Conversations and communication make up a big part of all relationships.
We all know that.
But do we know how to have an emotionally healthy communication pattern with others? Do we know how to spot unhealthy communication patterns? (Hint: there are lots).
We all communicate in different ways with various individuals, due to the differing dynamics we share.
Overtime, each relationship will develop a pattern of communication.
The problem with patterns is that a lot of them have glaring red or amber flags. And these build up over time, and are mostly allowed to fester with either party refusing to address them.
The longer the relationship, the more deeply-rooted these ‘problematic’ patterns can be as people settle into a comfortable status quo-type situation and are unwilling to do anything to change it.
I hope to make this an ongoing series, where I talk about the various types of challenging relationships and what you can do about them. In this post, I talk about how having someone in your life who has a self-centred pattern of communication can affect you, and how not having the right boundaries could leave you feeling very unimportant, unhappy and even used.
All talk, no ears
I’m sure you’ve been in some conversations/friendships where you are
- Confiding in someone/telling them about your day only to have them interrupt you about their day?
- Seeking some solace in them but only to have them tell you they/their sister/friend/mother has experienced the same thing and go on to talk about those experiences, turning the conversation back to them?
The examples above indicate conversations that are:
- One-sided, one party talking at the other person
- Lack of listening.
- Well, aren’t even conversations! But are more like monologues.
They may leave you feeling a mix of the following: irritated, unheard/not listened to, unimportant, unhappy and perhaps downright angry.
If this carries on too long, resentment will start to build.
Conversations involve 2 people or more discussing a topic and participating/listening in equal amounts.
But conversational narcissists love dominating the conversation for whatever reason.
It is a pattern of talking where the narcissist always manages to find a way to shift the conversation back to them.
Anything that is characterised by one party doing way much more talking than the other, especially at the expanse of the other party’s “airtime” might spell trouble ahead in the relationship.
Why do some people do this?
There are some people who genuinely think that whatever they say is extremely important and needs to be heard. That it’s more important/sounds smarter/better/insert adjective than whatever anyone else has to say.
They prize their thoughts and expressions above others and simply don’t really care to hear what others think.
Attention-seeking/Fear of not being heard
Interestingly, some conversational narcissists or dominant conversationalist types might have grown up in an environment which made them feel unheard or uncared for, and might not have gotten the attention they wanted.
This fear and lack of attention might have manifested in a communication pattern of talking loudly, talking constantly or talking over others.
They might have learnt, along the way, that doing this will make others pay attention to them or listen to them (the end-reward). Each time they do this, they get rewarded and this forms a behaviour pattern that carries into adulthood.
This sort of behaviour might stem from some insecurity and the constant fear their voice might be drowned out.
Impatient, poor listeners
One characteristic trait of these people is that unfortunately, they make rather poor listeners.
Whilst the other person is talking, they are already thinking of what they would like to say next. And some just blurt it out, interrupting the other mid-conversation.
No malice intended though.
They might have grown up in an environment where everyone is just talking over everybody else and where listening is not really impressed upon them or where there is a lack of role models to look up to.
The unfortunate thing is many are unaware they are such poor listeners, and you might have to make it known to them.
Discomfort with emotions
People who feel uncomfortable with emotional expressions may choose to gloss over emotions that arise in conversations. They have no idea how to deal with them.
So when it does come up, they brush it off, laugh it off, pretend they didn’t hear, say something quite flippant or draw it back to familiar topics (themselves).
If you do have a habit of doing this, you probably could ask yourself what is it about someone else’s emotional expressions that make you uncomfortable? Are you also emotionally unexpressive yourself? If so, why?
When you begin to confide in them, you may notice that these individuals tend to completely gloss over the emotional aspects of the conversation and hop right into finding solutions.
The intentions are usually good, but it ends up making the other party feel unheard and frustrated. Sometimes all people are looking for is emotional validation, not solutions.
Validation makes us feel heard and that our emotions are important and valued.
How do you deal with them?
Check your feels
How do u feel after conversing with them? Drained? Happy? Ignored? Your emotions are always an indicator of what is going on.
Not all friendships, relationships or conversations are perfectly balanced. But if feeling ignored or unheard is a mainstay or main pattern in your relationship, pay close attention to it.
Talking to them about it
Some people truly do not know that they are conversational narcissists! They might have gone through life without anyone telling them this.
Talk to them about it. Gently and not in a confrontational way. Focus on the behaviour and how it makes you feel, ie, “Sometimes I feel ignored when we talk and I’m interrupted constantly”. Instead of making it personal, ie, “You are a really bad listener”.
But do be aware that this method does not work on everyone. Sometimes addressing aspects of a person’s behaviour makes them more defensive. Or they might simply not want to change. If that were the case:
Draw your boundaries
When I had a friend like this, I just limited contact and communication. The friendship seemed to feed off my responses to their texts. Hanging out in person was also painful.
This communication pattern will continue if you let it. Remember, we all have a choice in who we want to hang out with.
If we are in a situation with people we are forced to interact with (ie: colleagues), some ways of handling them include:
- Keeping the conversation short and focused.
- Telling them gently you are busy and you’ll have to chat another time
- Not asking questions and keeping communication closed.
Have ‘closed’ conversations
Number 3 is especially useful. These people thrive off your questions and ‘open patterns of communication’.
Open communication is where you both freely elaborating on whatever you are saying (‘tell me more’ instead of ‘yes or no?’), or asking questions. The more you ask, the more it gives them the chance to talk and interrupt.
Don’t ask questions, just keep it brief and limited.
If you do have to ask anything, frame your questions in a manner which is close-ended (allows for brief, yes/no responses) instead of a more open manner that allows them to elaborate.
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