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- Conversational narcissism is the tendency to steer conversations back to yourself.
- It is a tactic narcissists use that the victims only notice when it makes them feel like they’re going crazy, although people who aren’t narcissistic can be guilty of it too.
- Rather than supporting the other person in what they say, they manipulate the conversation by shifting every point to be about them.
- “Because these conversations are never truly about you, the narcissist reinforces the belief that you are supposed to give, give, give to get an inch of their attention,” said coach Cherlyn Chong. “Your role is to support, soothe, or even stroke their ego.”
- This makes the victim feel like they have no voice, and it can be exhausting, frustrating, and confusing.
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Narcissists hate it when the focus is on other people. Occasional they emphasize and gloat about the achievements of the people they know, because they like to bask in the glory of being connected to them.
But they can only stand it for so long, and they usually prefer to dominate conversations with their own thoughts and opinions.
“Conversational narcissism” is a term coined by the sociologist Charles Derber, author of “The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life.” It described a tactic narcissists use that their victims only notice when it makes them feel like they’re going crazy. But people who aren’t narcissistic can be guilty of doing it too – just without the bad intentions.
Cherlyn Chong, a coach who helps professional women recover from toxic exes, told INSIDER conversational narcissism is the tendency to steer conversations back to yourself.
“The person then takes over most of the talking and makes it about them,” she said. “For many people, this shift happens subtly and unconsciously, and most doing the shifting are unaware it is even occurring.”
If you use the “support response” when talking to someone, 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 feel you. 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.”
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Narcissists can take the shift response to the next level, said Chong. One, they “pepper the conversation with disinterested support responses,” to give the illusion they are listening. And two, they shift 90% of the conversation towards them and their needs.
“Because these conversations are never truly about you, the narcissist reinforces the belief that you are supposed to give, give, give to get an inch of their attention,” Chong said. “Your role is to support, soothe, or even stroke their ego.”
They will probably even guilt-trip you if you try and make any of the conversation about you, or expressing yourself in any way. This keeps you “malleable and docile,” Chong said, and “perfect for their manipulations.”
It’s a very subtle trick narcissists use to make their victims subservient, so it’s unlikely you will immediately notice if it’s happening to you. But if you feel cut off, denied, or frustrated talking to someone, this could be why.
“You’ll feel like you have ‘no voice’ after a while, and might even feel doubtful about expressing yourself in other conversations,” said Chong. “When you leave the conversation, you might feel a sense of something being unresolved or feel queasy in the stomach.”
Don’t be surprised if there is a little anger too, she added. “After all, you’ve just been invalidated.”
Chong said the first step to getting your power back is realizing you have reason to be feeling the way you do – you’re not being irrational. Secondly, you can then try and catch the attention when you feel it being taken from you.
A non-narcissistic person is more likely to understand they’re steamrolling the conversation and back off a bit. A narcissist, however, won’t be so willing to let the spotlight go.
“This will irritate the narcissist, but will lessen their control,” Chong said. “Be level-headed and calm, and withdraw any form of support for them. If there is no energetic exchange, the narcissist cannot win.”
In short, narcissists are bad listeners, and not allowing them to steal all the limelight will be uncomfortable for them. If they’re being unbearably difficult, you can say you need a break and walk away.
“Doing so might result in the narcissist feeling confused, and they will leave you alone,” said Chong.