Have you ever told someone that you needed comfort, but somehow during the conversation, you ended up supporting and reassuring the other person, and you walked away feeling even worse than before?

There’s a reason why this happens, and it’s not anything that you did or said, rather, it’s a subtle, unconscious thing that everyone does. Most doing it are unaware it is even occurring.

It’s called “conversational narcissism.”

And yes, it’s a real thing.

It’s a term coined by sociologist Charles Derber in his book “The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life.” It describes the tendency to steer a conversation back to oneself. The person takes over most of the talking and makes it about them.

And people who are egocentric and manipulative, a.k.a. narcissists, are masters of it.

According to Derber, there are two main kinds of responses you can have within conversational narcissism—a shift response and a support response.

The shift response shifts the spotlight back to a person, while the support response supports and maintains the attention on the other person.

Here’s an example of a support response:

Lisa: I am so tired today. My head really hurts.

Keith: I feel you. Is it a headache? I have something for that.

Here’s an example of a shift response:

Lisa: I am so tired today. My head really hurts.

Keith: I’m tired too. I barely got any sleep last night because of the kids.

Narcissists can take the shift response to the next level in two ways:

  1. They pepper the conversation with disinterested support responses while maintaining the shift response, leading you to think that they are interested in you too.
  2. They shift the conversation 90% to them and their needs, with you 10% supporting them.

And here’s how this manipulates you:

Because these conversations are never truly about you, the narcissist reinforces the belief that you are supposed to give, give, give to get an inch of their attention. Your role is to support, soothe or even stroke their ego.

The key thing to note here is the narcissist’s shift of power; they want attention and a reaction from you, not for you.

They make you feel “bad” for even expressing yourself, which keeps you malleable and docile—perfect for their manipulations.

But you CAN catch it in time:

The signs are not going to be immediately noticeable because the conversational narcissism is so subtle.

So, notice how you feel instead. If you feel cut off, denied, or even suddenly sympathetic, you might have just been “shifted” on.

You’ll feel like you have “no voice” after a while and might even feel doubtful about expressing yourself in other conversations.

When you leave the conversation, you might feel a sense of something being unresolved or feel queasy in the stomach.

Don’t be surprised if there is a little anger too, after all, you’ve just been invalidated.

And here’s how you can counteract their tricks:

The first step is realization. Be very aware that this is an actual thing that’s being done to you. 

Second, a narcissist deals in energy, or rather, the attention that they are getting from you. When you find yourself being “shifted” on, feel free to catch it and state how you feel about it. 

This will irritate the narcissist but will lessen their control. Be level-headed and calm, and withdraw any form of support for them. If there is no energetic exchange, the narcissist cannot win.

Then, politely explain that you need a break, and just walk away.

Doing so might result in the narcissist feeling confused, and they will leave you alone.

Remember, it is possible to hold your own against the narcissist. You can prevent yourself from going insane—you just have to dig deep and make the first step towards it.