We've all experienced insensitive talkers who dominate conversations with excessive chatter and poor listening. But if you're treated to regular aggressive ear-bending disguised as "conversation," you may be dealing with the soul-crushing verbal bullying of narcissistic monologuing.
Not all narcissists engage in overt verbal dominance, but the ones who do can be relentless in their insistence on being heard with little to no reciprocation. Narcissistic monologuing can run the gamut from charming comedy, to professorial lecturing, to endless stories about people you've never met and places you've never been. But whatever the subject matter and the narcissist's personal style, the conversation quickly becomes a one-mouth show of overtalking, one-upmanship, and boredom or irritation when you attempt to speak.
Humans are social and cooperative animals designed for the give and take of conversation as a form of sharing, collaborating, and building trust and intimacy. Those of us with emotional empathy and a healthy balance of self-esteem and humility look for points of connection with others rather than opportunities for dominance.
When our expectations of respect and reciprocity are violated, we may find ourselves trying harder to create rapport by laughing when we're not amused or agreeing when we don't agree. Afterward, we may feel effaced and devalued and wonder why, perhaps blaming ourselves for not being interesting or forceful enough to hold our own in the conversation. With reflection, we may feel humiliated or angry, as if we have been wrestled to the ground with a sock in our mouth when we thought we were chatting with a colleague, friend, parent, or partner.
Indeed the reality is that in the complex language of human interaction we have been overpowered and invalidated. The narcissist has used us as a mirror to preen at and an object to dominate, not as someone to form a connection with.
Why They Do It
Whether they draw you in with seductive smiles and winks, entertain you with outrageous theatrics, or pin you to the wall with edgy intensity, big-talking narcissists know what they're doing and will continue to demand your full attention and acquiescence as long as you let them.
They do it because they
- want control;
- need attention;
- see themselves as expert authorities;
- feel greater entitlement to speak;
- don't care what you have to say unless it relates to them;
- believe they are above codes of fairness and reciprocity; and
- feel powerful making you submit.
How to Handle It
For your own sanity and self-respect, it is best to recognize what you're dealing with and disengage from a power struggle you will never "win" and didn't sign on for in the first place.
If the narcissist is someone you can avoid, all the better. If he or she is someone close to you, it may be time to consider whether the relationship is worth the invalidating experience of being routinely bullied into silent submission.
Walker, Pete. Complex PTSD: from Surviving to Thriving: a Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma. Lafayette, CA: Azure Coyote, 2013.