It Isn't Always About You

I just read an article by Celeste Headlee that was published in the Huffington Post. It really resonated with me. It made me think and it made me squirm a bit, too.

Are you listening to me?

I imagine you've all been in a situation where you are feeling frustrated, angry, sad, or even happy. You tell your friend about what you're feeling and they turn the conversation back to themselves.

It goes something like this:

You: "I can never remember anything. Chemobrain is driving me nuts."
Them: "Oh, I know! I never had chemo, but I sure do have chemobrain. It is awful..."

Really? Just exactly how do you have chemobrain without ever having had chemo? And, is this response designed to make me feel better about my own situation?

Meaningless apologies

I got a text message from a friend the other day after several weeks of silence. It was supposed to bring me solace for the fact that my only son passed away. It read:

I'm thinking of you daily. I'm sorry I've been off the grid. No excuse. Ugly breakup with work. Been sick, etc. Still no excuse. Daughter's brother-in-law was found dead last week. Overdose. Still no excuse. I just want you to know how much I care and worry about you. I may not do well at showing it. Life is so complex. No excuse.

As I read the message, I nodded my head in affirmation every single time she wrote, "No excuse." The entire message was about her and her problems. They didn't relate to my situation at all.

We're all at fault sometimes

And, while I can cast stones at others who are egotistical in their responses to those who need a listening and understanding ear, I am not without fault. Far from it, unfortunately.

A woman I will call Beth posted on a forum about losing her mother. She called her "my best friend, foundation, my rock." But, there was more to the story than just losing her mom. Beth felt guilty. She didn't recognize that her mom was not doing well because she was focused on her own new breast cancer diagnosis. She felt somewhat responsible for the fact that her mom had passed away.

Beth wrote, "I need to move forward. I don't know how."

Her pain didn't reach my heart. In fact, I am ashamed to admit that I thought something like, "Oh yeah. I get it. I have been fighting lung cancer for six years. I just lost my only child. You could have it worse."

I wrote a long response to her. I told her all about how I was handling my own grief. I made it all about me. Oh, I threw in a couple of comments here or there that made it sound like it was about her, but it was mostly all about me.

Dangers of conversational narcissism

This is called “conversational narcissism.” And, it isn't helpful at all. In some cases, it is not only not helpful, but it is hurtful. It is taking a conversation and making it about you. It happens all of the time. Almost everyone is guilty of it at one time or another.

The better response to someone who needs empathy is called the support response. It keeps the focus on the person who needs understanding, help, or just a listening ear. It goes like this,

You: "I can never remember anything. Chemobrain is driving me nuts."
Them: "I am sorry. What issues are you having?"

Inward reflections and resolutions moving forward

After I read Headlee's article, I was very embarrassed by the way I responded to Beth. I had tried to make her pain, trials, and tribulations, all about me. While I was so quick to point the finger at others who tend toward conversational narcissism, I wasn't recognizing it in myself.

I am resolving now to be more aware of how I respond to friends and acquaintances who are in need of understanding. I am going to try to take the time to analyze whether I am making the conversation about me, rather than actually listening to their needs. If I succeed, it will make me a better friend.

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