dont feel its doing good for me so my approach to change this was every time she or anyone started pouring they problems out I change the subject and start talking about tasks I need to do etc or seem really uninterested. I am not good at speaking out my feelings and even if I had to tell her I have let in go on for to long.. How would “we” make it work without going into the same old pattern??

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      If I understand what you’re saying, it was the changing of the subject to tasks you needed to take care of that struck her as “narcissistic”. Changing the subject is still a good idea; maybe you need to talk about something neutral — what’s going on in the world, or what’s happening with somebody else, especially since you’re a private person anyway and prefer not to discuss yourself.

  24. Beatrice says:

    Am not sure if neutral will go well with close friends but thanks for the advise appreciated and hate to say this but I actually like your blog *blush blush*. I am indeed private with my emotions and how much I think people should know about me:)) but still discuss the simple things in life..

  25. Jeri says:

    It makes me wonder if social media in itself promotes narcissism. . .is this post narcissistic? Do I want someone to respond?Christopher Bond, PhD

    isn’t it? and don’t we? :) w/o to some extent it must be

  26. Cathy says:

    A friend of mine is so narcissistic that after his wifes recent cancer surgery he remarked to me that he was scared. I said “i can understand that. You were scared of losing her.” He replied( astonishingly) “yeah, If she died, I would be stuck with my kid to raise alone and I hate him; wish he had never been born. I just don’t know how to bond with people.”

  27. Jay says:

    Agreed, at the risk of talking about myself, I love a conversation I can get my teeth into. An exchange of ideas, some mental stimulation to make the day interesting and so I feel that I have actually connected with somebody and them with me.

    All too often a conversation follows the path of social airs and graces without becoming personalised, generic if you will. Time is at a premium these days.

  28. Narcisisst says:

    I am a true narcissist in that I continually talk about myself and increase the volume as I realize no one cares. I was told by my shrink I am abnormally attached to a family with an abnormal detachment for me. Their denial of it and their belief that we are are a loving supportive family is part of the entire narcissistic Dance. They bond over what a pain I am and as I leave the fold their stories about my brother will increase. But everyone of us in my family is a narcissist some having gotten too much attention and love and some by out right rejection. As I go forth in midlife to try to form my own friends and maybe family I will try some of these tips. But I have learned reputation and power balance has a lot to do with it. Because in order to stay connected to my family I made the choice to move 1000 miles away to become a part of their lives. What I learned is the family members that supposedly loved me the most saw me as an object and chose a very inadequate way to deal with my disability but solves their problem which gets me out of their hair. They bad mouth me downplaying my issues and sofar I’ve be increasing my narcissism instead of taking the above tips I will try and use finding healthier ways to connect to others than my illness. You will find a lot of the type of narcissist I have become in nursing homes. The caregiver type of narcissistic is the parent or child of those locked up

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      If you’re a narcissist, you’re an awfully self-aware one. I think the distinction for you needs to be between getting attention, any kind of attention, in a desperate, indiscriminate way, to make up for what you never got growing up, vs. making a genuine connection with another person who might actually take an interest in you. It’s also interesting, the distinction you make between the narcissist who is created through getting too much attention and “love” and the one who is created by outright rejection. I’d say that in neither case is it genuine love and connection; in neither case does the child feel truly understood and loved. The second type is easier to understand. In the first type, they know on some level thateir parents must be idealizing them, they know that this wonderful vision of themselves is a lie. In order to preserve that lie, they feel compelled to continue behaving in a narcissistic way because they don’t know how to get in contact with the truth about themselves.

      • Narcisisst says:

        Wow you just totally described my older sister who the family holds as beloved. She can get away with doing very mean things because I am the devalued one. If I express feelings of anger at her behavior such as writing glib articles making fun of me she says I am attacking her. My problem is I am a dependent adult on a family that wasn’t there when it was age appropriate and siblings who were taught to devalue me while they were revered are in charge of my life decisions. IT is very depressing. And at the moment they are putting on a show because I am a guest at the board and care of a very high net worth friend they want to impress. I am sitting here reading the notes of a facility I was just booted from that states the family is totally uninvolved except financially. I ended up here because the friend of the family had used her clout to get me in the previous facility. When my sibling responded with a total lack of empathy (very burnt out on my constant illness and feels it will blow over)for my welfare they called this family friend and said they could no longer do her the favor and she had to take me out NOW. I went from one inappropriate facility to another and can only feel gratitude that she cared enough to come get me. She is helping out of a total selfless place and yet such an intricate part of our very narcissistic family. I do do feel like my anger when I should be grateful is my narcissism. One parent and one sibling assisted me by being my financial person and both devalued me enough to take what I was able to save from the government because I am totally devalued. The idea that I have learned to live and exist on very little angers them since they earn 20 x that and cannot save. The parent gave the money to my brother who was once the favorite but now the whipping boy when I am not around because parent poured 300k of his own money in addition to mine in brothers failing business and the sister to either lack of interest in the responsibility she took on or herself. Both have beliefs of themselves that they would never behave this way and have conveniently forgotten. I get to decide right now if I am really a narcissistic because if I feel vindictive enough I could call for a federal audit and even if it was incompetency(high networth and high IQ family) so no real need to steal from me other than my lack of value. Unfortunately I am the neglected narcissist with the low social iq in a family of high social iq narcissists. They surround themselves with people who worship them. But something you said made me wonder how fraudulent they may really feel about themselves. The act they are putting on for this generous soul who came to my rescue is sickening but my rage at what they will get away with because of their perceived value will only make them look better to this generous soul taking on their unsolvable problem. My only choice is to accept a totally inappropriate situation with grace because I chose to come back to my nuclear family after illness even after it is obvious to outsiders they have no real empathy or understanding of my situation but feel they must appear to be supportive family members at least financially even when they skim a little here and there for more important members.

  29. Carol says:

    Thank you, Joseph, – for an excellent article on a fascinating subject. Much food for thought there… and a resonance that I’m sure will strike deep for so many….

  30. Daniel says:

    I enjoyed your article very much and I’m glad so many others have enjoyed your article as well. To me it seems that someone needing to be in control is narcissistic and they can accomplish this by being the one that’s asking questions and directing the conversation but without talking the most. Is this accurate? It seems to me that in any situation with 2 or more individuals, there will have to a narcissist or at least someone that is more-so than the others. Is the goal to not be “that guy/girl”?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I don’t think it’s necessarily narcissistic to direct the conversation by asking questions, although it may be controlling. Narcissism usually involves making yourself the center of attention and trying to elicit admiration.

  31. asp says:

    very interesting article and responses. I don’t consider myself to be narcissistic, but have found recently that i am totally self-absorbed. I went through a bad break-up a while ago (with someone who does fit the profile, though i am not a psychologist and therefore am not qualified to make that assumption) but seem to endlessly talk / think about me, my shortcomings, and our defunct relationship. Its even boring me now … how to shake free? can narcissism be cured, or only managed? what is the way out?

    and is a constant searching for self development a sign? constantly striving to make one’s self better, more in tune, and self aware – this is also a total focus on one’s self, rather than a healthy way of engaging with the outside world?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Trying to improve yourself doesn’t sound so narcissistic to me, although I have known people who can make their therapy and personal issues the focus of every conversation. It seems to me the question is — are you interested in other people and what they might be going through, in addition to your own struggles?

      • asp says:

        yes, very much so – though currently i am still quite self absorbed. I am hoping its just part of the healing process though.

  32. JC says:

    I could have written this post. Each word you mirror my own thoughts, sentiments and profound disappointment that most people sadly, just aren’t curious about others. Right now I am prompted to write this as I am visiting my husband’s uncle, who, although very kind and interesting, completely dominates the conversation. I have retreated upstairs because I am simply too mentally exhausted to keep listening to him.
    You mentioned that these people, who I would say represent about 95% of those I come in contact with, suffered neglected childhoods, which may be partly true, but I had a very lonely childhood and I love learning about people. There is no excuse for people to insist on being so narcissistic and one-sided. I enthusiastically ask many questions with genuine interest in another person’s life. (I earned that Sociology degree for a reason). But exactly as you said in your scenario, there comes a time, after about an hour for me, that I just realize this human I am conversing with and of whom I am genuinely interested to know more about, could not care less about learning anything about me. Not only is it extremely frustrating, it is for me profoundly sad. And it happens over and over and over again.
    For instance, I have a casual friend who, after 2 years of our casual friendship finally asked me a question about my life: “so, where are you from originally?” It took him 2 years. In exchange, in that time I knew where he grew up, his favorite hobbies, his taste in women, his favorite sports teams, what his workout routine was, his career goals, specifics about his job, his family roots, recipes he likes to cook, his favorite clothing store, his opinions on issues…. shall I go on?
    One could say, “Well, find new friends!” I’m trying, but most people are exactly the same.
    I appreciate being able to rant here, thank you. I hope you have been fortunate to finally find others who engage in the volley of genuine discourse with you and want to explore your ideas, thoughts and interests as much as you want to know more about them.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I wish I could say that I had found those new friends. Truth is, I have a few close friends who I can really talk to and I deeply value those friendships. I doubt many people have more than that. I also expect less these days. I always used to extend myself to new people with great enthusiasm, putting forth a lot of energy in entertaining, etc. I’d ultimately be disappointed that so little came back. Now I put forward less energy, and when I do extend myself, if it isn’t reciprocated, I stop.

      Beyond my friendships and my family, I find a lot of satisfaction in doing “my own thing” — playing piano, writing this blog, working with my clients. Even if they aren’t (and shouldn’t be) interested in me as a reciprocal friend, I find the intimacy of long-term work with my clients very satisfying, more meaningful than many social relationships I have.

  33. Rainbow says:

    Interesting stuff. One thing – sometimes, world events and things can seem too ‘far’, I, as a woman, enjoy conversations that are more ‘close’ however, they don’t all have to revolve around me/problems etc, and are boring when they do. I would like more conversations that felt like a real exchange and had more time in them. I feel conversations are often rushed, and people are often trying to outdo you, or argue, or make a better point, and generally HURRY on with it all. If they were slower, could be more playful. I also feel sad at people’s lack of interest in me. Especially emotional interest, not sexual, or personal life. I wish more people said ‘how are you?’ and meant it. I am going to ask more people that to see if it comes back! Perhaps they don’t want to be intrusive? If they do ask questions it is often just to gauge whether they want to feel jealous of you or not!! Like’ ‘what’s your job?’ etc, and they usually look bored with the response – and seem like they would look bored unless I said ‘filmstar!’ (but it’s probably projection. Also, whenever one says anything about others, it is always really about ‘oneself’ and we create people and they are part of ourselves. We put everything there, we attribute characteristics where we want to. The spiritual truths more fascinating than the psychological ones I believe. Although those are useful for working stuff out on a dayto day level. Meanwhile, enjoyed the article a lot, have definitely been a narcissist in the past, think I am slowly improving… (would wink if knew how!)

  34. Lc says:

    I found this article by doing a search on the topic – deliberately seeking it out – and the content resonated with my thoughts.. I was married for 18 years to a narcissistic musician ( we actually had to go through psych evals due to my ex demanding a full custody eval, which all worked well out for me in the end, but was not so fun – anyhow this is how I can officially say he has NPD!) As for me, I enjoyed his intelligence and special talents, but not the regular rages and emotional abuse. Since then my current boyfriend of the last few years shows behaviors that make me wonder about myself and my fears of intimacy that have lead me to choose…another narcissist? This man is not so verbally abusive as my husband could be, but the most disturbing quality about him is his alarming lack of interest in understanding others (including me). He describes intense conversations with others at work, etc., in which he was frustrated or intently expressing himself to the other, and when I ask,
    “what did the other person think about it?” or “what was their opinion, and why?” he is clueless, and not even noticing the missing piece. Similarly, when I express myself, he will listen, but almost NEVER asks any questions, or shows much real interest. This feels awful. We do have some intellectual conversations about mutual interests, and he has shown kindness and consideration by his actions often enough, but I feel a struggle to be more intimate. I know I have my own fears in this regard, but want to work past them.
    Another interesting observation about my BF is that he is very attached to his 3 dogs. At first i found this charming and indicative of his sensitive nature, and still do somewhat, but it also bothers me. I show up to his place for dinner/evening and he is there cooking for the dogs, and fussing over them. I like animals too, but it feels almost hostile – passive-aggressive in a way. Sometimes they eat better than we do! They also sleep with him and the whole relationship feels a bit invasive and like they are between us. He is charming, attractive, also very into computers, technical stuff (and music) like my ex– which makes me wonder if this type is self-involved, or just not into people that much. But he loves his dogs and soap-opera type TV shows!! hmm… I am trying to separate out what are my own issues and what are his, and see this more clearly. For the first few years I felt ok with the limitations of this relationship because I put my daughters first after the divorce, and wanted to keep their lives separate, peaceful and not about me and my boyfriend. Also we had a great sexual connection. He at first wanted me and kids (teens then) to move in with him, but there really wasn’t space and they would have been unhappy. I have been able to provide well enough for them. Also, he just wanted us to do it without much planning or negotiating ahead and “see how it worked.” Not for me! anyway… Now I want to grow and see if I can ever have a really good, close, intimate relationship. BTW, He did, in fact, have a neglected childhood, and I do admire him for surviving it as well as he did, though I wonder if he will ever seek to connect like I want to. Any comments, insights? I have never written on a website like this before, but your post inspired me……Thanks for any input.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you about this. There are an awful lot of warning signs in what you’ve written. What concerns me most is his lack of interest in you. I wouldn’t expect that to change. Most people don’t really change, anyway, and those kind of narcissistic traits usually deepen with time. Here’s how I would think about his relationship with his animals: you can (more or less) control dogs. You can also depend upon uncritical acceptance from them. You usually don’t have to worry about them leaving you for another relationship. You don’t have to take an interest in their internal life because they wear their hearts on their sleeves and don’t “think” about their emotional lives or what it means. You can also idealize yourself as a wonderful parent — he takes such good care of his dogs! — when the emotional challenge of being a parent to an actual person would be way beyond your capacities. Being a kind and concerned dog owner says nothing about your abilities to engage in human relationships. It may be that the limitations of the human-dog relationship allow him to express the best sides of himself, but that a more complex kind of intimacy with you is beyond him.

      One other thing. Narcissists are often charismatic and can convince us they have all sorts of qualities they don’t really possess. Just remember that their goal is to get you to admire and desire them, and you exist more in the role of mirror than anything else. They’re not interested in actual intimacy because they don’t want to get to the truth about themselves, either.

      • Lc says:

        Thank you so much for your time and attention to my post, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments and will take them all to heart and ponder them. Your observations about the relationship with his dogs make a great deal of sense. I think that my greatest challenge is being brave enough to face the truth and to get over my fears of being with someone who really does want intimacy (afraid that’s rare?) because of my own fears of rejection if someone looks too close, too painful, etc. In other words, I am quite aware that regardless of my boyfriend’s issues, I have my own, aargghh..but I guess that’s what life is all about, growing and such. Anyway, I am so glad I checked back to read your reply, thank you.

  35. kate says:

    yeah that was spot on honey bun- and consequently a good read for me- very cathartic!!! I have a mum that is like this-

    when she phones up, she will run down the list of things she wants to talk about- and i have no choice but to listen, and its allways terminally- excruciatingly boring. so the sad thing is- i get off the phone quite quick. this is the edge to this condition- its got to alienated people like mad…..but they dont give up – giving up means they are not important to people and dont exist.

    i LONG to discuss other topics- away from her favourite topics— i LONG to discuss a book- a piece of art- a film….. we do sometimes…but it will be about her opions on it and she will want to be heard not listen.

    the other hard thing- is the controling and steering of the conversation…because of course her needs and desires and whims are important and have to come first- otherwise she will feel denied and almost non existant.

    i dont mind- she is old now- the bottom line is that she is good natured and doesnt dminate or control with bullying or maniplation….as long as she is not doing this- then i really do give her lee way to have her whims- and i indulge them….but lately she got so self involved i detached for a month- and when i came back- she seemed much improved.

    if you dont feed into a relationship it will just wither and die- family ties or duties arent enough to keep it going- you cant stick with someone on duty alone- there has to be some give and take- if you dont water a plant it will die. i think narcissists forget to water the plants around them- and they need to remember

    i dont know what caused this in my mum- but it seems to run deep- in the way that- yu dont just get over it pretty quick- it takesy years to be different i think- and i think they will never give up on their narcissism- because that will be a huge big leap of faith- like jumping off a cliff and hoping to find a parachute just sitting on a ledge on the way down- what are the chances of that happening?

    thanks for listening!!! (for a change….ha ha ha ha)

    xxxx

    kate

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Unfortunately, I don’t think narcissism is a choice. Your mom probably can’t help being the way she is; even if you talked to her about it in strong language, that wouldn’t make her suddenly able to take an interest in somebody other than herself!

  36. Denise says:

    Oh my God,
    I love this article so much! Thank you for this! I am now separated with my husband of 3 years because of his highly narcissistic tendencies. I can’t live with his narcissism, it always pushed me to the edge and I had enough. I know I have also a personality issues like I am 40%narcissistic and 50%paranoid. (we are not professionally diagnosed but the symptoms are undeniable). And he can’t live with my personality as well, so we decide to separate ways and we were deeply hurt by this but we already moved on. Now here is my new concern….when I am with other people I tend to always talk about “me” or my life or my child :( even to the people I just met or to someone I just happen to be with, by the bus, train, ferry etc… one question about my child or my husband or my work and I can go on and on and on….and not realizing the thoughts of my listener :( now I am guilty and I feel ashamed. I am very good now at controlling my bad habits… but I have to always remind my self to behave like this or like that so I won’t get off the track. Because I can easily become enrage even with past memories, things or people that upsets or hurts me or disappoints me etc. I know and I’m aware I also have a problem. I am sad and lonely because of my personality. I know therapy can help me but can never get back the marriage, friendships that I lost. But even if I am normal I would not let my ex husband come near me and my child again… I have issues but my life is on the right track minus my ex husband. Just my relationship with other people and it’s not that healthy and didn’t realized I have been like this since I was very young. It’s only recently that I started to read about personalities that I understand “who” my husband is and now getting to know my “self”. I’m crying inside. I hope I can change. I will try. I don’t want to be a statistic. I want to live a normal and healthy life. Thank you Dr. Joseph Burgo.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      You’re very welcome, Denise. In my experience, when people struggle with the issues you describe, it usually has to do with a deep sense of shame about the ways they are damaged; the narcissism is a way of warding off that shame. It’s a subject I write a lot about; if you’re interested, you can find all the articles about Shame/Narcissism under that heading in the Category menu at the right of the page.

  37. Jules says:

    I love this site, and this article. Forgive me… this talk about conversation, so on the mark. I got so excited I had to post!! I get bored and impatient with people and their small talk. I LOVE it when the conversation is about something bigger than the participants. I don’t mind if someone knows a LOT more than I do. Intellectual stimulation is like air, food, and water to me. I get depressed/wilt without it.

    I don’t mind listening to someone go on about a topic like philosophy or psychology or medicine or physics or music, because I can tell the difference between passion and narcissism. There is a difference between listening to someone who just likes to hear themselves talk, and listening to someone who just want’s to dig..a little…deeper.

    It’s like therapy to me :)

    I just wonder if any of the posters here might be up for conversation, but some of the posts are old.

    Thanks Dr. B.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I think many of the people who posted earlier comments are still visitors to this site, and most of them are eager to participate in spirited conversation about all these issues. As for what you’re saying about the difference between passion and narcissism, I totally agree. My father-in-law was one of the most intelligent, sophisticated, well-rounded people I’ve ever had the privilege to know; he did have a tendency to “hold forth,” as he used to put it, but I never minded listening because what he had to say was so uniformly interesting, his views so well-informed.

  38. Kurtez says:

    A lot of people who don’t know me personally think I am stuck up or arrogant. For example, I am a college student. When I walk down the hall, I really be focused on getting to class on time and leaving school. I talk to people who stop me, but if nobody stops me, I keep it moving. Now, I speak to people but not everyday at school do I hold a full conversation. But, when some of the people that think I am arrogant talk to me, they tell me how they thought I was stuck up, but I am very cool. I tell them I am not looking down on anyone, I just be careful of who I talk to these days or I honestly do not pay attention. I am quiet reserved person, but once started, I can talk on and on, maybe that’s why I enjoy public speaking. So my question is, is having confidence and high standards for yourself a bad thing? I prejudge people at times, because I am a person big on first impressions. I do brag on myself at times, because as a black young male, I have overcome a lot of statistics that have been placed on us. But what I find interesting is that, my ” black” friends call me white, but my “white” friends I get along with perfectly. When people do approach me and tell me I am arrogant or stuck up, I say, ” you must think low of yourself to think so high of me.” Is that a bad thing?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      It’s kind of a put-down to tell people that they think low of themselves — I don’t think most of them would take that very well. And there are other reasons why they might think of you that way, even if they’re wrong. Of course there’s nothing wrong with having confidence and high standards; it only becomes a problem when a person uses that as a way to feel superior to other people.

  39. Emma says:

    I so agree with your article, Joseph. I am amazed by how many people I know talk almost exclusively about themselves, with barely a pause for breath. It’s got to the point where I am wondering if I somehow attract these sorts of people into my life, having been raised by two parents who were both extremely narcissistic.

    I was interested in your comment that ‘narcissism usually involves making yourself the center of attention and trying to elicit admiration.’ Is this always so? My father’s self-absorption often focuses on his health. He will talk about his various health problems in almost any kind of contact I have with them, seemingly oblivious to the fact he’s told you about them hundreds of times before. There is nothing anyone apart from himself can do for him, so the only explanation I can think of for his behaviour is that it’s a kind of attention-seeking.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Yes, you’re right — eliciting admiration isn’t the only form of narcissism. In regard to your father, I guess I’d wonder what he’s after. Maybe he wants you to feel sorry for him, or to take care of him, or maybe he’s angry about his health conditions. Many, many people talk about their aches and pains, especially as they get older. It’s boring to listen to, but often they don’t have much else to say.

  40. Hermes says:

    Joseph, a most interesting article.
    I love vivid conversation, the kind where there is almost a telepathy, and the interchange has a life of its own and doesn’t get bogged down. I am Irish and here in Ireland we are famed for the art of conversation (L).
    Despite rarely asking questions people very often will reveal all kinds of information to me. Friends and colleagues often remark laughingly on how I manage to do that. Maybe it is inherent, maybe it is practice and life experience!

    There are people to whom I wouldn’t give the time of day, and the pretentious are right there at the top of that list.

    A very good New Year to everyone.
    Hermes

  41. Debra says:

    How interesting.

    One of the epiphanies I have had lately in therapy, is that my barometer for deciding if it has made me “better” (which always had to do with how I functioned in the outside world, and was based on quantifying how I was “improving”) is much different. I used to be so intensely resistant and now, I feel an odd sort of calm. I know that my therapist is quite human, I know she can be wrong, I know we can learn from each other, and I believe that my “success” is partially within the relaxation and taking risks in the relationship itself. Has that made my own life immeasurably better? Not yet. But some. And definitely less anxiety-ridden. As for conversation, I have always been the sort that finds fascination in the little details of people’s lives, and I can empathize with those who find it difficult to have theoretically based conversations. I do need to work on that. Thanks for another article that is food for thought.

  42. Rebecca Gillen says:

    I am engaged to a man whose ex-wife is narcissistic. She has an unbelievable sense of entitlement. this is a woman who has never worked, does not want to work, has never finished anything she ever started and yet believes that everyone around her should support her financially. She has few friends, and cannot keep friends because she has no interest in any one. She has great difficulty carrying on a conversation with people and will resort to telling dirty jokes in order to focus the attention on herself. Her behavior is often confrontational and aggressive. She fights with neighbors, waiters, store clerks and anyone who seems to get in her way. She openly admits to poisoning her daughter against my fiance’s parents and family members. She is unlike anyone I have ever come across or encountered in my life. My fiance’ was lucky to escape with his psyche still intact. He says he simply shut off emotionally from her and lived his life separately. He was belittled, shamed, ridiculed and embarrassed by her for years.
    His daughter seems to be very damaged, in that she is sulky, withdrawn and totally controlled by her mother. The daughter is 29. I have been reading everything I can to educated myself about this disorder. It is very difficult to deal with her about anything financial. It seems to be the more she has, the more she wants. I have read that one should not back down from a narcissist, but take the offensive position in dealing with her. Is this the way to handle things? My fiance’ seems to be coping with her bad behavior, but I do think he under estimates her.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Rather than take “the offensive position,” as you put, instead try to have very clear limits. Just say ‘no’ when you mean and don’t back down. It sounds as if she has a major sense of entitlement and is extremely controlling. There’s no reasoning with a person like that. You simply need to protect yourself and your own interests and try not to let her manipulate you in as non-aggressive way as you can. I realize this is extremely difficult because it sounds as if she’s difficult to deal with and probably becomes hostile and abusive when she doesn’t get her way.

  43. AC says:

    This post raises some interesting challenges that I’ve encountered (that is, of my own creating) in having conversations with people. One involves the desire to actually talk about ideas rather than myself or even the other participant in the conversation. Here’s what I’ve encountered: one can talk about one’s view of an idea (a film, book, political or economic idea, business model etc), and the other person offers his or her response. And then in exploring further the idea (examining principles, tracing ideas back to earlier theories, etc) one finds that the other person in the conversation doesn’t share the same interest in a deeper exploration, and to go further is actually narcissistic. Effectively, one receives the request or directive: let’s discuss something, or anything else. It’s not “me” that I’m discussing, but it may be perceived as my ideas or, more accurately, my tinker toy set of ideas that I like to put out on the table and examine from different sides. Even if these ideas are new or never-repeated (and they rarely are really new), after a while this kind of conversation can become for many people an ordeal that they’d rather not pursue.
    So this begs the question, when does the discussion of ideas get beyond the discussion of one’s self? I’m not sure that it does. Even when we speak to or represent the ideas of others, we often do so because we authorize or agree with the idea. So . . . awkward silence . . . does the pursuit of an ideas-lead conversation really get us away from this issue of narccissism?
    That’s one problem I encounter. The other is that this pursuit of ideas leads me to neglect the small talk questions of “where were you born?” “are you married?” and “what do you do?”
    I can leave an engagement/ party without necessarily knowing a person’s name, while having a rather good understanding of his or her thoughts on the idea of intellectual property in medieval Europe or the affect of German Expressionism in American Film Noir. Is that bad? As far as narcissism goes? Or is this more than okay and actually pretty good? What’s more significant (important, even)? To know what someone thinks and feels on topics that they care about? Or to know where his or her mother gave birth 20, 30, or 50 years ago? Not that one always has to chose, but we often do, explicitly or implicitly.

    By the way, thanks for the site and posts. Very interesting stuff.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I think the issue is whether one brings up views or talks about oneself in order to demonstrate superiority/be admired, on the one hand, versus wanting an exchange of ideas, a meeting of the minds, on the other. I’ve had the kind of conversations you’ve described, where people just want to talk about their own ideas, and it doesn’t feel all that different from them talking about their life history. What I enjoy is the exchange of ideas, where someone else gets you to look at something you hadn’t considered before and vice versa. That’s rare.

  44. Hermes says:

    Hoping it is all right to post this link to an article

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-barry-kaufman/narcissists-theory-of-mind_b_1279069.html

    “Can Narcissists read Minds?

    Hermes

  45. Alison Regan, phd says:

    Hi Dr. Burgo, I am a clinical psychologist in private practice. I enjoyed your article, as it resonated so much with my experience, thoughts and feelings. The hardest thing for me to deal with in my personal life, is the degree I come across people, who I ask many questions of and sincerely want to make a connection; it many times, does not go the same way….reciprocity. A lonely place to be to have so much insight into people. I think I need to be around more psychologists like you to comisserate with…your article was so validating. There are many narcissistic (pathological) psychologists as well, like field. Thank u.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Hi Alison. It is very lonely, and I agree about narcissistic psychologists. For the most part, I’ve never found my professional community to be a great resource for developing intimate relationships.

  46. Anna says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your article above and the comments made. I too often notice that people don’t ask questions of me or totally dominate the conversation. Like many of your readers, I like to draw people out and believe that pretty much everyone is interesting! Sometimes though when the other person does not reciprocate after some time, I do notice it. And lately I’ve been wondering whether I’m being overly self-centred or self-concerned because I care or notice that I haven’t been asked anything! Surely it doesn’t always have to come back to me? Afterall, I know my own story pretty well and don’t need to tell everyone about it.

    Of course, good conversation is a two way exchange and the ideal conversation explores topics far beyond the mundane … but does every conversation with a new person etc. have to come back to me? Is it sometimes self-centred to feel ‘overlooked’.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Is it “self-centered” to hope that other people will actually take an interest in getting to know you? I don’t think so. Like you, I know all of my own stories and feel no need to tell them; but all the same, I’d like to feel that other people are interested in hearing them.

  47. Hermes says:

    Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if everyone thought the same way as everyone else?

    I suppose the best one can do is avoid the “Radio Me” types like the plague. With experience one develops a kind of radar warning of the approach of the self-absorbed, which allows one to fly out of range! Otherwise, there is the old remedy of saying: “Good Lord, is that a tiger over there is Mrs. Smith’s garden. I must run.”
    I do enjoy asking other people questions, although in general, I find people will tell me all sorts of things even if I ask them nothing (this is a skill I inherited from my Dad). It isn’t just therapists who are insightful, heh heh. (just my little joke).

    You are right, Joseph, about steering clear of discussions on religion and politics.
    And I think what you suggest here is an excellent approach:

    “Which decision do you regret most in your life? In retrospect, if you could have chosen any career path, what would it be? Ask challenging questions. You might start off by making a personal disclosure and invite others to join in”.

    And how wise is this:
    “I think being a true friend MEANS not letting someone use you as a toilet, since that’s not really good for either one of you”.
    And then, there’s the “friend” who comes to you with a raft of problems and tribulations, and asks that question: “what would you do in my place”. It makes me giggle to think of what I wanted to say to the person and what I actually (more kindly) did say.

    There are, fortunately, many interesting characters around. I do so love those conversations with a group of long-time dear friends. Importantly, we know how to laugh at ourselves, and often the evening will end with us remarking: “Well, now that we have sorted out the world and its affairs, it’s time to go home”.

    As always, enjoyed reading your article, Joseph.

    Hermes

  48. Natalie says:

    I’m really enjoying the articles on your website. My mother was a narcissist, and I am just finishing up three years of intense trauma therapy, coming to terms with the repercussions of that and other things that happened in my past. What I’m reading here is confirming everything I’ve learned in the past three years. I have come to realize how unreciprocal many of my older friendships are. It’s a painful process letting go of some of these friends, but not as painful as being in a relationship where I feel invisible and like a vessel for someone else’s problems. I need more reciprocity in my life now. And I swear I’ve learned to spot a narcissist at ten paces. ;)

    I’ve always been the one who listens. I was trained well by my mother! I’m trying to balance things out more these days. And it’s amazing how long some people can go on talking about themselves if you let them! I am always impressed when someone takes a breath and asks me about my life. A real back-and-forth conversation is so much more satisfying than listening to someone speak exclusively about him- or herself.

    Anyway, I really just wanted to thank you for the helpful, well-written articles on your site. A very helpful resource for me.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      You’re welcome, Natalie. I was at a dinner party last weekend where one of the guests managed to turn every single thing anybody else said into a launching board for some (not very interesting) story about herself. It has been a long time since I’ve seen someone that narcissistic, and I agree with you that a real back-and-forth conversation is much more satisfying.

  49. John says:

    Reading this wonderful piece and all the fascinating comments has made me realize I’m a big-time narcissist. I’ve known who I am for a long time but I haven’t known the right word to use. I started reading this because I had looked up ‘toxic shame’. I have that too, as I understand the way it has been described here. My solution is not allowing people to make my life confusing. I live alone with my many computers, do contract work on the Internet, nobody bothers me, I don’t bother anybody else. I do get lonely though. I sometimes try to reach out to people that interest me but don’t get reciprocation and invariably drop it. Everything stays on this detached, superficial level. Most days I just do what I need to do. I don’t feel particularly happy, but when I feel sad I just focus on what I know and that makes me feel better. I’m not especially happy, but I’m not in crisis. Thanks to everybody for giving me some things to think about.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Hi John, the link between shame and narcissism is something I write about a lot on this site. You might take a look at some of the other posts under the Shame/Narcissism category in the menu to the far right.

  50. Sam says:

    Tip: If you are living with a narcissistic person, you might try rearranging your sentence structure when you have something important to say that you would like to be heard. Do not begin the sentence with “I.” Change the syntax — ideally, to begin with “You.” If that would be too artificial in the particular case, then begin with the object of the sentence. Often, this technique is not noticeable. At other times, the sentence sounds contorted. So eventually the narcissist will be onto you, and will be upset. But the technique will still work.

    A question: Is this personality style to some degree inherited? I read once that lack of social reciprocity, which is similar in a way, has a genetic component (twin studies in autism spectrum disorders). Thank you.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I don’t know about a genetic component, but narcissistic parents often beget narcissistic children because they have no capacity to empathize; thus their children don’t develop it, either.

  51. Linda says:

    What a great piece and lots of interesting responses. I’m interested in the subject mainly due to the fact that I ‘suspect’ my husband to be a narcissist and have always wondered whether he actually falls into the PD – category of narcissism or if he’s ‘just’ a little more self-absorbed than most of us and possibly also has a ‘touch of’ ADD. I’m a health professional and know myself as someone who’s not a ‘social butterfly’ but keenly interested in other people’s life and stories. I was raised to be kind and empathic, whereas my husband clearly lacks social skills, has hardly any friends, little interest in other people or their thoughts, poor listening skills. One may wonder ‘why marry a man like that?’ and there have been times where I did do ask myself that question. However, its clear that the reasons why people are attracted to each other are complex in nature. What puzzles me is that the man who otherwise exhibits narcissistic features on the other hand regularly shows an ability to care and be helpful and supportive (e.g. when I had postnatal depression), and has gone through fire to see his daughter (from a previous relationship). He feels strongly about family values and is ‘very good with’ certain people, like my own parents (when they visit). It makes me think that yes, we are very complex beings and what seems to be a narcissist can also be a person who cares and loves. Oh how much I wish I could get him analysed so I know who I am really dealing with…if I don’t already know…

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I think there are people who have a limited capacity to care about and empathize with other people but that doesn’t make them narcissists. Your husband sounds as if he cares deeply about a very few people in his world and the rest don’t matter.

      • Linda says:

        Yes that seems to be the case.. Thank you for taking the time to respond and keep writing such insightful articles.

  52. Tired says:

    I enjoyed your article very much. I have been searching for a while now for the answer to a question I am hoping you can answer. I have been married now for almost 30 years to what I believe is a narcissist. Extremely self absorbed, the kids and I don’t really exist, his way or no way, it’s always everyones fault, (you get the picture), the memory or lack there of is the killer. First of all trying to get him to hear anything that has nothing to do with him is impossible. Now, years older, he says he doesn’t remember, I can say where something is one day and the next it was as if I didn’t say it. It’s not early Altzheimers because if it is about him or something that is his, he knows. Same with conversations, if he’s interested, he remembers any other time forget it. I know I am an enabler and have for a while know stopped it. When you get tired or repeating things, he gets mad and says he was thinking about something, or reading etc., but when it’s me Its different. I’ve been to therapy, marriage counseling etc. Trying to explain this, I gave up a long time ago, I’ve tried everything, it’s a no win, not worth the drama, all you get is I know it’s my fault, I did it, the temper tantrum and everything else that goes along with it. My kids I feel bad for, grown now, they don’t really bother with him, unless he speaks first, they know it’s a lost cause. This is only the beginning of a long study, but please help, can someone be soooo self absorbed and does it get worse when they get older 54. Friend of ours is a dr. And he said he knew this years ago, we are just pieces of furniture, we don’t exist.
    Thank you

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      If I understand the question, then yes, someone can easily be that self-absorbed — you know that already from experience. And yes, it can get worse. Even if it’s not Alzheimer’s, certain modes of mental functioning can lead the mind to deteriorate over time.

  53. Tired says:

    He has no problem though, if he is interested in that particular conversation, a subject he wants to talk about. It’s when it has to do with me. I’ve still never been asked how was your day, whAt did you do, what did you buy, where did you go. When I try talking and never get a real response, I’m told I was thinking about something, reading something or watching tv. How do you not near someones voice when doing those things, he can really shut people out. He can be very interested in my day or myself when he wants something. It’s only about him…not even the kids, never asks them anything either. They would sat to him that he doesn’t know how old they are or what grade they were in. ( in 20s now). Please answer for me, others also want to know, why or how can I still take it after all these years. What is wrong with me? I’ve been told emotional abuse, blame game, turn around something so that I look like the bad one who starts things, ut in no way can you do it to him.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I don’t know how to answer your question. Sometimes when people come from deprived backgrounds, they cling to the bad parent no matter now awful, because a bad parent is better than no parent. It might be the same with your husband.

  54. Daniel says:

    I’m a narcissist in recovery.

    I desire to be as transparent with myself as possible, emotionally and mentally. But people (except my steady) in the past have not understood it or taken advantage of it. I’m made fun of for crying. many times past, which made it worse. The fact that I had to ‘take things like a man’ without physically crippling the person who provoked me led to many rounds of stress and frustration. By the way, I’ve never been charged with a criminal offense and intend to die that way unless someone lays a hand on the people who matter to me.

    Most of what adult hood has taught me is to be vigilant of other people’s “forgivable’ vices that they fully intend to get away with. I may have had one parent who spoiled me, but the way I see it, anyone who wants to pick a fight will do so, and use their sense of poverty to justify it if they think it can. If I hadn’t met my soulmate, I’d have just killed myself.

    I keep thinking I’m alright as long as people don’t provoke me but I seem to find that I’m as much as a sadist as any of the rest.

    I might be a narcissist, but at least I’m not a murderer, nor do I enjoy the tiny humiliations of others.

  55. Lynette says:

    Ah, for real, old-fashioned conversations! It often seems it’s a lost art—actually sharing ideas, philosophies, maybe thoughts about books, as I used to in Greenwich Village in the 1970s. We seem to have become a very practical nation; if it isn’t about money or can’t earn a dollar for us, it’s not worth talking about.

    I’ve been that person at a parties, and even networking events, who can’t believe how many guests marched up to me and began talking. And continued talking—about themselves, their possessions, their worries, their goals, their children. When I leave the events, it feels as if I know fewer people than I did when I arrived.

    I stay away from them now. I come from a narcissistic family, and have struggled with how to deal with a narcissistic family member for decades. So, although I admit I’m fascinated by narcissists, I already got my quota of them.

  56. forest23 says:

    I remember when I thought my husband’s “silence” was his strange way of listening. I would turn to him, look into his eyes and ask him “am I bothering you right now?, are you tired and don’t want to to listen?” He would shake his head no and say “huh? I’m listening” and then he would turn on the TV or walk out of the room. Fifteen years of this subtle and not so subtle invalidation has taken it’s toll on me. I had deaths in my family..brother’s suicide, mother’s profound alcoholism and my husband was annoyed with my pain and grief! Ha Ha hee hee hoo ho …too weird to get upset over. The only problem now is …….I can see Narcissists everywhere after “seeing” my husband for what he was. EEEEEuuuuuwww! creeps me out.

  57. Nancy says:

    I woke up this morning with the question in my head, “what makes a person narcissistic?” After stumbling around on the internet, I found your site and appreciate very much what you have to say. My real wondering is about the fact that I seem to perpetually attract the narcissistic conversationalist. I am naturally curious, ask great questions and am a good listener. I genuinely like these people whom I call friends, but should I actively set limits so that I am also being listened to? I suppose by searching out this question this morning, I am preparing myself for how to lovingly do this. If self esteem issues are at root, then I don’t want to cause hurt. So often, the talking on their part is about genuine concerns, not just blather. Also, I too often take my own counsel. My real source of frustration is how the same situation occurs so often. I plan little interventions, e.g., I give my friend a concern of mine or refrain from encouraging them. But when we take leave of one another, I am exhausted, I vow not to get together like that again. I review the encounter and become so discouraged when I realize they never asked me one question, or took note of one thing in my life. A particular pet peeve is when they wave to say goodbye and as an afterthought shout out, “hey, I forgot to ask you about your family, how are they?” Clearly I have work to do, but do I gently dump these friends and start over, or train myself to be a better advocate for my own needs? People tell me I am strong woman, but as I read these words, I see a wimp.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      You are not a wimp! I don’t think you need to dump these people … maybe see less of them and try to cultivate additional friends who might take an interest in you. But it will also be up to you to be more open, to ask for attention and interest (at least implicitly); if you’re like me, you’ll find that hard to do.

  58. allyson says:

    These people have no sorrow for anything they caused. They actually seem to want to inflict pain on others. that was my experience anyway. My ex-husband would tell me things he’d done, like cheating with certain women…and act like I had caused it to happen, it was always my fault! before i left him, he had no clue i was leaving him for good. For someone that claimed to know all of everything, he never saw that one coming!!Life is too short to be abused by someone. Any form of it is not right. I took it for too many years. I will not take it again, ever!! My ex still has some serious issues with the women in his past. he blames us for all of his failures in life, really? I know this because we have a 20 yr old son, who calls me from time to time, at times his dad might be around when he calls me. The rage and anger kicks in, verbally. I can hear him screaming obscene gestures over the phone to me…and i left this maniac in 2001 for good! All these years and the rage is still there, been brewing the whole time it seems like. While my life has improved greatly, in all aspects of the way. I hear he and his now gf are homeless a lot and bounce around from place to place staying wherever they can. I don’t miss that none, none of the abuse or poverty. I refuse to ever allow such horrific treatment towards myself again, by anyone!! That is not love! Love doesn’t hurt you.Love makes you feel wonderful and full of life, like i feel now.

    • Anonymous says:

      i been prayin to god give me answers…i been hurt for.6yr tryin to teach n prove love not knowin about this personality trait…the man i loved changed my world i was lost and scared then i.read about it n now confused n still depressd what do i do

      • allyson says:

        You have to be true to yourself, see things for what they really are. “If the shoe fits”,God answered my prayers, got me out of an extremely abusive marriage.God knew it wasn’t in my ex-husband to change into the husband that i had prayed for, so he made a way for me to get out safely and now i have that wonderful husband I prayed for, it’s just a different man!!! God don’t make mistakes. I to was very depressed, my ex-husband even tried to use that against me and have me “put away’ into a mental hospital, didn’t work out for him though…they saw through his deceitful nature! yes, living in a depressing marriage can cause depression. It will get better, if you only allow yourself to learn from this and do something about it, he’s not.Maybe God is trying to tell you something now? maybe by going to these sites, he’s showing you these people don’t change for the better, they can’t!! People who already think nothing is wrong with them, why would they change that? God works in mysterious ways, even through pc’s . I wish you the best in life. Take care.

  59. been_there says:

    spot on – question is how do you ever have two way conversation or even gain cooperation with folks who are self obsessed?

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      You don’t. You look elsewhere.

    • allyson says:

      You don’t!! The narcissist is only thinking of them self, so that means they could care less what you say or think.So, you have to end this type of abuse and make life good for yourself. When someone really loves another…they want them to share, they want to hear about what’s going on with them…I know i do. The only thing I ever got out of a relationship with a narcissist was”me me me”, that’s all they care about is “me me me’ all the time. Move on, go where your life is valued and loved…and appreciated for what it is, you!!

  60. Tea says:

    As others have stated many times… thank you, Dr. Burgo, for this straightforward blog about “I” and “me” conversations. Again like many other commenters I am genuinely interested in learning more about people; their backgrounds, their struggles, their passions. I learn from listening to others and asking questions. I am genuinely inquisitive in nature; I love hearing about other poeple.

    However, I, too, become discouraged when I have put a lot of time into learning about someone else and there is little effort on their part to learn about me. I realize that I need to offer more information at times and not expect these folks to ask questions… I am honestly trying to do this and also trying to not get upset when my romantic partner fails to ask me questions at certain times.

    I have been seeing a man who is caring, open, extremely intelligent, funny, and selfless in terms of his possessions and time for me. We are very open and honest with each other, and have a healthy relationship in many ways. I do not think he would be diagnosed as “narcissistic”; he is not malicious in any way, nor manipulative. I think he just doesn’t understand the taking-turns of a conversation (and perhaps has shame from childhood that makes him feel he needs to gain more attention or impress, but not overly-so). One time he even mentioned that he felt he was a bit self-involved (in terms of talking about himself, or hobbies/interests that he has, and not asking questions about the lives of others). He is very insightful about his good and bad qualities and we discuss these things openly (mine, too!).

    This person is very special to me and I appreciate his insight and the fact that he feels comfortable sharing his faults with me (and I have thanked him multiple times for sharing this with me).

    The reason I’m writing is because I don’t understand the best way to “help him change this behavior”… (is this even possible?!) without pointing this out each time it happens. I know he is vulnerable and that this behavior is a defense mechanism. And I am certain that he would like to be the best person he can be, and whenever I’ve talked to him in the past about something like this (for example a few weeks ago, he compared his past to my present and basically turned the issue at hand to be about him and no longer about me, unknowingly/it is not malicious), he understands, accepts, notices this and appreciates me mentioning it. This has happened twice, and he does not get upset or angry; “appreciative” is the best thing I can say. (He is a really great partner!)

    What else can I do to help him? Do I point this out each and every time it happens? Do I talk to him directly about a certain “sign” I might make when he starts doing this with me or friends/mutual acquaintances (shall I tug on my right ear/classically condition him?)? I really don’t want to hurt him. I know that he means well; he is honestly not aware that he is doing it and it is such a habit that he just falls back to talking about himself/how a current situation relates to him.

    One thing that I am curious about trying is from Sam’s post (from July 10, 2012): “try rearranging your sentence structure when you have something important to say that you would like to be heard. Do not begin the sentence with “I.” Change the syntax — ideally, to begin with “You.” If that would be too artificial in the particular case, then begin with the object of the sentence. Often, this technique is not noticeable.” What is a good example of this? I am trying to think of ways to get my partner to get more involved in asking me questions.

    I guess my biggest question is: “Is this an impossible task?”… Any comments or suggestions?

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Not impossible, especially given his openness. I’d just keep doing what you’re doing and offer gentle reminders. You might also try to make your comments humorous, so it doesn’t feel as if you’re placing too much weigh on it.

  61. Karen says:

    I’m new to your site and this was the first article that brought me here. I too have longed for the type of lively, intelligent and meaningful conversations that you speak of, but rarely have found them. They are so rare in fact, that I can only think of a few instances where I encountered such people and I was so delighted in the exchange that I enthusiastically recounted the conversation to my husband and friend. In fact, I felt so disappointed that I turned to the Internet with the hopes of finding similar like-minded people instead of what I usually experienced–the people that drone on incessantly about their personal issues, problems and kids. Like many people here I’ve wondered how they can rattle on without ever seeming to stop or take a breath, let alone evaluate or gauge the interest of their audience. I have broad interests too and yearn to talk to other like-minded engaging people and this recurring pattern was very discouraging. All ll I can say is that almost every attempt to try to initiate a conversation about something other than personal problems or kids resulted in epic failure. Instead it always returns to these types dominating all conversations about their needs, issues and topics that only they are interested in and it’s always kids, kids, kids. Sadly, I find this much more problematic with women than with men too, although I have a different set of issues with them.

    I have a story to tell about my sister-in-law and the one and only time that she ever asked me anything about myself. She inquired what we “my future husband” and I had done that day. As I started to respond–I shared how we walked along the beach, hiking ,etc., she interrupted and then blurted, “I can’t believe we have so little in common,” and then proceeded to talk all about herself and her interests–what she bought, etc. It was a real conversation stopper, but she was like that and it was always about her. She never asked me about myself or ever showed the slightest bit of interest in me ever again. I was a source of competition. She was only capable of talking about herself and only asks my husband intrusive questions which he interprets as her prying to see if there are any marital issues that she can gossip about and spread the bad news to other family members.

    I’ve always been a polite, considerate and empathetic listener and demonstrated a genuine interest in other people and for my efforts–my interest, sensitivity and caring was never reciprocated. There was never any balance. Most of these people my husband tolerated and expected me to do the same. I also met some of them through work, etc.

    I rarely ask questions though, because truthfully my experience of most people, especially women is that they try to treat me like a therapist. They dump and unload on me and tell me things that I don’t ask and don’t want to know and incessantly try to manipulate me into responding to their needs and all about them. It has all been very one-sided and I’ve never been able to get a word in edgewise. Any mention of my own needs results in lack of empathy or resentment. All too often I’ve felt overwhelmed–like a listening service (well trained too by my mother and sisters) and a therapist rather than a human being with her own valid thoughts, feelings and needs. I’m burned out–all tapped out. I’ve become less social and less trusting, although I do have one very close friend that I deeply value. Still he’s been guilty of treating me like a therapist too, although I do feel that he values me. If someone were to ask me any questions now I’d just assume that they had an agenda and were trying to sell me something. I don’t know if I ever expected more, but like you I used to extend myself to new people with great enthusiasm and put forth a lot of time and energy in entertaining. I ultimately was so disappointed that so little came back that I’ve lost all interest and now don’t desire to expend the energy at all. If it’s not reciprocated I stop too. I discussed this on other sites, but didn’t quite find the type of responses that it seemed to generate here. I also loved your article.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I so relate to your comment. What I find as I get older is that I am developing “relationships” with writers and thinkers, people whose works I read, and that many of these relationships are more interesting to me than my connections to actual people I know. I read and think a lot; I enjoy the pleasure of my own company, but I do long for stimulating conversation. I enjoy talking to my kids — they have such interesting minds as they grow older!

      • Karen says:

        Me too. I’m an avid reader, however I don’t have access to those writers, but have often commented on blogs. One of the best relationships that I’ve developed was a fluke encounter on an online forum, which I’ve cultivated over time. I’ve often reflected about the depth of this relationship, how it came to be and why I have felt more connected to this person than most of my connections to actual people, although he is an actual person. And the sad thing is there were angry people, exhibiting all the negative characteristics of groups, who ganged up and tried to negatively influence me to not interact with him online (long story). Ultimately, I think forging a connection through writing is what helped to make it stronger as it developed more slowly. It all began through exchanges on a forum which progressed to private emails and phone calls and eventually meeting in person. It was never rushed and first impressions were not formed by immediate physical presence and the limitations that creates. I sometimes ponder that writing tends to be contemplative and people who are drawn to it tend to be more effective communicators–they evaluate the weight of words and their audience. Reading also requires some active participation. I feel it’s a type of listening, one less prone to all the deficiencies one experiences in actual face-to-face encounters that we’ve discussed here–people focused on themselves, being inattentive and distracted, incessantly interrupting and basically demonstrating poor listening skills.

        I’d love to develop relationships with some of the people whose works I read (lucky you), as I feel too that what I get from reading their works is far more interesting and beneficial to me than my connections to actual people as well, which basically feel so limited and lacking. I can relate to much of your response as well–that you read and think a lot and enjoy the pleasure of your own company, but still long for stimulating conversation too. I guess this is one such way to meet that need.

        One more thing, if I’d ever met a parent like you I would not have such an aversion to “kid talk”, in small interesting doses, however that’s not been my experience. I cannot begin to tell you how refreshing it is to hear you express appreciation of your kids growing minds rather than the usual refrain that I hear from most parents focusing solely on how they enjoy their kids most when they are toddlers and babies with disparaging comments and complaints about the teen years and what often sounds like outright hatred.

        Thank you for your reply.

      • Maria Paz Carretero says:

        I feel the same way now. I think I am hiding a bit behind books. Only children I find refreshing!

  62. Karen says:

    BTW–I posed the question, “does anyone get tired of listening to people constantly talking about their kids,” in the search engine and it brought me here.

    It also listed some great quotes about listening and I especially loved this one:

    “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
    ― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

    And this one:

    “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
    ― Ralph G. Nichols

  63. Jan says:

    Love this article!

    I have experienced this SO often, and honestly, I don’t have more than one or two people I consider dear friends. Most people are so self involved that a genuine friendship with them is not even possible, because of the lack of reciprocity.

    I struggle with this problem in my own family. I have one sibling, a sister, whom is just a year younger than me. We were very close growing up. As an adult, though, she has become extremely materialistic and superficial. On a typical day out together, we shop (her choice) for things she wants at stores she wants to visit, and discuss everything she wants to talk about, which is usually herself. She will literally go on and on about some minor thing in her life for a half an hour before even giving me an opportunity to participate. I don’t feel valued. I have two adopted children, both of whom have special needs (both have ADHD, and one is also on the autism spectrum). I would love it if my sister demonstrated some concern for me and my life. If I try to bring up anything that is going on with me (that actually matters to me), she quickly shuts me down and changes the subject. If I express my concern about anything related to my kids, she minimizes it, stating that things could be worse. I also like to talk about current events, and she never wants to really discuss these things. She would rather talk about people and things she is doing and things she wants to buy.

    You would think I would stop looking for something in her that she does not have the capacity to give. Yet, I still desperately want to matter to her. I keep trying so hard, and I don’t have any other friends geographically nearby. It’s very difficult to have a social life while raising special needs children.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      It sure is. And I understand your attachment to your sister. Sometimes it’s very hard to face the painful fact that someone we care about may NEVER be able to give us the emotional connection we long for.

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  65. Maria Paz Carretero says:

    Thank you very much, Sr. Burgo for putting into words what I naturally have detected in my country Spain ever since I was a little girl!!!
    I have suffered this kind of situation here in Spain for so long. I have always known deep inside that something was wrong here in our culture. When I went to live to Japan -I lived there for more than 10 years- then I realized that the way the Japanese people interact with each other is much more healthy because they listen and ask questions, they want to know you, they pause and wait naturally and if they do not want to say anything, well they don´t say it. They allow for space in the conversations. They do not have the compulsion to talk. They own their own emotions. Maybe the conversation is not very deep but it is not neurotic. It is relaxing!!!
    Now I am back in Spain to live and I do not enjoy talking to people. They shout, they do no know how to listen, they are not interested in you AT ALL even if you could supply something new or other points of view. They do not care. In fact I think they feel threatened by it. They always know better than you, and oh! It is so BORING apart from crazy and emotional turmoil. I miss terribly having that type of conversation that is away from oneself. I miss discussing ideas -even crazy ones- just for the sake of exploring. Now I understand better the “whys” of this behaviour -Spanish families are the most disfunctional that I have ever seen and I have lived for long periods in different cultures. The lack of self conciousness is everywhere here. Oh! so many things to say more but I am running out of time, I am afraid!
    Thanks for “listening”…
    I appreciate you Web very much and your generosity for sharing all this so so important.

    Have a good day Sr. Burgo

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Sorry for the long delay in getting back to you. That’s very interesting, what you say about the Japanese. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that before. I’ve heard more about the formality and distance in their relationships, but maybe that’s just on the surface.

  66. beth says:

    Thank you for this great article. I am wondering if you – or anyone else on here – has some advice on something. I am recently married, and I don’t want to diagnose my mother-in-law but she has some kind of inability to stop talking. I find myself getting emotionally drained around her because she never stops talking (for hours), and if I ever try to interrupt, she usually will talk over me and take back the floor after less than one sentence. I am an introverted person and generally quiet/a good listener, but I am finding it impossible to have a conversation with her because, while I enjoy listening to her stories, I feel that my patience wears down after 45 minutes to an hour of her monologing without a break. I am troubled and sad that I cannot have a good relationship with her, and that she really knows nothing about me given that she has never given me the chance to speak, and honestly I am starting to seriously resent her as a result which is not my objective. Ironically, as a profession, she is a therapist.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Unfortunately, it sounds as if she is incapable of authentic relationship. Realistically, you probably need to keep your distance to the extent possible and seek out other people who will take a genuine interest in you.

      And she’s a therapist! Her poor clients!

  67. kathy says:

    I find it fascinating that this discussion spans from November 2010 till October 2013. Clearly this is an issue with a broad sweep. For years I have had to duck neighbors, make excuses to break away from one-sided soliloquies, and endure these mind-numbing bores. The difficult thing is that they are usually nice people, just so darned oblivious to interactive communication. When it dawned on me that narcissism is at the heart of this, I googled this which ultimately brought me here. Conversation is meant to be mutually satisfying. Asking a person about his ideas, opinions, and yes personal affairs is a gesture of caring. So what does it mean if the other person never wants to know anything about you? So I find myself less patient, less tolerant, and more bothered by this type of self-absorption. I just spent a week with my mother. Unless I volunteered something she would never think to ask about my life. As I too am a mom, I find this so odd. I am so interested in how my children think, feel, dream. Thanks for offering up this honest forum. It’s a bit of a relief to read these shared responses.

  68. Cee says:

    Thank you for the article! I’ve been encountering co-workers who initiate conversations with me, but all conversations lead to them talking about their lives and family and when I wait for a break to interact, they actually turn away from me and stop listening. So, I cut my comments short and shut-up and they start up again, talking for long periods of time while I stupidly listen. I’ve been searching for “why?”, which brought me to this web site. I sometimes wonder what I’ve done or said. I also have coworkers who go out of their way to not speak to me, even after I’ve said “good morning!” Then the next time I see them, they will not look at me, in order not to have to speak. I usually just stop trying after several attempts. I don’t understand why anyone would act this way when we “supposedly” work in a professional environment. It becomes depressing when it’s more than 5 people (women and men) that do this.
    Is his narcissistic behavior too?

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