Talking about yourself all the time doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a narcissist — here’s what could actually be going on

  • It’s a common belief that narcissists talk about themselves a lot.
  • While this may be true, frequent use of the words”me” and “I” in conversation may indicate something else.
  • This “I-talk” could be a sign someone is emotionally distressed, according to new research.

There are several ways to spot a narcissist. They are usually the people who have a highly inflated sense of themselves, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration.

Sometimes, people consider someone who constantly talks about themselves to be a narcissist. But this might not actually be true.

While one type of narcissist, the grandiose type, will be very self-obsessed and self-important, not all of them act this way. Also, as new research suggests, being all “me, me, me” could be an indication of something completely different.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, examined a large dataset from 4,700 individuals from six labs in the US and Germany. It showed how much people used “I-talk” – “I,” “me,” and “my” – in written and spoken tasks, as well as how they scored on measures of depression and negative emotions.

The researchers, from the University of Arizona, considered upwards of 2,000 uses of I-talk frequent use, as people speak about 16,000 words a day on average, and use personal pronouns about 1,400 times.

They found there was a connection between high levels of the I-talk words “me” and “I” and feeling negative emotions. In fact, the results suggested that someone who uses more of these words may be prone to emotional distress.

In other words, people who seem self-obsessed on the outside may have a tendency to easily experience negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression, worry, or anger.

“Previous research had found the one link – between I-talk and depression – but it hadn’t examined moderators in great detail in a large sample. That was the next step,” said Allison Tackman, a psychologist at US, and lead author of the study.

“Our results suggest that I-talk may not be very good at assessing depression in particular. It may be better at assessing a proneness not just to depression but to negative emotionality more broadly.”

However, they also found that context was important. For example, if someone was talking about a recent break-up, then the relationship between I-talk and negative emotion emerged. But if they were describing something impersonal, such as a picture, the negative feelings weren’t present.

As for why I-talk may be associated with distress, the researchers suggest it could be because we centre ourselves in the story when recounting experiences that made us anxious or sad.

“When you think back to being in those places, when you’re just so focused on yourself, you may say things like ‘Why can’t I get better?'” Tackman said. “You’re so focused on yourself that not only in your head are you using these first-person singular pronouns but when you’re talking to other people or writing, it spills into your language – the self-focus that negative affectivity brings about.”