I have been pondering this question a long time: what do you do about someone who constantly and without fail hijacks conversation so that it is directed (or redirected) toward herself? Specifically, I have a friend, someone I’ve known a long time, who, if you start talking about a personal problem, say insomnia or an argument with your spouse or difficulty with a boss or problems losing weight, will immediately shift the focus to herself and then not let go. She is an extremely nice person and her m.o. is always to answer the other person’s question with examples from her own life before moving on to her own concerns in a way that drowns out the possibility of any other conversation. This usually happens in a small yoga class she and I take together — six or so women plus an instructor. No one ever tries to stop her, which I find maddening. She is the same in other settings as well. Please suggest a kind way to address this problem.
Thanks in advance,
You must know by now that, in my view, honesty is always the best policy. Your friend, no doubt, has narcissistic tendencies. She wants attention focused solely on herself and exhibits no awareness of how off-putting that might be to other people. She must be in control at all times — in control of conversation as well as of the environment around her. One of the most important things to narcissists is that people understand how special and unique they are. Another common denominator is that they lack both empathy and self-awareness. My advice? You’re not going to be able to change her. The best you can do is gently but firmly correct her every time she interrupts/hijacks the conversation. You can remind her in a non-confrontational tone that you were speaking and aren’t finished yet. The next time she does it, remind her again — and let her know she cannot have the talking stick until you’re done. Keep repeating that behavior, but always gently, with kindness and humor. As I said, you won’t change her, but you might make her think twice before she attempts to shift the attention to herself — that is, as long as she’s around you. Be aware, however, that she may begin to regard you as an adversary and that your relationship with her may turn into one of hostility and discord. It’s up to you to decide whether that risk is worth it. In my experience, friendships with narcissists are pretty much always on their terms. In other words, accept them with their limitations and have realistic expectations.
REACTIONS TO MARRIED TO A MANIPULATOR
I love it! Your wife must be amazing to watch in action, a real go-getter. I wish my wife had smarts like that. If I were you, I’d lie back and enjoy the results of her efforts, no problem.
Henry G., Albuquerque, NM
I don’t agree with Knowles. If you don’t like your wife’s behavior, you should discuss it with her and ask her to stop, or at least try and moderate a little so you aren’t embarrassed when she pretends to be good friends with someone she’s never met. In my opinion, it’s always best to be honest about your thoughts and feelings. Sincerely,
Connie B., Charlotte, NC
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Disclaimer: CD Knowles is not a doctor or psychotherapist. Any opinions expressed on Knowles Knows are just that — opinions.