What to do when friends only talk about themselves and their problems

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Do you have any friends who talk too much and don’t ask you any questions? Then, you know what it’s like to be stuck in The Listener’s Trap.

But how do you break out of that trap? And how do you know if your relationship is worth saving?

Here are my 10 best tips on what to do when people only talk about themselves and don’t ask you any questions.

1. Ask their opinion about a problem you have to switch the focus over to you

I like this trick because you can use it in almost any conversation and it’s also interesting for the other person.

Here’s how you use the “opinion trick” in 3 quick and easy steps:

  1. Think of a problem you have in your life that you don’t know the solution to.
  2. Ask your friend about their opinion.
  3. Keep talking a bit more about the problem before you change the subject.

Done! You have now switched the focus of the conversation to you.

Here is an example of how to use the “opinion trick”:

Problem: Should I join a dance course or not?

“I have this problem I want to hear your opinion on. I’m thinking if I should join the new dance course or not. It sounds really fun, but it costs $300 for 10 lessons, and I’m not sure if I’ll fit in. What do you think?”

If your friend isn’t too self-absorbed, he or she will give you some advice and then you can keep talking about it for a bit if you want.

You’ll notice how the conversation feels much better once you’ve got to talk a bit about yourself and your life.

If they don’t really give you any advice or just turn the conversation back to them. Try the “sharing principle” instead.

2. Make sure to share as much as the other person shares

This principle is great if you are talking with someone who doesn’t ask you any questions.

The sharing principle goes like this:

Share as much about yourself as the other person shares about themselves. (Do this EVEN IF they don’t ask you about it.)

Why does this work?

When you start sharing more about yourself, you break the pattern of the listener’s trap. The other person will no longer see you as just the listener so they won’t talk as much.

Also, when you share personal details about yourself, the other person will start becoming more interested and invested in you as a person.

You know, if someone says they bought a lottery ticket – you get curious to know if they won or not. It’s the same thing here, but you need to share something to create that curiosity.

This principle can be challenging if you’re not used to sharing that much about yourself. If you’re like me, you might have to push yourself a bit to start talking more.

Here are some tips on how you can start sharing more:

  1. At the start of the conversation, after the other person told you about their day. Share a bit about your day. (Try to include one small negative thing and finish it off with something positive.)
  2. Talk about tricky problems or dilemmas you have where the other person could have an interesting opinion.

If they still don’t seem to care about you or if they turn the conversation back to them again, there’s something else you can try. I call it the “preparation method”.

3. Tell your friend in a constructive way that you need to talk about you, too

Don’t write off a friendship until you have had a conversation with your friend about the problem. Often, people don’t realize that they are monopolizing the conversation. By making them aware of it, you can change the entire dynamics of your friendship.

Ask yourself these questions to prepare before talking about it with your friend:

  1. What is actually happening in the conversation that is preventing you from talking? (Does my friend interrupt me, or do they simply never pause long enough for me to get a word in? Or do they turn the conversation back to them when you say something? )
  2. How does it make me feel when this happens?
  3. How does this affect your relationship with each other?
  4. What can you do to help improve the issue?
  5. What can you ask your friend to do to help improve the issue?

Here is an example of a conversation addressing the “listener’s trap”:

“Hey Paul, I wanted to talk to you for a minute. I enjoy hanging out with you, but sometimes I have a hard time getting a chance to talk during our conversations. I care about you as my friend and enjoy hearing about your life, but I need more space to talk about my life as well.”

It can help to acknowledge the positive parts of your friendship. That way your friend doesn’t believe you’re implying that the relationship is all bad. It also reminds you both why the relationship is worth saving.

Another guideline for having a conversation about a problem is to avoid accusations such as, “You always do all the talking”, or “You never listen to me”. Always and never are bad ways to describe something, and it’s more likely to make your friend defensive.

If your friend becomes defensive, they might begin firing back with a list of things they think you do and don’t do, and this paves the way for a full-blown fight.

Using “I” statements (like “I feel” and, “I think”) helps you to make statements only about how you are feeling and what you are thinking. This is different from accusing your friend about what they think and feel (which will make them defensive and upset).

Instead of saying “You do this”, and “You do that”, say instead, “I feel ____________ when __________ happens.”

This makes the same point without making your friend defensive.

And remember, this single conversation can improve your whole friendship.

Click here to read more about how to have a difficult talk like that with a friend.

4. Distance yourself if your friend is toxic

Unfortunately, some people are a lost cause, you can’t change someone who isn’t willing to change.

One-sided relationships are not true friendships. It’s easy to see that it’s not worth it to spend your time and energy on a person like that. But it’s not always easy to break up, especially if you’re a nice person who doesn’t like conflict.

In these cases, I recommend starting to spend less time with that person and focusing more on others. Because why would you invest in a relationship with someone if they don’t give anything back?

When you become more distant, there’s even a chance they will try to “win you back”. If they start to ask you how you are that’s a good sign.

Let them know how serious of a problem their unwillingness to share the conversation is. Hopefully, this will motivate them to make a change.

To be clear, I’m not recommending that you play “hard to get” with your friend. But the act of distancing yourself from the friendship doesn’t have to mean it’s a permanent break.

Some ways to distance yourself include:

  • Stop taking phone calls/responding to messages from that person
  • Say “no” to invitations to hang out
  • Spend more time with other friends instead
  • Don’t put yourself in situations where you are likely to meet the toxic friend

Sometimes it can be easier to tell the person that you don’t want to spend time with them anymore. This is difficult and uncomfortable, but it may be necessary to cut away the toxicity from your life.

Your conversation could sound something like this:

“Ashley, I really care about you as a person, but this friendship isn’t healthy for me and I need to spend more time with my other friends instead.”

If you want to go into more detail, you can say:

“We had a conversation before about how I don’t get much space to talk in our conversations, and that hasn’t improved since we discussed it. Our friendship feels one-sided and it’s doing me more harm than good.”

There is no need to be rude or disrespectful, but it’s also unnecessary to mince words or try and sugar-coat the issue. It’s better if they get it sooner rather than later.

5. Look for signs if your friend is toxic or using you

Ask yourself this: Do they really care about you and your feelings? Or, do they only care about themselves and use you to vent about their problems?

If they actually care about you, they might be unaware they talk too much and act so self-centered. In that case, your friendship may be worth saving.

True friendship is built on mutual respect and care for each other. If your friend isn’t interested in your life, you might be their friend, but they are not really your friend.

Here are 10 warning signs to help tell if someone is a bad or toxic friend:

  1. You don’t look forward to seeing them
  2. They make you feel bad about yourself
  3. You don’t get the support or help you need from them
  4. They often lie to you or others
  5. They don’t listen when you talk about how you feel
  6. Do they brush you off and turn the discussion back to themselves when you try to share?
  7. They get annoyed or talk louder when you try to say something
  8. It drains your energy to be with them
  9. They only talk to you when they need something from you
  10. They don’t ask you any questions about how you are and don’t show they care about you

If a lot of these signs match your relationship, it might not be worth trying to save this relationship.

Click here to read more about how to tell fake friends from real friends.

I have quite a bit of my own experience in this area. Many times I’ve invested in a friendship and tried to be a good friend, but I never got anything in return. To nobody’s surprise, those friendships didn’t last.

In hindsight, I can now see what was happening more clearly…

The majority of the people in those one-sided relationships were using me for something: a ride, money, free therapy, or a place to stay.

If you are always pouring into other people and never being poured into yourself, eventually your cup will run dry. In other words, you only have so much to give if you never get anything back. A healthy friendship is supposed to give you more energy, not less.

This doesn’t mean that everyone who’s a bad listener is using you. Next, we’ll look at the signs of a good friend (who might just be a bad listener).

6. Look for signs if your friend cares about you (even if they only talk about themselves)

Here are 10 good signs to help tell if someone cares about you:

  1. You look forward to seeing them
  2. They make you feel good about yourself
  3. They support and help you when you need it
  4. They are honest with you
  5. They care about how you feel
  6. They ask you questions that show they care
  7. They are interested in what you have to say and what you think
  8. You feel inspired and energized after meeting them
  9. They want to hang out with you without any hidden reasons (like asking for favors)
  10. You know that they’ll be there for you if you need them

If you can see that more than 1 of these signs match your friendship, it may be worth saving.

So, let’s talk about what you can do with your friend who only talks about herself/himself and doesn’t show interest in you.

7. Break the pattern where you are the listener

Here’s a quote from a reader of ours that I think is a great example of the listener’s trap:

“After about 6 months of “friendship”, these people turn to me as someone to talk to, as I always seem interested in their daily affairs.

The difficulty is that my friends just want to talk about themselves. I am afraid that if I start talking about myself, these friends would find me whiny and stop being friends with me!

I personally think that I may be not interesting enough to people, and thus people don’t seem to take interest in what I say or do – they just like me for being someone they can vent to or talk to or seek advice from.

At first, I enjoyed the attention but right now I’m getting a little tired of this as it never seems to be my turn to speak – the conversation always turns back to them.”

This is a common trap when you start becoming a better listener: Most people love to talk about themselves and their problems to a good listener.

In the beginning, when you develop your listening ability, it feels great.

People will want to talk to you for hours, about themselves… And you probably keep it going by asking good follow-up questions, reflecting on what they said, and making them feel heard.

But in the heat of the moment, you might ignore what you think is interesting and focus on what you notice that they like talking about.

The problem here is that you’ve created a pattern in your relationship where you’re the listener, and they’re the talker.

It’s natural for them to assume you like to listen because that’s what you’ve shown with your behavior. So that’s how the pattern is created. And then you start feeling trapped always being the listener.

What we really want is a balanced relationship where we can talk about things we BOTH find interesting, not what just one of us finds interesting.

8. Talk about commonalities to teach people that you aren’t just going to be the listener

When it comes to new relationships, make sure to establish a more balanced relationship from the start. It’s a lot easier than trying to get out of the listener’s trap.

To do this, first focus on finding commonalities. By talking about mutual interests, you both get to talk about topics you enjoy.

Click here to learn how to determine another person’s interests.

Not only will you enjoy the conversation more, but the other person should have less of a problem letting you speak when you’re talking about something they are also interested in.

(Disclaimer: Some people believe they are the experts on every topic and interest and continue to monopolize the discussion anyway. We’ll discuss how to deal with that a little later).

When a relationship is in its early stages, make an effort to bond with the other person by sharing about your own life in addition to listening to them talk about theirs. While you want to show that you are a good listener, it’s important to understand the balance involved in making good conversation.

If you set yourself up to only be a listener, they may come to believe you don’t want to talk and feel that they have to carry the conversation to avoid awkward silences.

9. “I’m afraid that if I start talking about myself, they would find me whiny and stop being friends with me.”

As I mentioned, this is why it’s so important to find mutual interests in your friendship and use these as the bulk of your conversation topics.

However, true friendships will provide you with the time and safe space you need to share the details of your life.

Genuine friends will care enough about you to listen to things about your life that aren’t particularly interesting to them; to put it differently, some things may only be interesting to your friends because they’re interesting to you and they care about you.

As a good friend, you will do the same for your friends by listening to details about their hobbies and interests that may not also be your hobbies and interests.

This is true for any type of relationship, and I have an example:

I am really passionate about plants (especially anything edible, and also orchids), but my girlfriend doesn’t really care for it that much. Still, she’ll entertain me and let me talk about all the latest happenings with my plants from time to time. I think she at least enjoys my passion and seeing how happy I am about it.

And on the other side, she’s really interested in cute animal videos, while I’m not. But I’ll still indulge her from time to time and watch something with her. I still like seeing what she likes and I love seeing her happy.

But on the whole, I’d say 90% of our topics are mutual interests.

Part of any healthy friendship or another type of relationship is learning how to balance your conversations between those that are mutually interesting and those that are specific to only one of you. It is this balance that will help you avoid sounding “whiny” when you talk about yourself.

In addition, when talking about yourself do it once per conversation and then be done talking about it (unless they ask you more about it).

Next time you see them, it’s fine to catch them up on anything else that’s happened related to the situation, but again, don’t turn it into something that you harp on the entire time.

David told me about a mindset that simplifies the idea of mutual interests. He said: “I have the ambition to talk about what the other person also finds interesting.”

It’s not about NEVER being allowed to talk about anything else, it’s simply about making mutual interests your primary focus.

For example, I have one friend I rarely talk psychology with (even if it’s a big part of my life), because I know he’s not interested in that. But I also know he’s very interested in nutrition and health, so I might bring that up in a conversation with him. We can talk about it for hours sometimes.

Then I have another friend who’s not really interested in nutrition, but he loves discussing philosophy and also deeper personal issues. So I talk more about that with him.

With another friend, I talk more about politics, traveling, and gaming.

And so it goes. The point is that I rarely talk about something that ONLY interests me, like my daily affairs or a special interest. Instead, I find something that interests the BOTH of us. That way I can keep a balanced and rewarding conversation where we both talk about as much.

Also, keep the 50/50-rule in mind: Talk about as much as you listen.

The 50/50-rule helps remind me to keep my conversations balanced, especially when I find myself beginning to ramble.

Learning to have balanced conversations can help you avoid sounding whiny whenever you talk about yourself to your friends.

10. How to judge if your relationship is worth saving

According to one study on modern friendships, the characteristics of true friendship are an important part of our mental and emotional support system as we develop throughout our lives. These qualities “include self-disclosure and liking, help and support, shared interests and activities, and expressions of closeness.” (1)

The study also discovered that the participants’ valued friendships the most when they BOTH had fun together. They described those friendships as “inclusive. (1)

If you’re unable to share your life (“self-disclosure”) and your interests/activities with someone, then you can ask yourself if it is a friendship at all. Also, if the person you’re spending time with never lets you talk, it’s not an inclusive friendship.

Here’s what I’m getting at: According to research-based definitions of friendship, a person who never lets you talk may not really be your friend at all. This realization can change the way you go about things as you attempt to break out of the listener’s trap.

In a real friendship, abruptly changing the things you do or the way you act can be awkward. But if the relationship isn’t a real friendship, it probably won’t make much of a difference when you make changes. If your “friend” spends all your time together talking about himself or herself, they may not even notice.

The “listener’s trap” isn’t a fun place to be; it’s harmful to your friendships and harmful to you by causing you to miss out in your relationships. Breaking free of this trap isn’t easy, but it is possible and you can do it one small step at a time.

Are you stuck in the “listener’s trap” with any of your friends? Describe your situation in the comments below and I’ll give you my best advice!

References:

  1. Niland, P., Lyons, A. C., Goodwin, I., & Hutton, F. 2015. Friendship work on facebook: Young adults’ understanding and practice of friendship. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 25. 123-137. DOI: 10.1002/casp.2201.

Viktor is SocialPro's expert in communication and relationships.

He has a B.A. with a major in Psychology at University of Gothenburg and a B.Sc. with a major in Biological engineering at Chalmers University of Technology

Before he joined SocialPro, he worked as a relationship and dating coach.

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54 thoughts on “What to do when friends only talk about themselves and their problems”

  1. Hi it’s so interesting and exciting seeing all the topics replies and comments it helped me in my situation. I have a friend who I think may be a bit jealous of me not trying to sound irognant at all but when she seen how my body looked on accident she then sent a pic of her in a waist trainer without me even asking. When we talk now all of a sudden she is always talking about the guys who want her she always is saying guys want her she always talks about her assets which is fine I guess I’m all for self love and self confidence but soon as I talk about the guy I may be trying to date or if I talk about someone I once loved and how I would love to have them back in my life she just sends dry texts like a few words and then she goes back to talking about herself but yet when she talks about the person she once loved she can write paragraph after paragraph. I’ve helped her with money before we known each other for years not once has she financially gave me anything. She admitted to me she has guys send her money and uses them for this which I think is wrong and I stopped helping her with money because I think she was trying to do the same with me. Now that I read this article I kind of do feel like I’m in a listening ear trap and it’s kind of a one sided friendship. She sometimes says someone calling her when we are on the phone and she told me probably on accident she tells that to ppl to get them off the phone. I am good at reading people I also feel like she wishes bad on my health she will send me google articles on diseases out there like what is that suppose to mean? She can be a bit religious I’m spiritual not religious only God can judge I believe that it’s a relationship with God not a religion. Honestly these past months she does encourage me sometimes to do good in life she gives some advice on like life God and my career but when it comes to guys it’s very basic advice other than you gone be blessed with a man one day I mean nice to say but she never wants to elaborate I feel like I’m a good friend and I really give good advice but another annoying thing is she wants the guy she is still in love with from her past then the other second she says she is done with him for life I understand as women we can tend to do this but she does it every single day I can’t see me a year two years plus hearing this everyday from her talking about the same man how he plays games but yet she loves him like make up your mind already. And sometimes she will ask my opinion and then bash it and say well this well that like didn’t you ask my opinion? Now your mad I gave it? I had another friend in the past kind of similar that I was hesistant to say anything because she would always go against what I say even it is something very simple or harmless its very confusing and a bit stressful you can’t even be yourself or have a conversation with people like this. I’m not a mean person I’d feel bad for changing my number on her but honestly I don’t think I want friends anymore I never have good friendships I have the worse of luck in this area. I rather just have co workers aquatiances family and brothers sisters in Christ for support and company. But all in all I don’t want to hang out all the time or talk to anyone too much or get too attached to anyone. Sometimes time or distance keeps the drama away like spending too much time with anyone can be too much. Any opinions should I drop her? I feel like if I tell her it makes me feel unappreciated or feel like it’s one sided friendship she may get mad. I just want a authentic friendship I don’t want a friendenemy someone who pretends to be your friend because they are jealous like a weird obession with you or wanna use you because they have no other friends so they just talk to you because it’s better than nothing. Anyone been or going through the same thing?

    Reply
  2. I’ve been friends with this girl for 9 years. We’ve been through many things even though at times she wasn’t there for me and I was always considered to be the bad one to others because she seemed innocent and wouldn’t talk and tell her opinion. Recently, things are getting worse: she is always busy when I tell her to meet, she always has excuses, we can’t even talk about things, she never asks me how I am or talk and she always talks about herself and when I start talking about me she changes the subject. I talked to her about it but she doesn’t understand, she finds excuses and trying to say that it is my fault for everything. And to add to that, she lies to me and does things behind my back. I tried to save this friendship but I don’t know if I am being paranoid.

    Reply
    • I loved your article. It brought tremendous insight. I have a spouse that talks so much about himself that it drives me nuts but hes the kindest person. Because im not that kind of person, i get really annoyed because i love to listen but i never get asked how my day is or how i feel. Kinda sucks

      Reply
  3. my friend is really great and we do understand each very well….but we are trying to save others friendship which is being ruined by someone for his own intentions …the other has fallen for the tricks of the ones trying to separate them……the other one is trying to make his friend realise the plans of the one trying to separate them only to find out that his best friend doesn’t care about his friend’s feelings any more …what should we do to help this poor soul

    Reply
  4. I have a friend who talks constantly about her dysfunctionship with her boyfriend.They go together to the same therapist!
    When I asked her what happened at the session,she replied”Nothing to report.Dorry”
    What does that mean? I feel hurt and dismissed!

    Reply
    • My thoughts is her boyfriend may not approve of your friendship and there fore it will be super hard to involve them both.

      Sounds like she has a lot of problems and that is why she is so changeable.

      Reply
  5. Hi,
    I have a question. I live in Spain and I recently met an Arabian lady (we are kindred spirits) who has a turbulent relationship with her boyfriend. He is obviously still in love with his (alcoholic) ex-wife (who has the upper hand and who uses their 3 (spoiled rotten and self indulgent) children (whom she abandoned) as the excuse to interfere and try to break up their relationship).
    Twice, my new acquaintance has made plans to meet me but it fizzles out each time without previous warning or, any apology. I would like to meet her but we only message on WhatsApp (she connects after her work and messages me (past midnight) about her life and problems. When I share my (summarized) news she either asks a quick question, uses monosyllables or, doesn’t respond to it at all. She has many friends all over the world. She says she wants to help her boyfriend (overcome all his family problems), make money and have fun. I make friends easily but I have no friends to speak of. How can I cultivate a better friendship with her? Her boyfriend is not interested in socializing with me and my husband and he is looking to move to Saudi Arabia for work. But I would love them as friends because I am on their level. (I have lived in several countries also but I always had to leave my friends behind and now I also want to have some fun with some new friends, like her! I am in a position where I can socialize but it’s going backwards. Although, when we met, she was very insistant on asking me my name and she gave me her business card. I am very patient because, the alternative is not healthy.
    Thank you for your time.

    Reply
  6. Consice and constructive information that brings attention to value ourselves too. Most times after talking to my “friend” I am exhausted listening to his day in, day out problems. I felt like my life was just a footnote. I pride myself on being a good listener and being a supportive friend but some people use that and think I’m am their personal emotional sponge. But I see things more clearly now and I’m moving in a different direction. Thanks.

    Reply
  7. Super helpful! Is there any more guidance you can give about digging for common interests?

    After searching for some by mentioning some of mine and asking questions and not finding any it can get awkward.

    Thanks,
    Crystal

    Btw I am participating in your awkward to awesome conversation skills class, week 4.

    Reply
  8. My friend always talks about her diabetes, the surgeries she’s had, how it didn’t help anything, (or made things worse) the unwanted weight loss, how her clothing doesn’t fit anymore, family members that have died, how her daughter is ungrateful, how she’s so sick but is going to go babysit her grandchildren even though she’s sick (she empathies this) how her other daughter never listens to ehr and argues with her, and on and on and on if she does say something positive always ends it with “Other people have it far worse then I do.” Then will go on about how she’s a caring person and wishes she could help everyone, that she did in the past as much as posable but can’t now. And many other complaints. I forgot she always seems to have something new that’s going wrong or a new injury (twice now she says she’s fallen down and is referring to her bruises as conclusions. O.o

    How do I let her know I sympathize, and let her know she’s being herd and get her to change the subject once in a while without being rude or hurting her feelings? I’ve tried and failed as and change of subject she’ll always bring back around to her. It’s getting to the point where I’ll avoid her for a few days to get a break!

    I think special care is needed here as she has a chronic illness and has a right to complain. I just want the subject to be something else!

    I get blasted with migraines often along with arthritis but I don’t complain much about it as in my opinion people will only care so much before becoming desensitized to the whole problem/issue. I think the first words out of someone’s mouth should not to be to complain and bemoan about one’s pains all the time. So I’m really at odds with this friend and want to find a gentle way to steer her away from her pains and maybe get her to think about something else for a while.

    Hum.. i’m tring to decide if she has all these problems or if she’s a hipocondrack or maybie a weird form of a naracist? Thanks for any feedback. Maybie I’m over thinking this.

    Reply
    • I have this exact same situation. My “so called” friend ALWAYS complains about the tiniest physical problems all the while knowing that I feel lousy with Lupus. I’ve decided to only see her 3 or 4 times a year. Let her tell someone else about all her hypochondriac complaints.

      Reply
  9. A wonderful article.

    But what about when there’s a common interest that becomes all absorbing to the exclusion of everything else?

    For instance, I know many people I know are interested in railroads and trains.

    They only talk about one thing; railroads and trains. Anything else is “off topic”.

    You can know someone for many years but know little about the person. All that’s ever been discussed is the common interest; in this case railroads and trains.

    Reply
  10. Thank you!! Here I have discovered valuable information that answers the concerns I left earlier in a comment section///ie, The Listener’s Trap.

    I will study this, nervously attempt some of the techniques then get back. Thanks. Marie

    Reply
  11. I had put myself in a trap for 6 years, I didn’t realize at the beginning because she seemed sad and needed some friendship So I thought of being her good friend I should listen and give her good advice.
    As times go on, after her divorced and she gained her confidence back, she started to talk more about herself, her new boyfriend, her jobs, her other friends who I barely know, her new condo. She said she likes to share with me. That’s ok to share but when you share, you should listen to others of what they want to share with you too. She just asked me on something that maybe she doesn’t have better than me. I feel like comparing is happening in her mind but she tried to cover it.
    When she gets something good she will tell me so that I say congratulations to her and be happy with her blablabla….
    In the other hand, if I got something good to share, it seems like she doesn’t want to hear, not being supportive of me. Sometimes even say some bad criticism like it was not good in her opinion which she has no knowledge about that thing.
    I recently break off talking with her by telling her exactly how I feel. She doesn’t get it and take it as it was me in a bad mood.
    Now I feel so free and relax during this moment, I am not knowing if I want to be back to talk to her again since she doesn’t know her own problem and it means it wont be fixed

    Reply
    • Good for you! I admire your courage to tell her how you felt. I have been in similar situations but it took me a really long time to bring that up because I was worried if she’ll be mad at me and talk bad things about me to other people. In the end, it was so stressful for me that I eventually told her how I felt with my friend’s help (who also shared similar feelings), but it was definitely hard for me.

      Reply
  12. I have a friend that I talk to well but in his side he rarely talks to me like ever since he met his other friends that he never met in person, he started acting strange like me and him used to be close like me and him have been friends since Elementary school and me and him would always talk to each other everyday on messenger until 9th grade he started acting different like every time I ask him an important question or try to start a conversation, he just looks at it and doesn’t reply back or doesn’t look at it at all but when he asks me an question or starts a conversation with me, I reply back and when after I reply back he doesn’t look at it and just goes offline on messenger and switches over to Instagram which is where he talks to his other friends that he never met in person but when I text him on Instagram, he just goes offline and switches over to Discord and when I do the same there he just puts his icon on DO NOT DISTURB. It’s getting really annoying how he just ignores me but I don’t ignore him and respond back to him with positiveness and what not. I did confront him one time and told him why he was always ignoring me and that it was annoying then he said that I was annoying and frustrating which really makes me confused because he has about 10 friends he never met in person before and I bet they all send him like 50 or a little less messages a day and I am most sure that he responds back to them but when I just send one message, he doesn’t at all which makes me wonder why you would just be more friendly active and care more about people you never met before in person like you never know what that person looks like nor how they really act in person so what do I do in a situation like this for my friend because this has been happening over a week now and its really annoying and is he even really my friend or did he turn fake on me and became a fake friend and plus I think he is also doing this because we got separated from each other every since high school started but I mostly think its ever since he met his “friends” so please reply and tell me if he is even a real friend anymore and tell me what to do in this situation.

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  13. There is another danger in the listener trap. When you have too much of that in your life, and then get around people that are good listeners, it’s easy to become the talker. This is because you finally have someone that will let you talk so you want to get it all out. It’s an easy habit to fall into if you’re not careful.

    Reply
    • Yes that is certainly a danger that I have become aware of too! I have found that this is where the advice of these bloggers comes in very handy. What I remind myself, in addition to the attentional shift and other advice here, is that because they are good listeners, I will have another chance when I see them next if there is more I want to talk about. But it is exciting because you then have a real chance at the ideal of an equal friendship!

      Reply
  14. Hi, I have a friend who, in text messages, can ask me a question, I respond to the question, but she would then very rarely comment on what I told her in my response. Instead, in her response, she would only respond to what I ask her back, and the text conversation turns into a conversation about whatever she tells me (because I ask her follow-up questions). Isn’t it courtesy to comment on what somebody tells you? Like, even if it’s just me telling her that I’m going on a trip or something like that. What could be her reasons for not even commenting on what I tell her? It’s a bit different IRL, so this only really bothers me in text messaging, but that’s our mean of communication (we live in different cities) so it’s starting to annoy me quite a bit.

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    • I totally agree with you, Katie. I have the same experience with quite a lot of people I know. It makes me regret sending them kind messages from my side when they don’t reply at all. I don’t understand how some people don’t even know basic manners. It feels like I’m offering my politeness for nothing. No reciprocity makes me question my whole ‘kind’ approach to them. It feels really dirty when you’re messages are just ignored.

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  15. I just want to kill myself. I am a victim of horrible narcissistic abuse from my own Mother, Grandparents, Inlaws, husband, close girlfriends,and Oder sister and I am an alcoholic because of the pain in my childhood. . I am so tired of people talking about themselves I could put a bullet through my brain. People don’t realize that others are in pain around them. As an empath, I drink to end the pain. Do people not realize they are talking about themselves endlessly and yet ignore the divorced isolated friend who lives alone and wants to. Die? I do not discuss my pain because I don’t want to bother others. My father died of suicide. I understand why he did. Just please please listen to people who are going through a lot in their lives.

    Reply
    • You are joking right? You just complained how all these people talk about themselves and their lives. All the while, you sit here and whine about people not feeling sorry for you and giving you attention. Then you cry wolf about suicide? You are the typical mind-warped, narcissist alcoholic. Get your act together and no one gives you attention because they don’t feel sorry for you. Your general demeanor is a clear indicator as to why

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    • Hi Sarah, I do feel sorry for you. But you should leave your toxic friendships, find other people or therapist. I see no reason to judge you as the other commenter did. We all have feelings and should feel free to reveal them at least sometimes.

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  16. Insightful article, and many good stuff. I think others aspects also, like self-esteem and communication skills, can play a big deal to make you either sort of a listener or talker person.

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  17. This is a really excellent and useful article. For some reason this stuff which seems obvious once reading, I have never been taught or learnt in the 35 years I’ve been on this planet. Thank you for writing this.

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  18. I live in SE England and have several really true old friends from my youth with whom I get on very well, but they all live miles and miles away (Scotland, Australia, Amsterdam, etc). I also have one very good friend who lives about 5 miles away.

    However, I have regularly got stuck in the listening trap in “new” communities every time I moved house (and county) – 7 times in my adult life.

    I am already doing all the things you suggest to keep a conversational balance! I trained to teach Maths, and also as a Citizens Advice volunteer, so active listening comes naturally to me. I have moved around a lot (see above) and lived abroad, so finding shared interests isn’t difficult either. I often ask new acquaintances for informal coffee in my own home, but rarely receive reciprocal invitations. AND I do, from time to time, force myself to interrupt and say something (relevant about the current topic) about my own experience. But … I am perhaps hyper-sensitive about stopping my discourse when my companion seems to have switched off.

    Result: I have a large number of acquaintances (and family in-laws!) who all seem quite glad to see me (and enjoy my hospitality) … but still always talk about themselves!!!

    Should I persist longer when talking about myself? Or should I just be content with my very few tried and trusted REAL friends? Writing this makes me conclude that ONE good friend is all that any 75 year old should expect – especially if one has several hundred shallow acquaintances?

    Reply
    • Hi Judy, thanks for sharing so openly with all of us. I think your experience will help a lot of people see how common this problem is.

      Another thing we didn’t mention in the article, that I like trying, is to open up about something to the other person that you want their support or advice on. A good friend will listen well and try to give you the emotional support or advice that you need. Even if a friend talks too much, if they still help me out when I request it or open up, I feel the friendship can still be worth saving. Have you tried that?

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  19. Hi, you say “You could bring it up with them in a constructive way. I’ve actually done this myself with a few friends and I’ve been surprised by how willing most of them have been to change when they realize their error.”

    I’d really like to know how because I have a friend (male, I’m a male too, french, 26yo) who is exactly like that.

    Everytime I or someone else talk about an experience, he can’t help but bring the subject back to him. Just as an : example if someone talks about his/her trip on an island like Caribbean or whatever, he will not ask questions or be interested, he will just say that he had a different experience at the same place (or even in a different place).
    That’s annoying.

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  20. I understand it to be a bit more than a ‘listener trap’. I am naturally a bit of a ‘people pleaser’ and have a knack of attracting certain personalities who have manipulative and selfish tendencies. What I found very interesting here is that Darrel writes:

    “I am afraid that if I start talking about myself, these friends would find me whiny and stop being friends with me.”

    This tells me that either Darrel has self esteem issues and has difficulty asserting his feelings as worthy or/and that their could be a power imbalance in the relationship. For one individual to talk about themselves as much as they wish and that Darrel has picked up possibly on an ‘unspoken rule’ or the likes, that for him to talk about himself makes him ‘Whiny’- and it is not tolerable to his ‘friend’. In this situation I would step back and look at my relationships to identify if their is a pattern to the kind of people I gravitate to and gravitate to me and if I am subconsciously allowing myself to get sucked into and stuck in trying to ‘help’ people who do not really want help but want all of your attention at their call.

    I have already been doing as is described here and made an effort to lay down my boundaries from the beginning in relationships that their is no mistake about what I will tolerate in the name of friendship. It takes effort for individuals who have a relaxed or ‘passive’ style to not give off the impression that they will do and be all that anyone wants them to. Instead of Darrel worrying if someone will think him whiny if he talks about himself, Id strongly suggest that he ask himself if he wants to be in a relationship with someone who talks about themselves all the time and thinks he is the whiner when on occasion he turns the conversation to himself. When he gives less of his time to people who offer him little in return he opens up a space to connect with others whom he can have a more balanced and rewarding relationship with.

    Reply
    • This really resonates with me and i cant help but find myself on both sides,
      The only thing i can say for myself is it comes from a good place.
      However you never know hw you look in other peoples eyes, especially nowadays,
      We all mostly talk to eachother through social media, and We’ve lost the kind of natural human interaction
      That you need to know where you stand with someone or have a real down to earth back and forth conversation.

      Ive found its honestly a great idea to call your friends,and family or voice message instead
      You can tell alot from the tone in someone’s voice and is much more relaxed and uncomfortable
      When you do need to talk to someone because you’r havikng a hard time, wich theirs no shsme in,
      It can be incredibly hard to say it all through text, not everyone is good at handling those situations,
      Which is honestly why im here,
      When theirs a problem on your mind alot of the time sometimes you have to write a big paragraph
      it can seem overwhelming through text and put people in a situation where they dont know where to start
      Leaving the situation whatever it is unresolved, while in person it would usually be handled in a few minutes

      can only speak for myself but in my experience
      that can push away the person who needs help as much as the people who they need help from.

      My advice to us all in these situations is to remind ourselves things are only as big a deal as you make them
      taking a leap of faith and trusting in yourself and your relationships enough to be honest and open
      Will help you grow as a human being, and save your relationships from needlessly fading off

      Reply
  21. I recently started dating someone like this. I am typically the listener in my friendships/relationships – initially listening 70% of the time and talking 30% of the time with the ratio moving towards 50-50 if the friendship/relationship grows.

    But with this guy, it’s more like 95% me listening and 5% me talking. He’s a terrific man and is not narcissistic in any way but for this one issue. And it has gotten to the point where anytime i mention something exciting that happened to me, e.g. getting into grad school, his reply is something along the lines of “great! i’m hungry.”

    I have tried the above- focusing on topics that we both have in common, but nothing. I have also mirroring his behavior to get him to stop, and I have outright called him out (politely) on not being curious about something b/c he didn’t bother asking me any questions about it, but nothing.

    i’m starting to think that the only reason we are still dating is because he likes that i listen. (or at least did initially). I’ve run out of ideas on what to do, though, as he is nice but this is starting to aggravate me.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing Ellen, it sounds like you have thought a lot about this and have clear and reasonable goals for what you expect from him.

      It seems you have tried everything without seeing any change in his behavior. He’s either oblivious, not socially skilled in listening (COMMON!), or just doesn’t care about you. Since I get the feeling that you are not willing to accept this pattern anymore, I think your best bet is bringing it up with him a final time. This time, make sure he understands how important it is for that this pattern changes in your MUTUAL communication. He very well might be willing to change, although it’s going to take some time and a lot of effort to re-learn how he talks and listens.

      Also, a tip to increase your chances is to talk to him about it as a pattern in your mutual communication. So you don’t direct it at him but instead talk about it like the problem lies in the pattern between the both of you. That way you decrease the chance he feels attacked and becomes defensive.

      You have my best and warmest wishes!

      Reply
      • Oh my, I have a GF like this. She hss been away at school for several months now but calls me every day. The entire time on phone is constant talk about everything good and bad that went on that day. If I get a word in about my day she will usually interrupt and talk over me and steer the conversation back to herself.
        At my stage in life I do not have time or inclination to try and fix someone. Too many other prospects out there. She has got to go.

    • Ellen, I wonder if it is that he has an avoidant attachment style and that you are secure enough not to take it too personally. Their is a very interesting book on how attachment styles look in adult relationships called.. ‘Attached’.

      Reply
    • This is the exact conversation ratio I have been experiencing with my “friend”. 95% about her, 5% for me (if I’m lucky). She has no hesitation in cutting me short or listening to a few short words from me and without responding to what I’ve said, moves the conversation right back to her, sometimes after rolling her eyes because I have spoken. This has been happening for over a year and has made me physically ill, she works next door and monopolises (or rather monopolised) me every lunch hour for an entire hour for over a year. Finally I have had to simply tell her I’m taking an indefinite sabbatical as I need to stop taking everyone else’s problems. I have told her that I’m drained and feeling physically ill. Even this did not sink in, she told me to take a nice bath, listing to soothing music, watch comedy. Anything so I’m back to my old self and ready to listen to her again basically! No acknowledgement that her being so selfish is the cause of this. I am walking away and for good. Sometimes you can’t fix things but have to move away for your own sanity.

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      • I can totally understand. This happened to me with a walking partner. She monopolised the conversation for hours. Every time I attemoted to say something about my life it was treated as unimportant or she swiftly found an answer and returned to her own monalogue. After 4 years of a once a month barrage I could take no more. I wrote an email asking her if we could discuss an issue that was troubling me the next time we walked. She replied she would be happy to do so. The next time we met exactly the same format happened. I tried several times to interject but gave up then finally lost my cool and said I needed to go home. I then wrote her a very long email explaining my angst and how I felt not listened to. Her reply ….. I know you are a very private person!! I could not believe what I was reading and decided there and then our relationship was over. I dont regret it, but feel sad as it is the only relationship I have ever had to end in such an abrupt way. I didnt learn quickly enough and on reflection I was being used for her own gratification.

      • Absolutely! Sadly, this is my story with a hand full of “friends”. I actually believe most people are aware they are acting in this fashion. But they simply do not care. This is under the umbrella is using people. The best alternative, as I am learning, is to break away. In allowing myself to be part of the listener’s trap and for so long a period….I have become resentful and very guarded with the symptoms of others in the only tangible topic is themselves and not others. This article and comments have been so helpful. Thank you.

  22. If people just talk about themselves to you nonstop, and then make an excuse to leave every time you want to talk about yourself; these people never were and never will be your friends!!! Drop them!

    Reply
      • This is very very random that ive come across this comment in this thread,
        but i seem to recognise you from the way you talk, If the name kate harris means anything to you,
        I just want you to know, you’ve made a trully positive impact on my life and helped me to grow as a person
        i will allways apreciate you
        Thank you

    • I agree! But sometimes they are family in-laws!

      It would be nice if they acknowledged that common factor … in my case common grandchildren .. but hey, I think one must just learn to accept it.

      Reply
    • I can easily talk with folk who have a natural interchange. of conversation…
      My mate talk & talks & talks & has no ‘listening’ nor interest. I actually believed I had
      no conspversational skillls left. I was wrong. I can naturally speak with a ‘normal’ back & forth
      flow. I truly doubted myself. I think, it is possible to get ‘swallowed’ up by a greedy & non-stop talker, who
      truly does not care to hear any voice but their own.

      Reply
  23. I have a friend who constantly talks about herself herjob her family if i or anyone in the group speaks she puts her hand up and says….anyway and carries on. She never asks you anything and if the subject wanders from her to something else she steers it back to her…#rude..egocentric..self centered.

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  24. I also found myself a little bit in this article..my problem is that i am really interested when other people talk and i ask questions because im genuinly interested but after a while i have noticed that people just emd up talking about themswlves and as some oof them can be really interesting, most of them i have found boring, egocentric amd after the meet up i would feel so exhausted i did not want to meet those people again. Umfortunatel one if those is my childhood friend. Now as I got older and experienced and more confident i do not want to spend my previoud time on empty talks that exhaust me. But, sadly it is quite difficult to find interesting people who like to share their experience but also learn and paY attention to others.

    Reply
    • I have the exact same problem. I do like to listen. I think that does set up an expectation that no reciprocal attention is OK. Because it doesn’t start to bug me, with a person, until it’s really clear that it’s a pattern. Then, it bugs me.
      The most recent friend I have had this problem with is a good example and it’s been a texting relationship, mostly. I looked back this morning and confirmed my suspicions and then some. Almost every single thing I say, she doesn’t respond or ask questions for further info, but ties it back to some experience she had. I guess I had been aware she wasn’t as engaged in knowing about my stuff, but perhaps it’s been such a regular pattern for me that I didn’t realize the extent to which I was letting this person do this. Since the conversations are saved in the computer, I can see how it all played out. If it weren’t for a couple of other issues I would try to communicate this…but I already sort of tried. I had told her some really important stuff about my life/my heart and she just totally either forgot, or never even heard me. When I raised it again, she had no idea what I was talking about. Not even a clue. ….I’ve had friends like this before. They’re delightful for the occasional outing or chat. But this person doesn’t realize, isn’t going to change. I hit a wall with her because she came unglued at something people were posting on FB, a viral post that annoyed her, and I got numerous, lengthy, repetitive messages from her for a couple of days complaining about it. Well…I was also posting about the issue, because my people were curious. Her rants were really over the top and it’s just really bizarre when someone goes at you like that, pretending it’s about someone else (supposedly various people on her feed were annoying her by posting about this, so she went on rants to ME). Anyway, that kind of sideways attack pretty much tells me …this person doesn’t value my thoughts unless they’re about her (and I’ve been freaking great about that) …..and actually feels entitled to attack me. I’m just out. And if I have to be alone with no friends, that’s actually less stress than having someone in your life who you’re getting to know but who might just stab you in the back or lash out unexpectedly at you. No thanks.

      Reply
  25. In my friendships I find myself to be the “listener”, having trouble putting in a few words in a conversation. At first I just accepted it as the permanent role in my life. But I think I have a lot of knowledge that people can relate to so that we can carry on a more interesting topic than just their problems in life. The problem is I don’t want to overstep and feel like I’m insensitive towards that persons important thoughts. How do I mitigate that to where both of us feel like we’re equally contributing to the conversation while still maintaining the “listener of problems” and my friend walks away thinking I’m a good person to talk to, to get thing off their chest? It’s a conundrum in my life that I’ve dealt with for years.

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  26. Hi, I read your e-mails and watch your videos.
    I wonder why people are so afraid of awkward silence when being around people? Do you think silence are so wrong? Me personally thinks that people talk too much instead of embracing moments in silence around people.

    Reply
    • I personally enjoy a bit of silence every now and then, especially in topics of personal issues. It allows your brain to catch up and process the topic at hand. I personally find it useful in conversations, so that each person walks away not replaying the problem in their mind, since you got it out of you talking to the other person. Silence can be useful other than filling the gaps with nonsense.

      Reply

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