Good friends live vicariously through one another, celebrating and embracing each other’s successes and offering comfort when things get tough. Feeling like our friends have a genuine interest in our life is a big part of what makes our friendships so incredibly validating.
Like any relationship, it’s about balance. And for the most part, friends have no trouble taking turns when it comes to talking about each other’s life experiences. But when this balance is shifted because one friend is overly focused on their life, it can leave us feeling uncomfortable, annoyed, and even insecure.
Confronting a friend about their tendency to be self-absorbed isn’t something that comes easily. But even though it’s difficult to strike a balance between being assertive and respectful, it’s definitely not impossible. Here are a few strategies that make it easier to let a friend know they’re a little too preoccupied with their own life:
Understand why it bothers you
Before deciding how you want to handle the situation, it helps to think about why it bothers you. Most of us would have a hard time dealing with a friend who’s being self-absorbed, but the reasons why we find it so upsetting or frustrating might be different. Is it an issue of equality or fairness? Or do you feel like you’re not getting the support you need? Maybe it’s striking a personal chord by making you feel inferior or competitive? Whatever the reason, understanding why it bothers you will help you decide whether it’s worth bringing up – and the best way to get your message across in an authentic and respectful way.
Give a gentle nudge
A good place to start is by seeing whether a subtle hint or re-direction will do. Gently guiding your conversations toward topics you also want to talk about or can contribute to (e.g., “Oh, that reminds me of…” or “Actually, a similar thing happened to me last week…”) can free up space for you to share your own experiences. If that doesn’t work, letting your friend know that you want to share something, like your weekend plans or how your new job is going, can be a subtle way to tell your friend that you feel like the balance is off.
It also helps to pay attention to the moments when you are able to share your take on things or talk about yourself. Reinforcing how nice it is to contribute and have that balance (e.g., “Thanks for asking about my recent trip!” or “I love being able to talk about places we’ve both been.”) makes it more likely that your friend will give you the space to talk about yourself in the future.
Sometimes subtlety just won’t do. And the best way to handle this situation is to address it head-on. Being assertive will help you get your message across in a way that makes your friend receptive and leaves you feeling good about how you handled the situation.
Avoid the blame game.
Instead of focusing on your friend’s tendency to be self-obsessed, focus on your own feelings and reactions (e.g., “I feel like I don’t have the space to talk to you about my life,” “I feel like you’re not interested in my life”). It can also help to share that you’re bringing this up because you value their advice and want to make sure you get their perspective or take on your situation and experiences.
Focus on behavior.
When you do talk to your friend, try sticking to the way they are behaving or acting, instead who they are as a person. Skip the labels like “self-absorbed” or “self-centered,” and stick to what they are actually saying or doing. Avoiding “you are” statements” will help you come across as assertive instead of aggressive. And framing it as a collective problem (“I feel like we end up speaking a lot about your life”) makes it more likely that your friend will be willing to change things up.
Have a few key examples.
Chances are, your friend will ask for specific examples, so it helps to be prepared. But you definitely don’t want to get carried away and list every situation in which you felt like your friend was being self-absorbed. Focusing on a few specific examples will help your friend to understand what you’re actually struggling with without feeling attacked.
Restore the balance by offering solutions
When sharing what’s bothering you, it also helps to make sure sure you’re giving actual suggestions or solutions. A good strategy is to let your friend know that you still want to hear about their life, but that you’re looking for a bit more balance – but pointing out the specific topics you’d like to talk more (or less) about, and the fact that you’d like to have some say in the activities you do together, is better. Being proactive shows your friend that you’re committed to making your friendship work and makes it more likely that things will actually change. It also happens to be a proactive way to have your voice heard, which will make you feel like the balance is being restored.
Expect a little resistance
Regardless of how you deliver your message, you might want to be prepared for some pushback. No one likes to feel like they’re being accused of something, and there’s a good chance your friend doesn’t experience things the same way you do.
While it’s possible that they are too self-absorbed to see it, it’s also really common for two people to have different perspectives about what goes on their friendship. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. And keeping this in mind will help you deal with their resistance or defensiveness (as well as your own!).
If your friend does get upset, reinforce that you aren’t attacking them, validate their emotions (e.g., “I am sure this is hard to hear,” “I would feel upset too”), and be open to feedback and their take on things. When we’re frustrated about a situation, we can sometimes overlook examples that don’t quite fit with what we’re thinking or feeling. Remembering and acknowledging the situations in which your friend wasn’t self-absorbed and showed an interest in your life will make the conversations easier for both of you.
Recognize it has very little to do with you
Even if it affects you personally, chances are it’s not personal. We can all get carried away with ourselves when we’re going through an exciting transition, like a new relationship or job opportunity, or a difficult time, such as family conflict. What’s more, sometimes self-centeredness actually comes from a place of insecurity, like wanting to prove to others that we’re worthy or successful. Even if you can’t figure out the exact reason for your friend’s behavior, reminding yourself that it probably has very little to do with you will help you feel less bothered by the situation and make it easier to bring up with your friend.
Reflect on your own behavior
That being said, it can be helpful to consider whether your behavior might be contributing to the situation in any small way. Is it possible that your friend is reacting to your own behavior or how you’re coming across? Have you been talking a lot about yourself recently? Or do you have a difficult time asserting yourself? Sometimes, a small change in your behavior is the best place to start when trying to change your friend’s.
As frustrating as this situation can be, give it time. Changing behavior doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s best to be patient and remember that it’s a process.
Agree to check in with each other as time goes on. And let your friend know that they can and should feel free to bring up issues like this with you. The more balanced you are when giving feedback, the more likely it is that you’ll restore that sense of balance in your friendship.
Ultimately, friendships are ongoing, evolving relationships. Even though the balance feels off now, chances are, it’ll fluctuate. Being open and encouraging a dialogue about what’s working (and not working so well) will help you make sure your friendship lasts and that you’re both getting what you actually want and need out of your relationship.