Tag Archives: anxiety

Conversational Narcissism

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I finally have a word for it.

Conversational Narcissism.

This word defines a phenomena that I’ve experienced in my husband’s family pretty much 100% of the time I’ve known them, dominating each and every conversation I’ve had with them.  Something that I’ve come home with, shaking my head, trying to figure out why these holidays, vacations and gatherings seem so hollow and confusing.

I’ve been angry, dismayed, disappointed at the endless spinning of conversation designed around anything and everything THEM.  For years, I sat dutifully as my in-laws laughed and told tales of their vacations, their careers, their homes, the decor in each of these homes, details of friends I’d never met as well as stories of their children, their jobs, where they live.  While I thought I was being polite to my elders by listening albeit feigning interest often, it began to occur to me that they knew NOTHING about me.  It hit me hard one day when one of the in-laws or one of my sisters-in-law (can’t remember which), were listing all the professions represented in the family as a sort of parlor game.  The list comprised of a doctor, several teachers, an engineer, a technical theatre designer, a business owner.  One of the sisters said it sure would be great to have a nurse in the family to round out this list.

I was dumbfounded….I probably even shook my head in disbelief…. I’m sitting right there as a nurse with 20+ years in the field and they didn’t even know that? It would be less embarrassing to say that I’d only been in their family for several weeks or months….and I cringe when I say this, that I’d been married to my husband for over 5 years.  How did they not know anything about me or more importantly, how did they never stop talking about themselves long enough to ask?

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Needless to say, I seized the opportunity to enlighten them that they did indeed have a nurse in the family, my background and education. I continued and went on to tell them about my daughter, their new granddaughter and niece, and all of her interests and accomplishments.  But it left the most bizarre taste in my mouth because I’d never, ever met a family that operated like this.  After this awkward informational session, I figured  we had struck new territory, that they indeed had a bit of background now and from then on we’d have healthier, more give-and-take kind of conversations.

I was so wrong.  The dynamics of this family were so well entrenched that nothing changed.  There were no probing questions or interested inquiries.  I continued to find myself listening as a bystander becoming more invisible through each of their never ceasing conversations of self.  His parents would continue to invite us over for a “visit” which meant come over and sit and listen to us talk about ourselves.  Even during tragic moments, suicide of a grandson’s friend, my own heart attack and hospitalization, or the mental breakdown of a cousin, would ANY subject besides themselves be approached.  The invalidation that I and my daughter felt was so palpable that we stopped going to functions and holidays because even though our bodies were there, we simply didn’t exist to this family.

Fast forward to today.

When I found this article featured in Oprah‘s magazine entitled, “The Mistake I Made with my Grieving Friend” by Celeste Headlee, I literally yelled WOW.

I finally have a word for this disrespectful and disproportional soapbox that I witnessed. Conversational Narcissism.

In this article, the author admittedly realizes that she is using the “shift” to make a conversation about her during a moment when her friend is grief stricken by the loss of her father.

Sociologist Charles Derber describes this tendency to insert oneself into a conversation as “conversational narcissism.” It’s the desire to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself. It is often subtle and unconscious. Derber writes that conversational narcissism “is the key manifestation of the dominant attention-getting psychology in America. It occurs in informal conversations among friends, family and co-workers. The profusion of popular literature about listening and the etiquette of managing those who talk constantly about themselves suggests its pervasiveness in everyday life.” Derber describes two kinds of responses in conversations: a shift response and a support response. The first shifts attention back to yourself, and the second supports the other person’s comment.

 

Here’s what it looks like taken from actual conversations with my husband’s family.

Shift Response:

Laurel: Did you hear that your grandson Ben lost a friend to suicide?

In Laws:  No, I didn’t.  A lady from church just lost her grandson recently in a car accident, it was awful. She’s having a really hard time.

Support Response: 

Laurel:  Did you hear that your grandson Ben lost a friend to suicide?

In Laws:  No, I didn’t!  What happened?  Have you spoken with Ben or his friend’s family?  We need to reach out to him and give him some support during this rough time.

Shift Response: 

Laurel: I’m unable to attend Thanksgiving this year because I just got out of the hospital and don’t feel well enough.

In Laws:  Okay, I’ll just ask my daughters to bring the food that you would have normally brought. We always have so much food at our gatherings.

Support Response:  

Laurel: I’m unable to attend Thanksgiving this year because I just got out of the hospital and don’t feel well enough.

In Laws:  I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were in the hospital again.  We’d love to have you come and don’t worry about bringing food.  If you can’t make it, I’d love to send some food over to you later.  How are you feeling?

You get the idea.

The excitement that I feel when meeting a new person or even getting to know more about an old friend is based on the healthiest of a give and take conversation.  I love to talk but I also love to listen.  And ask questions and probe into the depths of a person’s stories and soul.  You know, meat and potatoes stuff. I can’t imagine it any other way. I want a dialogue, not a monologue.

But for the “conversational narcissist”, the goal is to get their needs met, not to get to know a person.  It is an ego feeding maneuver which is entirely one sided and executed to keep the attention on them.

For myself and my daughter, we simply had enough of these experiences and now are a no-show to family functions which interestingly, aren’t even really noticed.  As long as enough of the audience shows up, this family can conduct their usual lopsided interplays and never be the wiser to the fact that we’ve ditched them. Actually, they still haven’t stopped talking about themselves long enough to notice.

 

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Maybe Tomorrow, I’m Triggered Today

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*this post is gently re-blogged from Jennifer Kindera*, Trauma Recovery Coach

I can’t look in the mirror today. I’ve done it before, looked at me when I’m triggered and I know what I will see. Vacant eyes telling a thousand stories that I can’t face yet again. I don’t want to face it yet again. When I’m like this, it’s all I can do to get out of bed. Function normally? Yeah, not so much. My brain knows that it’s because of the PTSD, the funk of being triggered, marinating in the past, reliving pain that I put to bed over and over again, through therapy, EMDR and mindfulness. I recognize the signs, my signs. I’ve been doing this thing for a while, walking through triggered, the chaos of heart rate, the anxiety anvil which sits on my chest, over-reacting to the little things, bottling up, stuffing down all the emotional warfare going on inside me, the chaos waiting to swallow me whole.

My Littles have been tearful and enraged by turns for a few days. It’s not my new normal, just my normal. Holidays, I trantrum. We put the Christmas tree up yesterday and that always seems to send me into the darkness. The abyss that is so real, where other people have twinkly lights and nice families and happily-ever-afters and I just blindly can’t see in the pitch-black pit of silent gore. But it’s not the tree or the holidays or <fill in the blank.> It’s my trauma rearing it’s head again. It’s wading in the desolate mire that says, oh you didn’t think I wouldn’t visit again, did you? My Inner Critic delights in the coming, it’s like a four year old the day before their birthday party, jumping up and down telling me everything I’ve done to heal isn’t enough, I better get busier, be better, let go more, or my old frenimie Shame will come a-knocking.

 

How long does it last? The awful apathy, nothing is good enough, leave me the fuck alone backasswards like I’m Sissypus and just one more time I’m gonna push that boulder up the mountain and it’s going to slide right back down.

Maybe tomorrow it will fade. I took my herbs today, made sure I ate, tried to work, used my tools. The lethargy is all-consuming though. I do know that once what took me three weeks to work through now might take three days. That’s great, wait what day am I on? How many layers are there anyway to this trauma recovery?

A friend said today, don’t give up. Don’t give in, whatever that looks like. If it means my socks don’t match and I stay in my pajamas all day, then that’s a win because I’m upright. If I hold my tongue when the nasty words want to spill out and rip across another person to project my pain, then that’s a win. The broken pieces of me are like shards of glass and as I keep on keeping on, shining light into the dark places it feels like infection spreading. There was a time when I thought I was the infection. I know in my head, if not in my heart that if I am struggling it’s okay.

It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s my mantra today. It’s.Okay.

It’s okay if you are struggling too. It’s okay because our healing isn’t linear or logical, it’s messy and ugly sometimes. It’s okay because some days it’s all we can do to breathe in and breathe out. It’s okay because no matter how dark it gets, the dawn will come. It’s okay because I may not be able to see the dawn for a few days, but at some point this panic weight will lift and I will settle again. It’s okay because I get to lean into the feelings, and peel back another layer of my painful past. It’s okay when it sucks and I don’t want to do just one more thing. Longer perhaps in between now and the next time, maybe. The Roman philosipher Seneca said, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” I agree.

And, it’s okay.

 

 


would i still be a part of your world…

There is a huge conflict going on inside of me, one that I’ve been denying on many levels for months now.

The anxiety is so huge that there isn’t enough medication, alcohol, or busyness to tame it.  There is a world that beckons me, one that I can’t/won’t/don’t know how to become one with.  Its there in my dreams, its there in my waking thoughts and with me throughout my day, no matter who I’m talking to or what activity I’m attempting  to do.  I smell things when no one else does.  I see shadows out of my periphery constantly.  Any random person’s energy can send me all over the place, reducing me to tears in minutes or set my heart singing with joy.  There are times when I am certain that I am going crazy or are at least partly there already.

Phrases keep cycling through my mind and shadowing my daily activities.  Undoubtedly put there by my higher power, a scrolling ticker-tape message…                           “you are afraid of your spiritual gifts“….“let go and receive”  

Does one really hear sentences from the divine?  Do messages come through like that really?  Complete sentences plopped into your thinking?  Does the divine feel a relentless yet benevolent desire to alert a person to their gifts or journey in a way that they won’t let up for anything?  And more importantly, does a physical body become ill when you don’t live according to your true destiny and path?

The messages coming through the natural world are increasing too.  More hawks swooping over me. Deer peeking out of the bushes when I’m in silent meditation.  Hummingbirds hovering in front of me and looking me in the eye.  Coyotes howling… all grab my attention immediately but what are they saying?  What is with this barrage of information?  I get that its the cosmic “Hey, look at me” but to what?  What am I supposed to get that I’m NOT getting?

I’ve accepted the label of “emotionally sensitive” given to me by therapists, immediate family, friends and those in the healing and mystical arts.  I can live with that.  But even that label is seriously understated.

I now know and acknowledge that I feel things 1000 percent harder than most, maybe more.  It can be a wonderful yet paralyzing gift if there is no one to show or explain to you about the enormity of the feeling you are having.  My world rocks like I’m on a ship being cast about at sea.  I seek answers from those around me and my closest friends get weird questions from me all the time.  Did you feel that person’s sadness/fear/joy?  Do you smell a campfire/skunk/Old Spice/beauty salon smell/cigars, etc?  Or, we need to leave this place, the energy is choking/suffocating/heavy with sadness.  My poor husband and daughter are used to it but frankly, we’ve all thought I’m about to teeter over the edge at times.

But the thought that brings one of my biggest sense of fear and can immediately send me into an anxiety attack of epic proportion is…Will I be totally ostracized when I allow myself to succumb to this beautiful, alternative, spiritual world?

Our media driven-pop culture-capitalist worshipping world we live in is dictated by norms….outward appearance, job, which church one attends(not if), the house one lives in.  I don’t find our world to be a place where our gentleness is admired, where one looks at your heart first, a greeting to inquire of whether you have a spiritual practice or how do you find your peace.

Apparently, I am looking for that place as much as it is looking for me.  But I know I’m still blocking it somehow, wondering and feeling deep anguish over this one central thought.

Would I still be a part of your world if I allowed myself to be fully who I am?   Authentically, beautifully and blissfully weird?

Recommended Links:  Let your freak flag fly….http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ruthless-Compassion-Institute/121541431101


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