2023 Grateful 7: Conversational Narcissism

I found myself explaining an Irishism the other day to an American friend who had looked blankly as I used it to describe someone in conversation.

A mé féiner.

It comes from the Irish for myself – mé féin – and it’s used to describe someone who is all about themselves and nobody else. They talk at you, not to you. They might occasionally ask you a question about yourself but they will barely give you time to answer before launching down another mé féin avenue. From an Irish perspective, it’s one of the worst things that could be said about you.

It got me thinking, though, about how conditioned we are to be self-centred – to focus on ourselves and what we do. The whole social media phenomenon is about just that – showing the world how we’re living our best life. Self-promotion. Be it real or fake.

Many of us listen to respond, not to understand. Who has time to understand? We live in an increasingly fast-paced world in which we deal with ever-shorter attention spans. If we want to have our say, we need to get it said – and quickly.

Sociologist Charles Derber coined the term conversational narcissist to describe those who, consciously or unconsciously, turn the conversation back to themselves.

I was horrified when I heard myself do this.

How are you?

Am okay – I’m dealing with a lot right now.

Oh, what’s up?

X happened.

How odd. The same thing happened to me last week. It was awful, etc., etc., etc.

Yes. Of course I want to share my experience if its relevant and if whomever I’m talking to might learn from my mistakes – but now I preplay the conversation in my head to see if it is really about that or if it’s a subconscious need to put myself back in focus.

Richard Leider has an interesting article about it and how to check to see if you’re a CN, however unknowingly. In it, he refers to Carl Rogers’ rule in the counsellor/client relationship:

We must “be someone with” rather than “do something to” our client.

It’s far easier to do something than be someone. It’s far easier to offer solutions than to sit and listen. It’s far easier to jump in with suggestions rather than hear the other person out. I know. Believe me. I know. I’m a work in progress.

Real interest is rare. And valuable. And too often underrated or worse still, taken for granted. In an interview with James Grissom in 1991, Katharine Hepburn said as much:

You’ll learn as you live a bit longer that there are very few people who are really interested in who you are and what you’re doing: That handful who do care and who do want to see you do well are treasures. Hold them very dear and very close to you. Forgive them almost anything. Be there for them. #FolliesOfGod

To those of you who read this, who take the time to comment, who call to catch up when something clicks with you – thank you. Thank you for your interest.

For more on Irishisms, check out Aimee Alexander’s The Little Book of Irishisms 

7 Responses

  1. I deal with a number of clients and to be able to do my job I have to ask them a lot of questions to ascertain their requirements (most of the time they need help to decide what their requirements really are). I get on well with my clients, if I didn’t I wouldn’t work for them but it always interests me that at the end of the project I will know and great deal about them, including a lot of very personnel information, whilst most will know very little about me. I don’t think that this is just because it is a professional relationship, people enjoy speaking about themselves and if you don’t offer they seem to see little reason to find out about me……no doubt for the reasons that you have aired above. Long may this position last.

  2. I checked out the Irishisms too – love that ‘Smithereens is derived from the Irish word “smidiríní” meaning little bits.’

  3. I love the post, and agree completely… I spent hours trying to configure my computer to allow me to make a comment in the midst of all of my security gates, because you offered appreciation for comments. As I type this, it occurs to me we have to learn not only to listen (or read) but to show that we’re listening… Grateful for you and your blogs, Mary

  4. Back to me…(hah!) I chime in with a bit from my life that seems to fit the puzzle that is the conversation. But I can certainly see that my motives can at times be self-serving.

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