Probably as soon as we try to remember, we will find examples of moments when someone we are close to had to come to terms with a loss, was sad or scared, did not know how to react or was just not feeling good.
Furthermore, we can likely remember a situation when we tried to help someone and the answer was an expression of anger, contempt or an attitude of reproach against our so-called help. This can cause an atmosphere of bitterness and discomfort on both sides, which may hold us from making any future effort to support him.
Where does this reaction come from?
The described situation can happen when the person we are willing to help tells us about his problem and his feelings on the matter and the help we offer him is based on our own experience. This is a commonly used resource. We would start explaining him how we confronted a similar situation, what happened exactly, how we felt about it, who offered us some help and who did not do it, then how we handled it.
This strategy, even if it is well-intended, will not be effective. People who share their problems and feelings with us seek to be listened but if we adopt this approach, we are forcing them to listen to our own past problems instead. This can cause them to feel a deep sense of being misunderstood and lack of care about their emotional state, given that while we talk about ourselves, we are neglecting their concerns.
In order to refer to this phenomenon, the sociologist Charles Derber coined the term “conversational narcissism”, i.e. the unconscious tendency to yearn to take over the conversation, leading the information exchange so that it can be focused on oneself.
The type of responses we tend to give are “I know how you are feeling, I was there too” “I also feel that way. In fact, this thing happened to me today…” “We have all ever gone through something like that…”
Alternatives to conversational narcissism
In order to ensure that conversational narcissism is not highjacking our talks, we can give a support-response, i.e. a response expressing interest in the well-being of the person who has decided to tell us about his current situation. Bearing this in mind, asking turns out to be the best way to show interest in this person as well as to help him feel comforted and understood: how do you feel? What happened to you? What are your thoughts about it? Do you want to seek professional help?
By doing this, we focus our attention on his own unrest as well as on understanding better how he feels so as to offer him help in the most appropriate way and prevent any of the conflicts explained above.
P.S.: If you want to have therapy in English, you are welcomed at Alba´s. Click here to know more: https://www.albapsicologos.com/terapia-en-ingles/
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Traducción: Víctor López Virgos