As humans, we love talking about ourselves. It’s an innate trait that helps us connect with others and be vulnerable when needed. Healthy conversations consist of both parties sharing facts and stories about their lives. However, narcissistic individuals hate when the focus is on other people. They will start to dominate conversations with their own thoughts and opinions, earning them the title of conversational narcissists.
This concept was coined by Charles Derber, a sociologist and author. He states that these type of people almost always takes over the conversation and make it about them. For many, this shift happens subtly and unconsciously while the other parties are almost unaware it’s even occurring. If someone uses the "support response" when talking to others, the focus is kept on them. But conversational narcissism means people use the "shift response" as they try and claim that limelight for themselves. For example, if someone says they have a headache, a support response would be "I understand. Is it a headache? I have something for that," while a shift response is "Me too, I barely got any sleep last night because of the kids.”
Narcissists can take the shift response to the next level. First, they “pepper” the conversation with disinterested support responses to give the illusion they’re listening. Next, they shift 90% of the conversation towards them and their needs. And because these conversations are never truly about you, the narcissist reinforces the belief that you are supposed to give and give to get an inch of their attention. Your role is to basically support, soothe, or even stroke their ego, creating a toxic relationship. It’s important to note that conversational narcissists don’t necessarily meet the criteria for a formal diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. They may actually be very anxious and bind their anxiety by talking about what is familiar to them - which may be themselves.
Fortunately, there are many signs that can indicate whether you or someone you know is a conversational narcissist. They usually:
Here’s how to respond to a conversational narcissist:
And lastly, if you feel that you talk too much about yourself in conversations, here’s how to avoid being a conversational narcissist:
These are simple conversational strategies that can be largely overlooked. Sometimes it’s the basic rules that we forget about that can create amazing conversations with others.
Dodgson, L. (2019). Narcissists use a subtle conversation tactic to make everything about them, and you may not notice it until its driving you crazy. Insider. Retrieved from https://www.insider.com/how-conversational-narcissism-makes-you-feel-like-youre-going-crazy-2019-7
Moore, A. (2020). 4 signs you’re talking to a conversational narcissist. Mindbodygreen. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/conversational-narcissist-definition-and-signs