Why do People Enjoy Talking about Themselves So Much?

Do you know those people who always seem to interrupt you when you are talking? Those people who always seem to find a way to make the conversation go about themselves? Or maybe you consider yourself to be just that kind of person? And if so, how does that make you feel? Personally, I get very uncomfortable around people using the word ‘I’ more than five times per minute. It makes me feel like I am attending a lecture instead of having a conversation. But do you know what bothers me even more? I am that kind of person.

Too much using of the word ‘I’ can be an indication of either of two things: (1) a lack of empathy or (2) a disproportionately large longing for validation. Let’s start with empathy. Any human being living in this world of ours has a need to socialize with its fellow species-members, whereby socializing consists of keeping an adequate balance between the giving and taking of thoughts. It is an endeavor that allows us to live together in the dense populations we have. However, whenever the balance between giving and taking gets distorted too much, we don’t consider ourselves to be engaged in a conversation anymore. By talking about ‘I’ too much, the conversation has stopped and the plea has begun. By talking about what ‘I’ believe too frequently, you implicitly take away the right of your conversation partner – or even his duty – to contribute to the conversation. And that is what we usually consider to be anti-social behavior.

The other reason for using the word ‘I’ too frequently is that you might have a disproportionately large need for receiving validation from your social environment. This need consists of a sense of ‘wanting to be listened to’ that is significantly larger than what people generally consider to be pleasant. The question is: why would someone do that? Why would someone keep talking about his own ideas while knowing that his interlocutor might not find this pleasant? Well, maybe it is because the person doesn’t understand yet or doesn’t understand why his behavior is considered to be anti-social. Maybe it is because he just started interacting with his species members and still needs to experience the nature of giving and taking which is present in a pleasant conversation. Or maybe the person knows all of the above but still doesn’t consider himself to be anti-social; maybe the person believes that we he says is right and that what the others say is wrong, and that this observation justifies him in talking about his ideas disproportionately much.

However, it often is very difficult to draw the line between what is a healthy contribution to a conversation and what is a narcissistic urge to express one’s ideas. The former is praiseworthy and can function therapeutically, constructively and even emphatically. Speaking is after all the best medium we have at our disposal for us human beings to make others aware of our beliefs. You could of course say that works of art and other human creations also have the capability to pass on their creator’s message. And although that might be true, social interaction in terms of the spoken word still seems to dominate each other medium in making your intentions clear to another human being. Face-to-face communication allows people to absorb the often subtle gestures, facial expressions and tonality that are required in order to truly understand the creator’s beliefs. And, as you might have experienced, passing on a well-intended written ironic statement is much more likely to be misinterpreted than the same message being spoken out loud. The subtleties present in human speech can make all the difference for interpreting a message in either the intended or unintended way.

But although it might be annoying, sometimes we just have to let the ‘I-talkers’ rush out and talk about themselves. Sometimes we just have to let them release the tension that is underlying the painfully unidirectional ‘conversation’ you appear to be engaged in. We might even learn something from it; that is at least what I hope your response will be after reading this self-centric plea of mine.

Therefore the right question to put all the above into perspective would be: what do you think?

Written by Rob Graumans

3 thoughts on “Why do People Enjoy Talking about Themselves So Much?

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I think you’ve explained it very well and your conclusion to let these people speak is what I believe too. What we learn from letting those people talk makes us learn how to listen better and be more open minded about showing an interest into every kind of person, even if that person of matter is in need of attention to draw the conversation completely to her/himself.

    A possible downside could be that it could get frustrating if one gets confronted with this selfish behaviour too often and therefore could get annoyed or even start disliking the person.

  2. What happens to those people who are in the same room as a person who talks about themselves all the time, what they did at school, what they ate for lunch when they were 14 years of age and what they like to think about when they’re walking down the road to catch a bus.. then there’s the same repetitive conversation about when she went out with those friends “was it helen i went out with, no… wait.. was it Clare, no it was helen… no it was definately Clare” what do we do when the pressure inside our own heads gets too much? similar to a pressure cooker about to explode! is it not a case of ‘cruel to be kind’ here, could we not always let these people talk about themselves for 30 minutes or 1 hours before we have to vacate the building in a rush to nearest gym or bar? would it not be more sensible to let these people know what they are in fact doing? if i was a person who talked about themselves 98% of the time and did not realise the boredome and sheer frustration on my friend i was having a one way conversation with and then one day, the told me… I’d be absoloutely mortified with embarrassment. So I do believe tact is a huge factor in how we would potentially deal with this situation, tell the person, or even ask the person if they are aware they talk constantly about themselves, their life now and back in 1962 when they were 24 years of age and wearing silver shiny stilletos.

    Any ideas welcome?

  3. I am not a good dancer. Never put in the time to learn the art well enough to share it in public. Which is not to say I don’t dance; I do, but free of the subjective judgement of others. I can handle my own inner critic when dancing in my living room as I vacuum. Which brings me to my reply; I find it a difficult matter to reconcile, and certainly a challenging prospect to assert my opinion on the conversational methods of my counterpart in order to make it more personally palatable.

    I find it rather ironic of me to point out to someone I find their use of I overbearing. As well, how am I to know what an acceptable amount of self-reference is beneficial to our conversation as a whole? Or to me as a person? Or to my speaking partner? Give and take is a fine and dandy notion, but do I need it occur in each of my conversations? Or might I be better served if I were to step back and view the conversations I have on a longer time line? Some conversations Jane talks about herself disproportionately (in my view, ahem). Others, it might be me who talks too much about myself (does Jane dare tell me? Do I think this myself as I’m speaking?)

    It might seem overly simplistic, but I’ll surmise it this way: trying to decide just how much self-reference is equitable is difficult for me because no conversation exists in a vacuum. My conversations exist with other people (when I’m not talking to myself, which is another discussion entirely. Maybe) who are entirely different from me, with different perspectives; at different points in our lives; with differing momentary needs and wants; levels of intro and extroversion; intellectual ability, range of compassion, emotional intelligence… basically, different EVERYTHING.

    So, some questions I ask myself when embarking upon a conversational journey the answers to which better illuminate my needs with respect to experiencing a more equitable exchange, are:

    What role would I like to play in this conversation?
    What would I like to get out of it?
    What what I like to contribute to it?
    And, if I am to broach the topic of a conversational partner’s assumed overuse of “I”, what is at stake?

    Al the while I endeavor to remember, a conversation is a dance and it takes two to tango, whether we can dance or not. That is the final, and subjective, question.

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