Relating To Your Friends With Personal Anecdotes May Be Hurting Your Friendships. Here's How

Friendships can be difficult to navigate, especially for two people in the full swing of adult life. Between bills, jobs, romantic relationships, self-improvement, and possible parenting, everyone just wants to feel seen, heard, and understood. In order to maintain a friendship, however, you'll also need to find the time and energy to do the seeing, hearing, and understanding. A one-way friendship is often just a person being taken advantage of.


An important layer of nuance is added when you consider how you show up for your friends. If you're always there to "listen" but tend to show your understanding by offering a personal anecdote, you may not be coming off quite as supportive as you'd like to. Maybe you've even been called out for a tendency to make every conversation you take part in about yourself. Here's why this habit can damage your friendships and how to start being a better listener

Conversational narcissism

The tendency to bend every conversational topic until it turns back to being about you is known as conversational narcissism. This is because it borrows from a manipulation tactic used by narcissists, who use conversational redirection to reinforce a power dynamic where they are more important than the other person. You do not have to be an actual narcissist to use this tactic. Many people take part in conversational narcissism subconsciously with no intention of causing harm.


Unfortunately, making every conversation about yourself does cause harm to your friends. When a friend makes the effort to take time away from their busy lives to spend time or conversate with you and they're met with a barrage of your personal anecdotes, they don't feel seen, heard, understood, or supported. They walk away from the conversation still feeling burdened by their own experiences and now feeling burdened with yours as well. 

How to actively listen

If you've realized that you have a tendency toward conversational narcissism, don't panic or assume that you're doomed to be a bad friend. You can change your conversational style by intentionally forming the habit of active listening. Active listening means mindfully engaging all of your senses, ensuring that you're only focusing on what the other person is saying. This looks like pointing your body toward the speaker, maintaining eye contact, and putting away your phone or other distractions.


Acknowledge what your friend is saying by nodding, expressing your reaction through facial expressions, and asking occasional questions. If you find your mind wandering to a personal anecdote or preparing a response while the other person is still talking, intentionally set the thought aside and return to active listening. If it still feels important, relevant, and supportive after your friend has fully finished sharing, you can return to it at that time. 

A note on neurodivergence

It is important to note that neurodivergences such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can affect the way people communicate in ways that mirror conversational narcissism. Neurodivergent people often struggle to pick up on subtle social cues like body language, facial expressions, and tone changes from others and may not provide those cues themselves. They are also more likely to relate to the people they care about through anecdotal communication.


If you are neurodivergent and struggle to relate to your friends without sharing your own personal anecdotes, it may be best to share what you're going through. Explaining that your version of listening might look a little different from others can help put your friends at ease. While incorporating some of the tips for active listening may improve your communication with your neurotypical friends to some degree, you may also want to consider getting involved with more neurodivergent communities. Making friends with people who can relate firsthand can take the pressure off of communication and allow you to express your interest in a way that makes more sense to you (and your new friends).