The Friendship Doctor

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Problems Getting Close to My Self-Centered Friend: What Can I Do?

Changing someone who is self-centered is never easy---and may be improbable.

QUESTION 

Hi Irene, 

I found your website after searching about "self-centered friends." I find your topics very useful and decided to let you know about my friend. 

We've known each other for many, many years and it's one of those friendships where even if we didn't see one another for a while we'd still be friends. But during the later years of high school, I've really begun to notice how my friend is (and almost always was) self-centered. I discovered this when I began looking to broaden my range of friendships and meet new people.

My friend is shockingly self-centered and has tended to not care about me. It was never one of those friendships where we never had a deep emotional connection but I never wondered why. That’s just the way things were.

But now I yearn for more friends and to have close relationships with them, although this goal is a long and patient one, I feel the need. I've been inviting him over less and just seeing what he does. He rarely communicates (which it used to he back and forth), and at times tells me very negative things, most stories he has revolves around him and how he's better than everyone else. Of course, Irene, there are good memories we share and not everything is bad. What's you're advice for this friendship? Thank you and I apologize for writing such a long email.

Signed, Michael

 

ANSWER 

Dear Michael, 

It always takes time and experience to recognize (and admit) that someone you know is self-centered: As you and your friend spent more time together, it’s natural you would expect him to become more sensitive and responsive to your needs. Also, many people (especially those who have a positive attitude toward other people and life, in general) tend to be forgiving at the start of new friendships: They focus on the positive aspects and withhold seeing the negatives.

In the relationship you describe, it seems as if your friend has a limited ability to see beyond his own needs. Unfortunately, when someone is self-centered and self-absorbed like this, it is a personality trait that tends to be enduring and difficult to change.

It sounds like you would still like to keep this friendship---perhaps, because of your long shared history. If that is the case, you will need to accept it with its limitations. It’s unlikely that your friend will be able to turn a new leaf and deflect attention from his own needs to defer to yours. 

For the friendship to work, you need to become more assertive when your needs aren’t being met. For example, tell your friend know when you are upset and need him to listen, or when he has been speaking incessantly about a miniscule problem of his. 

Additionally, as you surmised, it’s likely that you will need to find other friends to meet your needs for emotional intimacy and sharing.

Hope this helps a little. 

Best, Irene

 

 

 

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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