Narcissists not only tend to make all the decisions in their relationships to others, but they also monopolize every conversation and turn you into a silent listener. They never seem to get tired to talk about their achievements, their problems, their life story, their jobs, and they don’t really seem to be that interested in anything we might have to contribute to the conversation. While we might, at the beginning, still try to participate actively in our conversations with the narcissists, we soon begin to abandon the attempts and accept our roles as silent listeners, nodding along smiling to whatever they have to say. The narcissists’ tendency to be the dominant part in every conversation might seem like a harmless little quirk – especially when compared to such harmful modes of behavior as their deceitfulness, inconsistency, triangulation and manipulation. However, after a certain amount of time, being degraded to silent listener can also take its toll on us. We get used to swallow our own contributions and begin to feel that we have nothing important to say. We might even end up feeling neglected and losing touch with ourselves as a consequence of not being taken seriously.
Some might argue that we are partly to blame if we allow others to be so dominant, because we apparently just don’t try hard enough to bring ourselves into the conversations. This might partly be true for some of us. Especially codependent people and people pleasers accept their role as passive listeners without much resistance. We usually have low self-esteem and as a consequence tend to believe that what we have to say is not as important, interesting or relevant. Furthermore, out of a deep wish of being polite and of pleasing the narcissists, we don’t dare to interrupt their never-ending flow to bring in our own thoughts. We are convinced that whatever they have to say is much more interesting than anything we could contribute to the conversation. We also soon come to the conclusion that it makes the narcissists really happy to talk about themselves and to have found such patient listeners in us. Because we want the narcissists to be satisfied, we stoically accept the role given to us and maybe cling to the faint hope that one day they will run out of topics and then our turn will come. As is the case with so many hopes we nourish with regard to the narcissists, we at one point have to let go of them. I have come to realize that narcissists never run out of topics and never get tired of talking about themselves. Our turn will likely never come.
The narcissist I dated monopolized almost every conversation we ever had (apart maybe from the ones on our first date). It would be unfair to suggest that all he ever talked about was himself, as he could indeed also talk very enthusiastically about a bunch of other topics. However, he clearly enjoyed presenting his life story over and over again. During the few months the two of us dated, I learned a lot about his unhappy childhood, his job, his college years, his existence as a lone wolf, his achievements, his talents, his relations to his exgirlfriend, sister, parents etc.
At the beginning I was thrilled by it. I was an ardent listener, convinced that everything he had to say was interesting, important and special. I could listen to him for hours and never get bored. I was used to being the dominant part in my conversations and interactions with others and it somehow felt nice to be the listener for once. Listening to his extraordinary stories, I got the feeling that whatever I would have to contribute to the conversation would seem boring, trivial and uninteresting in comparison. As a result, I often kept my mouth shut and contented myself with being the passive listener. However, after a few months I began feeling frustrated as a result of my conviction that I had nothing interesting to say and that I was passive and boring. I also was frustrated because I sensed that the narcissist was not really interested in anything I had to say, and that I would likely never become an active participant in our conversations. Because I got so used to swallow my own thoughts and views, I began to lose touch with myself. I was so obsessed with keeping the narcissist satisfied that I completely pushed aside my own wishes. At times, I felt as if I had completely lost my voice. Being degraded to the role of passive listener can after some time have you doubt your own value.
There was one instance where I seriously began to doubt my role within my relationship to the narcissists. We met at a café in the afternoon for a few hours and I didn’t get to speak more than a few isolated words during all that time. He talked for hours without pausing for more than a few seconds, and I don’t think he even asked me one single question. It was an eye-opening experience. On earlier occasions I had always accepted my role as passive listener without questioning it or feeling neglected. Now, for the first time, I began to realize that I was allowing him to silence me and that almost all I ever did was nodding along smiling to whatever he had to say. Of course, this realization also made me question the genuineness of his interest and affections for me. It’s not that I never tried to bring myself into the conversation. However, I soon began to be convinced that whatever I had to say was not nearly as interesting as the stories he told me. I therefore lost the courage to open my mouth and began to feel frustrated about being silent and uninteresting. He didn’t really seem to mind.
At times he would encourage me to talk more and assure me that he felt really bad about monopolizing our conversations. He said that I had lots of interesting and intelligent things to say and he would therefore want me to contribute more to our conversations. However, I began to realize that this interest in anything I might have to say was rather short-lived and superficial and that he would take over the dominant part again after only a short time. He was not only dominant when it came to our conversations, but also in every single part of our interaction. When he was at my place, he took my computer to show me youtube videos – often a seemingly endless stream of them. He seldomly asked whether I was even interested in seeing them or whether I had something I would want to show to him. After a certain amount of time, I often got tired of watching those videos. However, out of my desire of keeping him satisfied, I never protested and instead watched whatever he had to show to me.
The same behavioral pattern could also be discerned in our email correspondence. He almost never answered any of the questions I had asked him, but instead rambled on about completely different topics. Whenever I dared to complain about feeling low, he never addressed the issue but instead diverted the topic back to himself, complaining about how low he felt. He then often went on for pages about the reasons for his sadness, and about the many problems and crises he had to deal with at the moment. He would give me detailed written accounts of his daily routines, even telling me the most trivial things – such as for example that he went to the dentist (of course with a detailed description of what the dentist thought about his teeth). Of course he would sometimes ask how I was doing and assure me that he wanted to know what I was up to. However, when I told him he never would show any real interest in it and often even completely ignore it. When I, for example, told him that I had finally found a topic for my Master’s Thesis, it took days for him to even ask me what my topic was. I began to feel really frustrated about his apparent lack of interest in anything I did or had to say.
Whenever he talked about himself, he tended to do so in very favorable terms. He said, for example, that he could sing pretty well, that he knew he was a good teacher, that his students adored him, that certain women had crushes on him, that lots of people depend on him (his sister, his exgirlfriend) and that he was very good at motivating others to make the best out of their lives. In the beginning, I was impressed. However, it didn’t take long for me to become tired and skeptical about this kind of talk. He also seemed to be in constant need of positive affirmation. He wanted me to comment on his clothes or his art. He liked to make collages and would show many of them to me, almost forcing me to comment on them. I loved to look at his art. However, I soon also began to understand that he, first and foremost, showed it to me out of a deep need for positive affirmation – and that was also what he expected to get from me.
I could ramble on for pages, but I think you all got the gist: Being with a narcissist can be a frustrating and self-alienating experience. Everything always seems to be about them: They are the dominant agent in almost every aspect of our relationship with them, making all the decisions, dicating the terms, and monopolizing conversations. We begin to accept our part as silent and passive listeners and in the process we lose touch with ourselves. We want to keep them satisfied and as a result swallow our own thoughts, wishes and needs. We end up feeling frustrated due to our passivity and develop the belief that we simply have nothing interesting and intelligent to say, and that no one is really interested in whatever we would have to contribute. The narcissists might fake interest at times, but we soon begin to realize that it is short-lived and superficial, and that all they are looking for is someone who is willing to listen to whatever they have to say. We smile and nod along for months, and our self-esteem and emotional well-being shrinks. If someone just loves to talk a lot (and especially about himself) we should interpret this behavior as a clear red flag and be very alarmed. Having to fight for attention is not healthy and doesn’t do our self-esteem any good. In a healthy relationship, our partner is genuinely interested in what we might have to say and will offer us enough opportunities to bring ourselves into the conversation. We should never allow someone to silence us. We also have interesting things to say and no one should have the power to make us believe otherwise.