A Quick Fix for Narcissism—and Depression Too

How could the same adjustment work for two such different problems?

Posted Sep 28, 2018

(c) 4774344sean/fotosearch
Narcissism and depression, how are they similar?
Source: (c) 4774344sean/fotosearch

I recently received an email from a reader in response to one of my earlier blog posts on narcissism. The reader concluded his note with a confession, "I think I'm probably quite me-centered by nature."

I wrote back to explain the following good, and bad, news: 

Most people tend to fall on one side or the other of me-centered versus other-centered continuum. Welcome to the human race

The key to mature and gratifying relationships is to utilize what I call bilateral listening; that is, two-sided listening. As I explain in my book and websiteThe Power of Two, the ability to hear your own viewpoint coupled with the ability to listen and be responsive to others' signals highest-level relationship functioning. 

The good news: bilateral listening is a skill, a habit that you can decide to learn.

The bad news is any time that you slip too far on one or the other side of the listening continuum, you are at risk for falling into either narcissism—It's all about me—or depressionIt's all about you

What is narcissism?

The core of narcissistic functioning is paying attention just to your own desires, concerns, fears, viewpoints, and preferences.  If these thoughts drown out the voices of others with whom you are talking, you are heading down narcissism road. 

Similarly, if you are prone to view your viewpoints and ideas as right and others' as wrong, narcissism here we come.

Most people who do narcissistic one-sided listening can hear others' viewpoints when they are feeling relaxed. They also tend to listen better when the person they are interacting with has more power than they feel that they do. It's mostly when there are differences of opinions that they tighten up and close their ears—or when they regard themselves as more powerful than the person they are talking with.

Sound like you? Or like someone you know?

What is depression?

Depression is the emotional state that results when you give up on saying and getting what you want and instead just hear and do what others want. I explain this idea more fully, and the antidote to feeling depressed, in the following video. 

No need to get scared off, by the way, by the cautionary notes from TED.  I have a hunch that they are concerned that my initial comments, explaining why taking antidepressants is not necessarily the best way to end depression, may displease drug companies.

What's the outcome likely to be when one partner in a couple has a me-only listening habit and the other has the opposite tendency?

Narcissistic/depressive interactions wreck relationships. While relationships characterized by this pattern may last a long time, they generate ill-will.

Self-centered individuals who listen primarily just to their own voice tend to forget that the other person is even there. Paying insufficient attention to one's partner invites eventual "falling out of love."

Narcissistic listening leads also to confusion. Why does my partner—from whom I expect to receive love, affection and even adoration—so often become withdrawn, irritated, and depressed?

For those who too easily give up on expecting their thoughts to be taken seriously, narcissistic/depressive interactions stimulate negative emotions.  Annoyance, resentment, disappointment, anger and, in response to important issues, depression arise when a person does not feel heard.

So what is the Quick Fix for alleviating both narcissism and depression?

Train yourself to hear both sides

That's it.

If you tend toward the me-centered side of the listening continuum...

After you have voiced your viewpoint, concerns or preference as to what you yourself think or want, what do you need to train yourself to do next? 

  • Ask the other's thoughts about the issue.
  • Listen to their response with your good ear, the ear that listens for what makes sense about what you hear. 
  • If you hear yourself saying, "But..." or some version of "That's not so," then pause.  Listen again, this time for what you can agree with rather than what's wrong with what your partner is saying.
  • Then aim to find a way to be responsive to both your concerns and theirs

If you tend toward the other-centered side of the listening continuum...

After your partner has voiced a viewpoint, concerns or preferences, what do you need to train yourself to do next? 

  • Ask yourself what your own thoughts are about the issue.
  • Listen to yourself with your good ear, the ear that listens for what makes sense to you about what you hear.  If you hear yourself saying, "but..." to yourself, then pause. and listen again. 
  • Express aloud, tactfully and yet with confidence, what you have heard your inner voice saying. 
  • If your partner has difficulty hearing what you have said, say it again. "I'm sorry. Maybe I didn't make myself clear. Here's what I'm wanting to explain to you..." Keep at it until you have enabled your partner to succeed in up-taking the information you are sharing. 
  • Then aim to find a way to be responsive both to your concerns and to your partner's.

What's next to be sure that you steer clear of both narcissism and depression?

Practice. Practice. Practice. And more practice. 

The skill of bilateral listening can take significant effort plus on-going trial and error to develop. If you need further coaching, this workbook, as well as the book and website I mention above, may help.

What's next to be sure that you steer clear of both narcissism and depression?

The result to aim for? 

Enjoyment. 

Enjoy your enhanced sense of personal well-being. Enjoy the enhanced goodwill in your relationships. Enjoy your increased effectiveness at work.  Enjoy more satisfying friendships. Enjoy happier kids. 

The payoffs to you, in your work world, with your friendships, and with all your loved ones hopefully will be huge.

At the same time, I want to re-emphasize before ending this post that narcissistic habits and also depressive tendencies can be deeply ingrained and tough to change. 

The "quick fix" in this article offers a hopefully potent starting point.  If you or a loved one struggle with these phenomena though, do consider finding further help beyond launching this listening pattern upgrade. 

Search and check out my other psychologytoday blogposts on narcissism and on depression.  Read the many excellent posts on these topics by other bloggers on this website.  Search the internet.  Explore self-help books.  Download the free worksheets on relationship skills and view the videos I offer here.  Fix your listening skills this way.  Perhaps also seek out help from a mental health professional.  You are likely to be glad you did.