One Common Pitfall and How To Avoid It by Wendy Keller, blogger, mother, workshop leader There's… [more]
...And what to say instead by Wendy Keller, bereaved mother, blogger, inspirational workshop leader If… [more]
The Truth about Getting Better by Wendy Keller, occasional depression sufferer, blogger Something amazing… [more]
Is the grass really greener over there? by Wendy Keller, blogger, baker, candlestick maker A dear… [more]
by Wendy Keller, blogger, mother, workshop leader
There’s a tendency among some people who are suffering to fall into a pattern of what I call “unconscious narcissism”. That’s what happens when long after your traumatic event, you’re acting as if your life is still the preferred topic of conversation for other people.
1. On the phone, 90% of the time is spent talking about their life, their problems, their situation – and little to no time is spent asking the other person about their life. All humans like stories, but if the conversation is all one-sided, it’s boring or even distressing for the other person.
2. When the Unconscious Narcissist is with another person, they focus on everything but the person right in front of them or on fiddling with objects. They are so wound up in retelling their story, or complaining, that the audience member is interchangeable. It’s like they go into a trance.
3. The only time they seem to remember to ask about you, your life and your well-being is in the last few seconds of the interaction, as an afterthought.
When someone is in an active trauma state, talking about the situation is normal and healthy behavior. Your friends and family want to be there for you, to listen, support, comfort you. Depending on what has happened to you/is happening to you, the trauma state might last for a long time. That’s completely acceptable.
But if, for instance, your divorce was final a year ago and your entire monologue is always about the people you’ve been dating for the last six months, you might have a case of “unconscious narcissism”.
If you were in a car accident but your health is stabilized now (as good as it is going to get at this point), and all you can talk about is your medical details, you might have a case of “unconscious narcissism”.
If you lost your job and haven’t found another and are still angry at the economy, your former employer, the leader of your country, etc. and still spend your conversations talking about this topic, you might have a case of “unconscious narcissism”.
Pay attention! Listen to the conversation. Does the other person talk mostly about themselves, milking you for every last drop of sympathy, empathy, support and encouragement? Do you do that to other people?
If you are taking or giving advice, pay attention. Do you ever take it, if you are the one who is at risk of this “disease”? If you are giving it, does the suffering person do anything to actually help themselves? I knew a young man who often asked for sympathy over his problems with the IRS and his staggering credit card debt. Yet most of his conversations were liberally sprinkled with stories about big, expensive electronics he wanted or had just purchased. My advice to him was not heeded, although each time I suggested he look at the situation rationally he agreed with me…and did nothing. Eventually, I stopped listening. And he paid off his debts, grew up mentally and got serious about his responsibilities.
Do you leave a conversation wondering in the back of your mind if you talked too much? Or do you leave a conversation with someone thinking, “I’m glad that’s over” and try to avoid picking up the phone/meeting them in public in the future?
Simple! Before a social event, decide in advance to ask questions about the other person/people as early as possible in the conversation. (This is also the cure to shyness!)
Put a note to yourself next to your phone that simply has these two letters: “UN?” If anyone else sees it, they will think you’re expecting a call from the United Nations! But you will know it is asking you if you are participating in Unconscious Narcissism – as a beleaguered listener or as a transmitter of the disease.
If someone suffering from unconscious narcissism is using you as their “sympathy machine”, decide whether it’s time to gently unplug.
If you notice that you are hogging all the attention in the room, instantly start asking questions about the other person.
If you have a strong need for ongoing support, sympathy or feel lost and overwhelmed, consider seeing someone who is paid to listen to one-sided conversations, such as clergy or therapists.
It’s my supposition that many people who do this kind of self-absorbed communication are really lonely inside. They may be around people constantly and still feel this way. No one can fill the hole inside by sucking energy from other people!
Ironically, the number of people who enjoy being around this person will increase when the unconscious narcissism stops. Friendships require a give-and-take, like all relationships. I suspect most people who do this are literally unconscious – unaware – that they are doing it. Or that they are seen as tiresome and inappropriate. They may have developed a bad habit when a trauma did occur in their lives, and forgot to move on.
A healthy social life is grown by a concern for other people, a heart-to-heart connection with the closest friends, and gaiety with the “second string” of people. There’s a time and a place for monologues about your life and troubles. Weigh the benefits against the costs when choosing how to interact with others.
(Or get a free copy to give to someone you care about)
by Wendy Keller, bereaved mother, blogger, inspirational workshop leader
If you’re feeling pretty good and you know you’ll be socializing with someone who has had a rough year, these are the things you can say…and the things you should not…so you won’t feel awkward, make things worse or upset them.
1. Do NOT give them ANY solutions for their life – unless directly asked to do so. Even if you are the parent and the person suffering is your child over 15.
2. Do NOT impose your religious beliefs on them, as in, “Your baby is with Jesus now.” Or “Your Dad is in God’s arms now.” Whether or not the person you are talking to has the same religious beliefs you do, this only serves to make them feel guilty for their grief and makes you look insensitive.
3. Do NOT imply that you know why something happened. “He had it coming to him” or “He smoked all those years” or “If she hadn’t started using drugs…” OR “I told you if you married her she’d cheat on you” or “I knew that was a bad investment.” Just shut up and mind your own business. Even if you’re right, don’t say it. This is the general category of “I told you so” and no one likes to be told that.
4. Do NOT predict or threaten. “If you keep going back to him, he’s just going to keep being violent” or “If you let her run around with those kinds of kids, something bad is going to happen.” Even if you have a crystal ball, don’t say it.
5. Do NOT tell them to be happy for what they’ve got left. Don’t say, “Well, at least you’ve still got use of your arms, be happy for that.” Or “Look on the bright side! At least you’re out of that bad marriage, even if he’s not paying child support”. Or what someone said to me a few months after both my kids died: “Be thankful you’re young and can have other children.” You have no clue what that person is feeling, even if you’ve been through something somewhat similar.
Note: If you don’t care enough to NOT say the things above, don’t talk to them at all.
1. “I’m so sorry for what you’re going through.” And then be quiet. It subtly acknowledges that you are sympathetic, that you are aware of the situation and that you care. Nothing else needs to be said! If the suffering person wants to talk to you, you’ve just opened the door to that discussion. If they don’t, leave it closed.
2. “I admire your commitment to getting through this.”
3. “I care about you and my heart goes out to you during this time.”
4. “If I can be helpful in any way, I’m eager to do so.”
5. “You look good today.” This one is the best one to say if you are nervous about saying the wrong thing. In other words, avoid bringing it up altogether. It won’t endear you to the other person, but it also won’t contribute more pain.
Here’s what is ABSOLUTELY true about people who are suffering: there are times they want to talk about it and times they just want to forget. There are people they sense they can trust and there are people they know they can’t. There are friends with whom they can share and strangers who want to intrude. Let the other person be your guide. You’ll be showing grace, tact and advanced social skills.
(Did I miss any Do or Don’t statements? Comment on this post!)
(Or get a free copy to give to someone you care about)
by Wendy Keller, occasional depression sufferer, blogger
Recently, I wrote and gave away a free eBook for people who are dealing with sadness, depression, grief, loss, divorce, money troubles, stuff like that during the holidays (see below if you want a copy). I offered it to a mailing list of people who have taken other eBooks from me over the last few years I’ve been doing this work. Sometimes, people choose to fill out a form that tells me what they’re going through, which allows me to provide them with some customized help.
Well, well, well.
I’ve gotten quite a few emails from people who got the new eBook. Plenty are from people who write, “I’m doing a lot better now, thanks.” (Some say my work has helped them!) I decided to start looking them up, to see what it was they had been suffering from. There are 22 potential life crisis issues on the form – from divorce to grief and depression. There’s even a place to indicate if they are thinking about committing suicide!
What does that tell you?
I’ve been deeply, horrendously depressed in my life, once for several years straight. I can tell you I was 100% certain it was never going to end.
It’s not stupid to feel sad. It’s not stupid to call Suicide Prevention and get some help. It’s not stupid to think that it will never end. It’s not stupid to feel hopeless. It IS stupid to act on those temporary feelings.
(And no, you don’t have to fill out the form unless you want to!)
by Wendy Keller, blogger, baker, candlestick maker
A dear subscriber wrote me this morning to tell me she’s thinking of not going on FB anymore. She’s a single woman like me, and she said she’s read that many single women grow depressed looking at everyone else’s cheerful, happy, perfect lives so they stop reading posts.
My close friend recently traveled to Washington, DC to attend a wedding. The mother of the groom is a woman with whom we were both friends about 30 years ago. She and I lost touch, but they did not.
While my friend was there, the mother of the groom posted innumerable Facebook updates about all the wonderful things they were doing together. They saw all the monuments, went to museums and fabulous restaurants and even went dancing together! I was astonished that she was able to lavish such focused attention on our friend. I replied to some of her posts commenting that I wished I was with them, that I was glad they were having fun, etc. It was amazing and frankly, I felt left out.
Except later. When my friend got home, I exclaimed to her that I was surprised how focused and selfless the mother of the groom had been. That’s when she told me that they’d only had one breakfast together, and that everything else posted was…fake.
When you look at other people’s lives – either driving past their fancy house in the best part of town, reading their FB updates, or listening to them tell you how wonderful everything is at the holiday party – may I suggest we all take it with a grain of salt? Or a block of salt! We never really know what’s going on behind the scenes, and how many times have you – like I just did – gotten surprised to find out the extent of the misrepresentation? I’ve had friends who told me how blissful their marriage was…right up to the week they filed for divorce. When my daughter was going through a rough time, a few people pointed out my flaws as a parent – and glorified their own precious darlings. Later, when those same kids had problems of their own as teenagers, suddenly it wasn’t all about the parenting skills.
Since we never really walk a mile in another’s moccasins, we never really know the truth. As we grow in consciousness, it surely is in everyone’s best interests when we treat everyone with endless, abundant compassi0n….starting with ourselves.