Mom, Interrupted

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I have a friend that can sometimes be lovely and sometimes very self-centered.  We know each other through a playgroup.  What turns some people off is that after one person shares something (story, anecdote, etc), she immediately whips it back to her and her life.  A few of us have brought up how we often don't feel included in the conversation, but we don't have the courage, or words to bring this up to her.  Any advice?

Sincerely, Interrupted

Dear Interrupted,

It is ironic that your narcissistic friend is part of your playgroup, as she somehow managed to get through toddlerhood without learning how to share, or play the game of catch.  I hate that this bully has taken over your playgroup.  You've got to do what mamas do with bullies on the playground: confront them, directly, kindly, firmly, and if they can't mind the rules of the game, don't play with them anymore.

Teaching adults how to communicate is really irritating.  However, it sounds like you have some love for this woman, and it is that love that you need to tap into to give her the business.  Listen, right now, no one is enjoying playgroup, with her being the equivalent of a Hungry Hungry Hippo, gobbling up all the conversation balls as fast as she can.  If you turn her off by telling her how much her behavior is bothering everyone, you may upset one person but save the experience of all the others. So, I would suggest speaking to her, even though narcissists detest being confronted.  Don't beat around the bush, just tell her straight out, "Honey, sometimes you make everything about you.  And it's a major turn-off.  You've got to learn about reflective listening.  Let's try it now.  What are you hearing me say?"  Then have her say back to you the gist of what you're telling her.

It is not our job to save our friends from themselves.  I know it is daunting to confront her, but isn't it worse that everyone secretly hates her?  In protecting her from that truth, you are denying her the chance to have real relationships with all of you.

When I was a child, there was so much that was out of my control.  I grew up in a home of a recovering alcoholic with a recovering co-dependent by his side.  I understood almost nothing about their communication, but I knew it was filled with both acrimony and love, which was terrifying and confusing for me to behold.  I learned to accept my circumstances and the reality that I had no say in how things went down.

Unfortunately, I did this unconsciously, so it led me to go completely off the rails in the areas that I did have control over, like the drugs I put into my body and the people I allowed to touch it.

Then I grew up, and it wasn’t until I was about 28 and living with a housemate who the rest of the house despised that I realized, “Holy shit.  I have control over my own life.  I can just ask this bitch to leave!”  So, we did.  We sat her down, and told her it wasn’t working out.  We didn’t make it “a teaching moment”, we didn’t tell her we hated when she would eat her bagel really loudly and pretend that none of us existed, her passive aggressive notes or her creepy boyfriend with oracular issues.  It was a huge sigh of relief to realize I could shape my own experiences, and take care of myself in this way.

All of this is to say, if your friend can’t learn to play well with others, aka take time actually listening rather than just waiting for her turn to talk, let her know you want to be her friend on a one-on-one basis, rather than in a group.  Schedule her for short chunks of time, when you have the energy to listen to a monologue.  It’s your life.  Don’t look back.

Love, Sibyl

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