When friends only talk about themselves and their problems

Do you have a friend who often talks too much about themselves and rarely asks you any questions? Maybe you’re tired of listening to your friend’s problems, or perhaps you’ve noticed that your friends never ask about your life. If so, you know what it’s like to be stuck in the “listener’s trap.” In this article, you’ll learn how to break free from the trap and deal with someone who talks about themselves all the time.

1. Ask your friend for some advice

To shift the focus away from your friend and onto you, ask your friend to help you solve a problem. This strategy can also make the conversation more interesting for your friend because they will probably enjoy giving you their opinion.

Let’s say you are thinking of signing up for a new dance course. You think it sounds fun, but it’s expensive, and you feel self-conscious about joining a new group.

You could say, “I have a problem, and I’d love your opinion. I’m not sure whether I should join a new dance course I’ve heard about. It sounds really fun, but it costs $300 for 10 lessons, and I feel shy about dancing in front of other people. 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 the problem or a related subject for a while.

2. Try to share more about yourself

When you start sharing more about yourself, the person you’re talking to will soon realize that you aren’t just there to act as a listener. As a result, they probably won’t talk quite as much.

Try to share as much about yourself as the other person shares about themselves, even if they don’t ask you any questions. When you start to share more often, the other person might become curious about you and start asking questions about you and your life.

If you’re not used to sharing much about yourself, you might have to push yourself a bit to start talking more.

Here are two strategies to try if you struggle to open up:

  • If the other person tells you about their day, share a couple of things about your day, too. To avoid bringing the conversation down, try to end on a positive note.
  • When your friend shares an opinion, add your own thoughts about the topic. For example, if they tell you about a new TV series they’ve been watching and you’ve also seen it, tell them what you like or dislike about it.

3. Look for signs that your friend cares about you

Your friend might not realize that they tend to monopolize your conversations. They may be a true friend who also happens to be a terrible listener.

Don’t be too quick to write off the friendship. Instead, try to take a balanced view and look for positive signs that suggest your friend does genuinely care about you.

Here are 10 signs that your friend values you and your friendship:

  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 hanging out with them
  9. They want to hang out with you because they enjoy your company, not because they want to take advantage of you or ask you for favors
  10. You know that they’ll be there for you if you need them

If this list describes your friendship, it is probably worth trying to let your friend know that they talk too much instead of ending the friendship. You may be able to resolve the problem together.

4. Ask for more balanced conversations

It’s not easy to tell someone they talk too much about themselves, but with tact and planning, it can be done.

Think carefully about the language you use. When you’re talking about a problem in a relationship, it’s usually best to avoid accusations that start with “you,” such as, “You always do all the talking,” or “You never listen to me.” It can also help to avoid absolutes, such as “always” and “never.” This kind of language makes people feel defensive, which can shut down the conversation.

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.

Instead of using “you” statements, try “I” statements instead. “I” statements (like “I feel” and, “I think”) usually come across as less confrontational.

For example, instead of saying, “You do X,” say instead, “I feel ____________ when __________ happens.”

Here’s an example of how you could raise the issue with your friend: 

Hey Paul, I want to talk to you for a minute. I enjoy hanging out with you, but sometimes it seems like we talk mostly about your life, and we don’t talk about mine. I care about you as my friend and want to hear about your news, but sometimes I feel that our conversations are a little one-sided. I need more space to talk about my life as well.”

It can help to acknowledge the positive parts of your friendship, so your friend doesn’t think you’re implying that the relationship is all bad. By highlighting the positives, you’ll both remember why the friendship is worth saving.

5. Distance yourself if your friend doesn’t change

Some people who only talk about themselves can’t—or won’t—change. If you’ve asked your friend to listen to you more often, but the situation hasn’t improved, it might be best to spend less time with them and focus more on other friendships. Remember that one-sided relationships are not true friendships.

One-sided conversations can be a sign of a bad or toxic friendship. If you aren’t sure whether your friendship is toxic, it may help to ask yourself, “Do they show any interest in me and my life, or do they just use me to vent?” and “Does my friend only talk to me when she/he has no one else?”

If you suspect that your friend is just using you as a convenient sounding board, it may be time to take a step back and invest less time and effort into the friendship. One possible solution is to try distancing yourself from your friend. Distancing can be a good strategy because it doesn’t have to lead to a permanent break. You can take some space without ending the friendship permanently.

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 your toxic friend.

6. End the friendship if necessary

If you’ve tried asking your friend to change without success, and distancing yourself isn’t an option, it may be best to directly tell your friend that you don’t want to spend time with them anymore. This is difficult and uncomfortable, but it may be a necessary step. There is no need to be rude or disrespectful, but try to be direct, clear, and to the point.

Here’s an example of what you could say to a toxic friend who always talks about herself/himself:

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

You don’t need to give a long explanation, but if you want to go into more detail, you could say something like:

“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.”

7. Aim to build balanced relationships from the start

If you’re a good listener, people will want to talk to you for hours, often about themselves. If you ask good follow-up questions, reflect on what they said, and make them feel heard, they are likely to keep going. Your friend might assume that it’s OK to talk about herself/himself all the time because you seem so eager to listen.

But if you are always the listener when you talk to a friend, you may end up feeling trapped and resentful because you don’t get a turn to speak. In addition, your friend might believe you don’t want to talk and feel that they have to carry on the conversation to avoid awkward silences.

If you’re wondering why your friends only talk about themselves, consider what role you play in your friendships. By changing the way you interact with new friends, you can set up a more balanced relationship from the start.

To do this, first focus on finding things in common with potential friends. By talking about mutual interests, you both get to talk about topics you enjoy. Not only will you probably have more stimulating conversations, but the other person should have less of a problem letting you speak when you’re talking about something they are also interested in.

Although you are free to talk about other topics, try to focus mainly on your mutual interests. For example, let’s say you are interested in history, and your friend isn’t. But if you both like talking about nutrition and health, you could bring that up when you’re having a conversation.

8. Talk about interests you don’t share (sometimes)

In general, the most rewarding conversations focus on shared interests. But genuine friends will care enough about you to listen to things about your life that aren’t particularly interesting to them. Or, to put it another way, things may only be interesting to your friends because they’re interesting to you. Your friend might not care about your hobby, but they will be pleased that you have something that brings you joy.

For example, let’s say that you’re passionate about plants, but your friend doesn’t share your interest. Your friend probably won’t mind hearing you talk about plants from time to time because they’ll enjoy seeing how happy you are when you talk about your hobby.

As a friend, you will do the same for your friends by listening to details about their hobbies and interests that aren’t particularly interesting to you. 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.

When talking about an interest that the other person doesn’t share, raise the topic once and then be done talking about it (unless they ask you for more details). Next time you see them, it’s fine to give them updates relating to your interest, but again, don’t turn it into something that you harp on about the entire time.

9. Encourage your friend to see a therapist

Giving and receiving emotional support is an important part of friendship. But if you often find yourself listening to friends who always have problems, you may start to feel drained or resentful.

If your friend often talks about their problems and treats you as a counselor, your conversations might become more balanced if your friend starts going to regular therapy. Therapy may give your friend a space to discuss and resolve their problems, which means they might be more likely to talk about other things when you’re hanging out together.

Be careful when you bring up the topic of therapy. Don’t be too blunt, and avoid judgmental language. For example, don’t say, “You should really see a therapist,” “You only ever talk about your problems,” or “You need professional help.”

A more understanding, sensitive approach is more likely to convince your friend to go to therapy. For example, you could say, “It seems like this problem has been getting you down for a long time now. Have you ever thought about talking to a therapist?”

We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and are cheaper than going to a therapist's office.

Their plans start at $64 per week. If you use this link, you get 20% off your first month at BetterHelp + a $50 coupon valid for any SocialSelf course: Click here to learn more about BetterHelp.

(To receive your $50 SocialSelf coupon, sign up with our link. Then, email BetterHelp’s order confirmation to us to receive your personal code. You can use this code for any of our courses.)

10. Consider therapy for yourself

If your friend starts going to therapy, they might spend less time talking to you about their problems because their therapist will be able to support them. But there’s no guarantee that your friend will change, so if you feel stuck in the listener’s trap, it may be helpful for you to try therapy for yourself.

A therapist can help you set healthy boundaries, express your needs, and build more balanced relationships. For example, a therapy session can be a good place for you to practice telling a friend that you need them to listen when you talk about your life.

We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and are cheaper than going to a therapist's office.

Their plans start at $64 per week. If you use this link, you get 20% off your first month at BetterHelp + a $50 coupon valid for any SocialSelf course: Click here to learn more about BetterHelp.

(To receive your $50 SocialSelf coupon, sign up with our link. Then, email BetterHelp’s order confirmation to us to receive your personal code. You can use this code for any of our courses.)

Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages SocialSelf’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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  1. I have a friend like this. She only talks about herself and acts like a teenager being a 55 years old woman. She is very annoying and I don’t know how to turn her off. She stresses me out a lot and I feel like she is draining my energy!!
    And the worst part is that she is my best friend and coworker!!

    Reply
  2. I read the interesting article as well as your comments. We meet various people in life; some good, some bad. Truth is the ones that tend to repeat THEIR historical rhetoric tend to desire a PATIENT listener. I had gone to no troubles at all by simply telling these negative folks to seek therapy. I am still coping with a short LIST of acquaintances more than one single friend I’ve known since 1993 due to his position as a DEACON in the SDA. Covid19 changed most of us too. The wearing of the mask ????; the six feet distancing, money woes. We can learn to interject. I know I tend to interject with a thought. The person considers what he or she is doing at THAT MOMENT. I had more apologies. I think there is ways to get your friend to start realizing their habits are taking tolls not only on you but them. I would recommend your friends find a suitable hobby. I wonder if these folks are simply lonely?! Get a pet or pets. Join a club not a tavern unless you’re a SOBER employee as a JOB. Get a DIET that suits you. Exercise MORE and think positives. Try to think what I text or say has a negative IMPACT emotionally. Yes the truth hurts but better than the malicious gossip. Try positives and bring the Good News to others as I do. Works for me!

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  3. I think I’d broken a friendship partly because of this bad habit (of letting them talk about themselves all the time). I went on and talk to another close friend, and notice a similar pattern was forming. So I came back to this post, looking for a way to not fall into that horrible situation again. I came back with what I thought is the best solution, but the voice inside my head habitually thought of ways I could ask them about themselves more. Heck, I hate this habit. Definitely will try to terminate it.

    Reply
    • Why don’t you tell these friends of yours that you have a “listener’s trap” problem, and that it’s very difficult for you to break out of the habit of keeping the focus on other people and if they could help you with it? If you present it as a problem YOU have, I think they’d be very open to asking more questions about you and helping you to engage more in conversation.

      Reply
    • I’m habitually stuck in the ‘empathic listening role’ and through a great deal of self-nurturing & inquiry – also joining a meditation circle of generous, listening people. I discovered within the route cause of this. My mother was a chronically depressed single parent. She worked hard to support three children in difficult circumstances. She drank in the evenings. Aged 12 – I would sit up with her as her confidant & ‘counselor’ that’s where my ‘listening trap’ began. Also, there was no emotional support from her or any other adult. This left me feeling ‘invisible’ and the message was ‘ don’t bring me any troubles’ I’m still in the process of working this out. This article is gold in that it outlines some good pointers to think about and utilize. There are usually deeper issues going back to childhood that has led to entrapment in the ‘listening role ‘

      Reply
  4. One thing no one mentioned is how these people who talk non-stop handle it when you try distancing yourself. I am a natural born listener but have grown tired of one sided “friendships”. What I have noticed is that when you don’t do anything to keep the friendship going, the self-absorbed person will reach out with the facade of asking about you but only because they need you to be the listener for them. I just had a friend do this to me yesterday. Her voice message actually started with several minutes of her telling me her latest summary of woes and then she said, “but I really called to see how you are doing.” When I called her back, it was the same old routine of her talking non-stop about herself for close to an hour before asking how I was and then saying how she had to get off the phone and get some things done around the house. Haha. So much for her interest in me.

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  5. I have a neighbor that I’ve been “friends” with for at least 6 years. We both have dogs and go for walks about 3 times a week. I’ve never considered her a close friend as she’s incredibly self-absorbed and talks incessantly about herself more than anyone else I’ve ever met. A few months ago she separated from her husband and used me (and a number of other people) as a dump all for all her issues. We walked our dogs together more often and even took up a dance class together, spending far more time together than usual. I gave her a lot of my time because I was sensitive to her situation and I thought we may have crossed over into an actual friendship. Then suddenly she got back together with her husband and immediately stopped contacting me even though I literally live across the street. Even the dog walks stopped. I was stunned at the sudden cut off, but not actually surprised, and honestly didn’t care that much. Recently she has started contacting me again and we’ve picked up our dog walks and she’s gone back to talking incessantly about herself and every little detail of her life (she never really stopped). I even told her once that she was a terrible listener and never asked me anything about myself. She said she would try and did so for about a week. Then, she went back to talking only about herself. Lately, I find myself using the techniques described in the article to re-direct and take the focus off her. It just doesn’t work. She will literally act as though I said nothing and keep on talking about herself. Sometimes I find it oddly fascinating that she can be so utterly self absorbed, but mostly I’m just fed up with it. I don’t hate her but I definitely don’t consider her a real friend. But our dogs love each other and that’s the only reason I walk with her. Honestly, the longer it goes on the more I think it’s better just to walk by myself or with other people, but she’s just across the street so it’s very convenient. I guess the point I’m making is that I don’t think people like this a changeable without some major therapy. Agree? Disagree?

    Reply
    • Hi Connie, I SO agree with you! The self-absorbed “friends” in my life never changed even though I tried pretty much every technique. I recently ditched a 16-year friendship. I was bled dry and it wasn’t worth it anymore.

      Reply
    • I had a childhood friend who was very self-absorbed like this, and in our 20s I distanced myself because of it and she called me out saying she wished I was a better friend. A fight broke out because I filled her in on why I was distancing myself (because I wished SHE was a better friend), and she actually ended up being very empathetic and the fight became a conversation to find a solution. After that, she tried very hard to allow me to speak and be engaged when I would speak. She would even say “wait..” so she could put her phone away and not have any distractions when I spoke. I really appreciated that from her, and I was very surprised one conversation could change her behavior that much. It went on like that for several years, but unfortunately she got involved with a toxic boyfriend who didn’t like that she had anyone outside of him (she would even acknowledge this herself), and she eventually stopped speaking to me under the guise of a fight that she caused (a stupid fight, as well—she wanted to go to a different restaurant than I did on our hangout, and she blew up on me about it [she tented to throw random fits at me like this when things were bad in her relationship]). So, in the end, the friendship didn’t work, and I think it still had to do with her being self-centered/absorbed because she was so involved in the toxicity of her relationship that she was willing to drop me as a friend for it. But who knows what the real reasons were. Point is, having a conversation with her about it was initially positive, but it didn’t matter in the end. It makes me very wary of other self centered people, because from that experience, they’ll always worry about themselves and not consider you or your feelings. It’s something I personally have to truly consider as I’ve found myself in a similar position again, and I don’t know if this person is different from my childhood friend and they could actually change.

      Reply
    • I agree with you Connie, I don’t believe people change. I have a few of those relationships in my life and I have tried various ways to change the topic to something that might interest us both and it goes nowhere. I find it very frustrating and I have decided to distance myself and focus more on other healthier friends. I am not mad at them, they may be lonely, or self-centered but I simply cannot continue this way.

      Reply
  6. I’ve found that another Mom friend I’ve been reasonably close to, has decided I’m one she can unload her whole shpiel, whatever’s been going on with her and her family. And she talks at length, along with all the little details that I unfortunately don’t have any interest in.
    I think because I had a self-centered mother who was an overbearing over-talker, this is especially annoying to me.
    When I share, I give the general picture, not every groaning detail.
    This friend also doesn’t sort of check in for my interest, but just unloads it all. It’s burdensome and annoying.
    When she’s done, she asks what’s going on with me, by that point I’m not in the mood to share too much, plus I’m a single mother and don’t feel she relates, so I don’t feel inclined to say too much.
    I love friends who do more of a back and forth, talking about common interests, or a general recap of this or that.
    She’s a very nice person generally in-person, just this feels so off-balance, and I’m not sure what to do about it, other than hold the phone away from my ear when she’s talking.

    Reply
  7. I have a friend that I exercise with 5 days per week. She hardly allows me to get a word in while she’ll talk about herself, job, family, how well they’re doing, etc. I can’t recall her ever asking me about mine. When I try to say something along those lines I never get to finish before she carries the conversation back to herself. So many times she tells me the same thing over and over but I just smile and listens. Sometimes I feel like she might be intimidated by me because (not being conceited) I have achieved more academically and has a profession whereas she has worked in one industry all her life. We have other friends that we walk with at least once per week and they pretty much do all the talking. I just feel like an exercise friend and nothing more. She is a bit funny if I was to say it to her so I just don’t bother but I actually don’t like it. It’s also not that easy to just stop walking with her as I do this for my own health benefits. This is something I have prayed about and hoping that it will work out as it should.

    Reply
  8. This article should be read by the world. The KEY takeaway here is FINDING COMMON INTERESTS. That alone simplifies the whole socializing thing. Like, if we both like something, you definitely want to hear my opinion as much as I want to hear about yours. Secondly, it makes making friends super simple. I just go straight into discovering your interests then finding the ones that we share. Then the bond will grow from there and I will start liking the person for who they are as well. That’s way too easy to do. I think I will not find it hard at all to socialize now. Actually, I used to have the same idea of finding common interests but I was never sure about it, you’ve confirmed it. Thanks a lot. The one thing however that one needs to keep watch of is a friend whom you share an interest but who feels like they know more and will then dominate the conversation. Such should be avoided. Otherwise, this is the primary socializing advice people need! THANKS AGAIN.

    Reply

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