Let Me tell You a Story... Again... and Again.. and Again
July 1, 2019 3:48 PM   Subscribe

I wonder if anyone else, who may have more than one Narcissist in their life, has ever recognized a common tendency among them to endlessly repeat the same stories?

I'm just asking out of curiosity. I've poked around on Google about this and didn't find much. I'm interested in anecdotal stories or actual websites with research about this.

I have two people who I believe to be narcissists in my life, and they both do this weird thing where they just repeat the same stories over and over again. Sometimes in the same conversation, but mostly in different conversations over a period of weeks, months or even years. So for example, I'll see Dan on Tuesday and he'll tell me about the rude waiter at the pizza place, and then I'll see him on Friday and he'll tell me again, and then I'll see him two weeks later and he'll tell me AGAIN. Or I'll see Bob on Monday and he'll tell me about his upcoming vacation plans, and then he'll email me on Wednesday and tell me the exact same thing about his vacation plans, and then later that same day he'll text me and tell me again about his vacation plans all over again. Even if I stop them mid-story and remind them they have already told me about whatever it is they're on about, they just blather right on where they left off as if they haven't even heard what I've just said.

I'm curious if anyone else has noticed the narcissists in their life doing this, or if anyone knows of information about this being a narcissistic behavior. And finally if anyone has any suggestions for how to handle this aside from just hearing them out?

One last thing, I really dislike the way Reddit threads are organized (though I do occasionally read the raised by narcissists board), so unless its a comment that deals very specifically with this exact issue, I probably wouldn't be interested in links to much of anything on Reddit.
posted by WalkerWestridge to Human Relations (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is an autistic thing, too, in case there's any chance that you're not dealing with for-sure narcissists.

Since you're familiar with the raised by narcissists board, I assume you're pretty sure, though, and I have found this to be a common thing with narcissists for two reasons. Reason one is that they don't care about you (sorry) so they don't remember what you know and don't know. Reason two is that they will tell the story to make the "point" about how great they are, and if it feels good the first time, why not do it over and over again?

Barreling through once you say you've heard it isn't my experience (would more likely be met by anger or, frankly, would just not be willing to tell them I've heard it...) but it doesn't sound impossible, either.

How to handle it is how to handle all things narcissist: don't hang around narcissists. If you have to, nodding and saying "sure" and zoning out is probably the best bet. But if they're trying to get a reaction from you they may be upset that you're not reacting "right" or "enough," which goes back to the first rule of handling narcissists: generally, the best way to do it is to not do it. If you have to do it, then cooperation with their agenda is probably the easiest way to go.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:04 PM on July 1, 2019 [11 favorites]

I notice some of this in people who are good at telling stories: they seem like they're good at telling stories precisely because they have a rotating bank of stories, or they get one and refine it over a few weeks.

People who are good at this don't repeat the same story to the same audience (or will say "forgive me if you've already heard this..."), and I could imagine more forgetful or less self-aware folks not taking care to repeat a story.

The similarity stops at
Even if I stop them mid-story and remind them they have already told me about whatever it is they're on about, they just blather right on where they left off as if they haven't even heard what I've just said.
though -- that's just kind of oddly insensitive of them. I'd think of it as you offering the opportunity for them to perform their story again.
posted by batter_my_heart at 4:36 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've encountered this behavior in people who are isolated, lonely, depressed, they don't know that they are any of those things. Sometimes older/middle aged, not suffering from dementia or senility, but in younger folk too: always very nearly rote recitations of the same story, joke, or bit of information about [subject].
I don't think they desire to be the center of attention, as much as have something to say, like a rehearsed message.

Most of the narcissists I've encountered are totally happy to just go on and on about whatever, as long as they get the spotlight.
posted by twentyfeetof tacos at 5:00 PM on July 1, 2019 [36 favorites]

I've met plenty of non-narcissists that go this and narcissists that don't, so I don't see a correlation. I think a sample size of two is too small to look for a whole lot of meaningful similarities.

As twentyfeet of tacos noted, it's more important that they're talking with an audience than what they're saying most of the time.
posted by Candleman at 5:33 PM on July 1, 2019 [13 favorites]

Oh yes, I have noticed this with the main narcissist in my life. I have come to the same conclusions internet fraud detective squad noted above (they don't care about you, and the story has landed points for them previously).

I have to admit that a couple of times I have started telling the story back to them because I know the story word for word. I would NOT recommend doing that. They get extremely put out by this and now you're the bad guy. Remember that you can't win. Zoning out and providing just enough nodding/"uh huh"s seems to work better.
posted by queensissy at 5:33 PM on July 1, 2019 [15 favorites]

Helen DeWitt's short story "Improvisation Is the Heart of Music" examines this phenomenon from the point of view of someone married to the endless anecdote-repeater. It's in her collection Some Trick. Here's a shady Russian site with the text, if you don't want to buy/borrow the book just for the one story (it's a good book though!).
posted by aws17576 at 5:41 PM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yes, I also hope you won't use this observation as evidence to "prove they are narcissists" or anything like that. My dad does this, telling the same stories over and over. He's well into retirement at age 65+, and I'm pretty sure it's a combination of explanations above - he is (or at least was historically) a good story teller with a bank of his favorite stories, and he is now lonelier and less connected to his middle-age social groups.

I'm not sure what else to say. I feel like it would be very sad to dismiss people who exhibit this behavior as per-se narcissists.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 5:42 PM on July 1, 2019 [22 favorites]

Yes, I have experienced this from narcissists.
posted by Dashy at 6:15 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who does this and it seems to be a combination of social anxiety and a little self-absorption. He feels good telling the stories and that over-rides any concern about whether or not the audience has heard them before.

Narcissism seems a bit strong in this case, but it's definitely alienating. I could see how narcissists would do this, too.
posted by rpfields at 6:17 PM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Isn’t that just an old people thing?
posted by The Toad at 6:43 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah. I have definitely noticed this in the narcissists I know.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:57 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Could you please not assume that I (OP) think everyone who has this habbit is a narcissist? That was not my question. I was wondering if other people who have narcissistic people in their lives have noticed this behavior in the narcissist. This is probably not the same as the story tellers who have favorite stories they enjoy performing for an appreciative audience and neither of the two people in my life are in any way lonely or cut off. If you want to give examples of other folks who do this that's fine I guess but that's not what my question was about and I assure you I'm not going to assume someone is a narcissist just because they repeat stories. Thank you.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:09 PM on July 1, 2019 [9 favorites]

I know someone who does this and while he has some self-centered tendencies, I don't think he is a full on narcissist. He just really doesn't care that you've heard the story 10 times before. He gets more joy in telling it repeatedly than he feels shame in subjecting you to it again.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 7:22 PM on July 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

Although I know people who tell the same stories (and continue blathering on even when I say "You've told me before") I don't associate this trait with narcissism.

I notice some of this in people who are good at telling stories:

Actually, the narcissists I know are terrible at telling stories. They relate every detail, no matter how unnecessary; and when they notice their audience losing attention they exaggerate details unrealistically. Of course, being narcissistic, the subject of any story they tell is themself, a topic not so fascinating (which has in fact become tiresome) to others.
posted by Rash at 10:18 PM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've noticed this with people that have developed a personal philosophy and have a few stories they use as example cases. I'm not sure it has anything to do with narcissism.
posted by xammerboy at 10:37 PM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

My narcissist would change her story whenever she wanted to make a different point about it. So the same events described at two different points could amount to evidence of two mutually exclusive things. "Your sister was totally destroyed by this and has never recovered." versus "You sister hunkered down and demonstrated her resilence that enabled her weather the situation with no damage" are both conclusions she came to when telling the anecdote about my sister going mute at the foster home.

My experience is the opposite of narcissists telling the same story over and over. On the other hand, the ones with emotional regulation issues will stay angry about something forever, or bring up some piece of evidence to justify themselves over and over again, but not with the same anecdote.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:27 AM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have noticed this as well, and I think taffeta, darling! is right.

+ narcissists have a tiny repertoire, since they don't listen to other people or care about their experiences or feelings, and only tell stories that generate narcissistic supply for themselves.
posted by Feminazgul at 7:53 AM on July 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have a narcissist in my life who doesn't really do this, and several non-narcissists who do. In my experience, it has more to do with how someone remembers conversations - a lot of people seem to genuinely not remember earlier conversations, and so don't know they've told you a story before.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:38 AM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have a close family member who definitely does this A TON. I am not sure if they have ever been diagnosed as having any kind of formal personality disorder, but as a layperson I would definitely describe this person as being narcissistic.

These stories make it into conversation on a regular basis for many years. When I politely point out that I’ve heard this story already (probably heard this long not super interesting story over a dozen times) I get a very very defensive, hostile reaction and get to hear the story yet again.

I never thought this could be related to narcissism, but now I’m very interested.
posted by forkisbetter at 8:40 AM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've known a lot of people who do this. The one thing they have in common is not paying much attention to other people; in particular, not having a good model for what other people think or perceive. A relative does this all the time. She also says rude things about people while they're within earshot without a second thought, sorts people into incredibly broad categories, and treats service industry workers like garbage despite having spent her life working similar jobs. I wouldn't call her a narcissist, exactly. Her narrative isn't about *her,* it's mostly about (a limited version of) the world, but it's entirely insensitive to the experience of everyone else. She'll happily block the sidewalk while other people are very clearly trying to get past without a second thought. My guess is that such people haven't bothered to consider whether or not you've heard their story before. That they were having a conversation with you, rather than someone else, was never important. (My strategy has been to nod and smile at the time and then arrange my life so that I spend less time with such people.)
posted by eotvos at 8:51 AM on July 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

The narcissist that used to be in my life definitely did this all the time. But god forbid I should start to tell him something that I had already told him. He would shut that down immediately.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:51 AM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

the one main narcissist in my life does this incessantly. she'll also tell the story of an event where she was present to other people who were also there as though they weren't. it's maddening.

i agree that it appears to be a combination of not caring about the experience of others and wanting to be the center of attention ("you should have heard this glorious concert we gave!" said to someone else in the orchestra that gave the concert).
posted by hollisimo at 8:58 AM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thanks everyone. I'm marking as best answer those that have narcissists in their life, whether they do or don't observe this trait in their narcissist. But I appreciate all of you taking the time to respond.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:20 AM on July 2, 2019

Yep! My former FIL had a rotating bank of about five main stories and five satellite stories that I heard in various iterations over ten years. It was like he knew which stories made him out to be the most heroic/victimized/smart/whatever he wanted to convey at that time and just pulled the tool out of the toolkit.

Man, I do not miss him or his stories.
posted by juniperesque at 10:55 AM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yes, absolutely.
posted by Neekee at 7:50 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you for asking this. My brother does this, and after years of reflection I've come to the conclusion that we are his family of origin and that he has a chosen family for the other parts of his life. Yep: I believe I'm on the other side of the No Contact line.

The idea as I see it, is that if he keeps to a limited number of topics he can maintain separation between spending obligatory family time with us (brother and mom) and having his own great life back home where he does and talks about whatever he wants. This goes as far as my mentioning watching shows he's talked about previously, after which he never mentions them again. Once the topic gets outside the fence, it must be abandoned.

But this is drifting off topic. He does repeat stories or distant news, without much variation, and he'll absolutely continue if I say "yeah, you told me/mentioned that."

I should say he has good (different) reasons to write off our mom and I, though one thing I can't remember is whether he did this before we had our falling out 15yrs ago. It's possible, but I don't think it really matters in the main, and regardless, my assumption is that he's setting things up so that after mom dies he'll have few real, ongoing connections to me and can complete the fade.

So, I can't say it's clinical narcissism so much as a pragmatic one. He'll still talk about his job, the weather, what it might be like to move to city X, how much Trump sucks, etc. I'm not sure he's aware of the repeated stories, if they're just crowding out topics that might add future connections or what, but he's got a plan that he uses at family time and we are riders on that train. It helps (him) that he's a domineering conversationalist (with us, at least) and will talk over anybody in order to keep his story or whatever going.
posted by rhizome at 3:25 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

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