There are two kinds of conversational interruption: benign and malignant.
Benign interruption is the kind you’re familiar with. It happens once in a while. The person doing it often means to help you along or say something related to what you’re saying. They mean no harm. Since it’s technically rude, they will often show some awareness of this, whether overtly apologizing, making an apologetic gesture, or just going quiet and not doing it again any time soon.
As a result, you’re able to continue and conclude your comments. Any negative feelings (like rejection) are quickly overcome. You get “satisfaction” after the affront. The pain is quickly forgotten and you move on. No lasting damage is done. Within minutes, you’ve probably forgotten all about it.
Malignant interruption is very different. It happens each time you start a sentence, being relentless. The person doing it is blatantly interfering with your attempt to say something, jumping to conclusions about your intentions and trying to finish sentences for you while getting it wrong, partly because they aren’t listening at all, or they’re hearing what they want to hear. In some cases, they are believing the worst and aggressively blasting you for intending to say something offensive, even though you weren’t going to. They’ll never know.
Not only do they show no sign of awareness that what they’re doing is wrong, but they seem to think that what they’re doing is right, especially if they’re punishing you for an imagined slight. Due to this, they will do it again, and again, and again, raining hammer blows of interruption down on you.
As a result, you not only don’t finish saying what you’d intended to, but they’ve heard you “say” one thing after another that you weren’t actually saying. They are putting words in your mouth, ideas in your head, and character flaws in your heart. The pain of being treated so rudely compounds with each repetition. They are repeatedly stoking negative feelings in you.
You cannot move on because there’s no satisfaction, no resolution, and no end to the barrage. You remember this long after the incident finally ends. Lasting damage is done to your relationship and you’ll remember it for months if not years.
And it might not end with that incident, because the next time you talk to them, they might just do it again. And again.
I’m aware of the distinction between these (they are my terms) because my family did malignant interruption to me repeatedly, causing me to develop a variety of speech problems that literally ruined my life for decades. And yet they seemed to think they were doing nothing wrong, chastising me that “everyone gets interrupted” and to “stop being such a baby” about it.
My hope is to improve the dialogue about this by naming these two distinct types of interruption so that we can understand when we’re doing which one, why it’s bad, and stop it. And those on the receiving end of this treatment have an effective name to call it by. The first step to destroying something is often naming it.
There are two kinds of ignoring: passive and active. Passive Ignoring Passive ignoring is the kind you’re familiar with. This is when we pretend someone is not actually present. If they speak, we don’t acknowledge this at all. It’s as if they said nothing. We don’t look at them, pretending the seat they’re in is […]
There are two kinds of conversational interruption: benign and malignant. Benign Interruption Benign interruption is the kind you’re familiar with. It happens once in a while. The person doing it often means to help you along or say something related to what you’re saying. They mean no harm. Since it’s technically rude, they will often […]
My life of introspection has been a well-kept secret despite it dominating my life and outlook. I spent much of the 1990s pacing around after midnight, in turmoil, and in the dark (literally and figuratively), upset about something awful that family, “friends,” or strangers had just done to me. We all have ideas and expectations […]