Do you often engage in conversations with your narcissist that leave you feeling like you were talking to a brick wall – or worse, maybe leave you feeling like banging your head against a brick wall? Perhaps, it has even crossed your mind that you would have been better off conversing with a brick wall because the wall would have more capacity of providing understanding, validation, and empathy than the narcissist in your life!
Real life conversations with a narcissist are exhausting, dizzying, nerve-racking, and make you feel like you’re going crazy – or at least drive a compassionate person to question their own reality, and even their sanity at times. The circular conversations leave you feeling worse off than if you had never had them in the first place. You begin to blame yourself, doubt your instincts and wonder what the heck is going on?
Before we realize the truth about the narcissist in our lives, we relate to them as if they are normal human beings possessing a conscience, integrity and some degree of self-awareness. We trust their words because we don’t deceive and manipulate people and trust that the people who claim to love us will do the same. We give them the benefit of the doubt because we believe they truly love us, and no one who truly loves us would purposely say or do anything to hurt our feelings and us. We are, in essence, projecting our good qualities on to them, and when they don’t respond the way we expect a normal person would, we become confused and hurt, question our reality and believe we must be to blame in some way. The problem is that narcissists don’t think, operate, or play by the same rules as us, and our failing to recognize this sets us up for manipulation and misery by default.
Conversations with a narcissist, especially if you hold opinions about anything that contradict with their opinion of what is the gospel truth, are jam-packed with a barrage of covert manipulation tactics that are intrinsic to the narcissist and entrenched in their personality. They will make you wish you had never disagreed with them in the first place and regret that you ever dared to express your point of view. A simple disagreement will often incite a full-fledged attack on you. Somehow, they manage to twist the conservation, so you wind up feeling like the bad guy/girl, while they assume the role of the innocent victim – of you.
CONVERSATIONS ARE NOT CONVERSATIONS; THEY ARE VERBAL COMPETITIONS
When you challenge your narcissist’s lies, discrepancies, and groundless accusations; suggest that they are less than perfect; try to get them to understand your point of view; confront them on their cruel behaviors; or approach them about the lack of reciprocity in the relationship, the discussion will likely decay into a crazy-making, chaotic, drama packed, mind-spinning, migraine induced headache that is intended to wear you down and punish you for suggesting or exposing a fact that doesn’t support their grandiose view of themselves or maintain their need to feel superior and all mighty.
Narcissists never enter into conversations. They enter into verbal competitions. Their goal is to win at all costs. They have no interest in seeking understanding, clarification or compromise, or in reaching a meeting of the minds. Their conversations are only meant to manipulate, confuse, control, destabilize, deflect accountability, cast doubt, distort reality and create drama.
ENABLERS AND TONGUE BITERS
Narcissists only surround themselves with people who are either so charmed by them that they blindly believe every word they say is true or people who have learned that it’s easier to keep their mouths shut rather than reap the wrath of expressing an opposing opinion.
Anyone in a narcissist’s life that doesn’t fall into one of the two categories of Enablers or Tongue Biters will certainly be given the boot. But first the narcissist will discipline you with their collection of manipulation tactics, so when they do give you the boot, you will be sure to go out believing the reasons for your dismissal were all your fault.
THE 8 MOST COMMON CONVERSATION MANIPULATION TACTICS
1. TOPIC SWITCHEROO
Here’s how this works. You and your narcissist are in the middle of a conversation; it’s going well until you disagree or present facts that contradict the narcissist’s point of view. The narcissist knows that your facts are indisputable and you have the upper-hand, so to gain control of the conversation and win the argument, the narcissist will deviate into a tangent of verbal vomit attempting to hoodwink you and pull the ole’ topic switcheroo. Before you know it, you’re discussing something totally unrelated to the original conversation, and you find yourself in defensive mode about some issue the two of you disagreed on last year.
2. THE BLAME GAME
Blame shifting is usually a tactic used subsequently to the Topic Switcheroo. The narcissist, like a magician, successfully changes the topic and diverts your attention by pointing the finger at you, and you suddenly find yourself on the defensive end of the conversation stick. The narcissist will raise questions about any and all of your real or perceived faults and pummel you. You, in turn, instinctively defend yourself, and the narcissist, just like Houdini, makes the original topic of their bad behavior disappear and escapes having to take any accountability for their actions. Meanwhile, you’re tricked into taking on the defensive position and accused and blamed for creating problems and drama in the relationship.
Hypocrisy is the narcissist’s middle name. What they say and do when no one is watching is drastically different from what they say and do in the presence of others. Since they are all about maintaining their false persona they use projection to rid the unwanted traits in their character. But since they are the emotional equivalent of a five-year-old, they magically disown the parts of themselves that reflect negatively on their personas and accuse you of the exact things they’re guilty of doing. Did you ever notice how they will accuse the most generous person of being selfish or having a hidden agenda behind their generosity? The most honest person is accused of being a liar. Their faithful partner is accused of cheating? The narcissist’s projections are really confessions that reveal what the narcissist is guilty of and/or believes about himself/herself.
In contrast, emotionally healthy people don’t use projection when they’re on the defensive. When and if they resort to character assassination, their comments more closely resemble the truth and tend to resemble slander; not the outright lies that characterize projection.
4. TURNING UP THE VOLUME
When narcissists act with a disproportionate amount of anger or rage by increasing the volume and tempo of their voice, you can bet that they’re trying to shock and bully you. Their actions are an absolute declaration of psychological warfare. Their increased volume is a ploy to get to you to back off.
The sudden, shocking, cruel and disproportionate attack is an offensive maneuver aimed to destabilize, confuse and intimidate you. When you’re under attack and in a state of shock, your defenses naturally become weakened. The stress of being attacked and yelled at decreases your mental acuity and leaves you open to suggestion. As a result, your weakened state renders you less of an intellectual threat to the narcissist’s need for control and dominance.
5. PLAYING THE VICTIM
There is much truth in the quote, “Deceit’s favorite role is playing the victim.” It’s no wonder why when the narcissist isn’t playing the role of the hero, he/she is playing the role of poor victim. Through garnering pity, narcissists will play the victim, while vilifying the real victim, as a way of concealing their abusive behavior and avoid taking responsibility for their cruel and deceitful actions. Narcissists capitalize on the compassion of others and exploit their sympathy in any way they can, depending upon what their goal is at the time. If the narcissist doesn’t want to keep a promise and you become upset, your feelings won’t be validated; there will be no apology or display of empathy. Instead, the narcissist will get angry at you for being upset and blame you for your lack of empathy in not considering that they may be having a bad week, stress at work or so on. You will be labeled selfish or, accused of being needy or demanding, for expecting the poor narcissist to honor his/her word.
However, if you have a bad week, don’t expect to receive the same treatment. The narcissist will expect you to keep your promise and will minimize and invalidate your feelings by portraying themselves as the victim. The narcissist will always one-up you by reciting a litany of reasons why their week was so much worse than yours or lecture you on how your life is so much easier than theirs, and so on. Whatever you can do, they can do better. Whatever bad thing happened to you, something worse happened to them.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse so insidious that many articles have been written about it. Narcissists use this tactic in conversations by purposely altering or not sharing information and replacing it with false information. This tactic is designed to systematically dismantle the victim’s ability to trust their own judgment and undermine their confidence to the point where they begin to doubt their own memories and judgments, thus rendering them highly suggestible to the narcissist’s opinion.
For example, a narcissist may casually but consistently suggest how their memory is superior to yours, especially if you ever admit to being forgetful about anything. They may even go so far as hiding or rearranging your belongings, intentionally tricking you into believing your memory is faulty. Then when a difference in opinion arises or you expose a discrepancy in their story, the narcissist, with absolute conviction, will use your faulty memory as evidence to make you doubt what you heard or saw and second guess yourself, causing you to ultimately accept the narcissist’s rendition of the truth.
Narcissists are notorious conversation interrupters. They love to be the center of attention and control the focus of the conversation. They have no interest in having a two-way discussion with you. If you dare attempt to get a word in edge-wise or make your point of view heard, if it at all contradicts the narcissist’s point of view, your opinion will most likely be ignored or dismissed. While many people with ADHD and other mental disorders struggle with problems of poor impulsivity or poor communication and often interrupt others, the narcissist intentionally interrupts to redirect the focus of the conversation back to themselves, since they believe their opinions are superior and correct, and that whatever they say should be accepted as the gospel truth.
They genuinely have zero interest in hearing other people’s viewpoints or reaching compromises or win/win solutions to disagreements. They have a my way or the highway frame of mind and interrupting allows them to control the conversation and manage it in a direction that parallels their point of view and agenda. By monopolizing the conversation, they exert their control and avoid taking responsibility or addressing important issues. In their minds, their ability to dominate conversations confirms their superiority.
8. THE SILENT TREATMENT
The silent treatment is probably one of the most common forms of emotional abuse used by narcissists when all the above tactics have been tried and have failed. Narcissists use the silent treatment as a form of punishment for not acquiescing to their point of view, or as the way to gain the upper hand and control in their relationships. It’s also a way to avoid discussing important issues in the relationship and avoid taking accountability for their wrong-doings. When a narcissist uses the silent treatment, they will do it in a way that is so out of proportion to the situation. Narcissists will also tend to demand a perfectly delivered apology. If the apology is not said correctly or in the right way, the narcissists will extend the length of the silent treatment. By demanding a perfectly delivered apology, narcissists confirm their dominance and support their exaggerated importance.
The silent treatment is intended to make the victim feel completely unloved, invalidated and insignificant. The use of the silent treatment is usually about control. Sometimes the narcissist will use the silent treatment just to assess the amount of control they have over people. Often, it will be used as a tactic to create distance and free up space to engage in infidelity or pursue new admirers. Victims are left feeling destroyed, as the silent treatment kills any possibility of reconciliation.
THE SEARCH FOR ANSWERS
The many people who’ve been expelled from the narcissist’s life know there is something terribly wrong with the narcissist. However, many of them never bothered or cared enough to connect the dots and define the craziness they were subjected to. But for those who have had intimate relationships with a narcissist for any length of time, it almost becomes an unsettling necessity to search for answers and put the pieces together to restore their equilibrium and unearth the reality of the absolute insanity that had become their normal existence.
This is what drives most former partners of narcissists to hit the Internet and actively Google the WHY DID questions – for example: Why did my partner always think they were right? Why did my mother never apologize? Why did my spouse always give me the silent treatment? Why did my sibling always make me feel like I was to blame? Why did my perfect partner change?
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY ABOVE THE CLOUDS
Their Google search queries lead them to articles about narcissism and narcissistic traits. Survivors voraciously ingest the massive amounts of information permeating the world-wide web. The descriptions are so eerily accurate that if they didn’t know better, they would swear the articles were written about their relationship. The precision in which the articles depict their relationships, from the golden beginnings right down to the horrid end –to a T, becomes the indisputable validation that precipitates the cloud of confusion to dissipate, allowing enlightenment to illuminate the truth of their situation with profound clarity. No, narcissism is not limited to vanity or arrogance, as they originally believed. It is so much more pathological and insidious than they could have ever imagined; and even worse, there is no cure.
Gradually, through their research, they realize that the narcissist never really loved them or anyone for that matter, as narcissists are wholly incapable of love and have a rather limited conscience, if not lacking one altogether. Survivors slowly accept that the person they were in love with was just a façade and never really existed. Finally, this awareness forces them to mourn the loss of three people, only amplifying and adding to their grief. First, they must mourn the loss of the person they loved who never really existed. Second, they must mourn the loss of the person they believed their narcissist had the potential to be. Third, they must mourn the loss of their identity, that had been eclipsed under the crushing weight of the imbalance and inequity of their relationship.
THE LENSES OF AWARENESS
Terms they had never heard of before – like love bombing, future faking, false-self, idealization, devaluation, projection, gaslighting, smear campaign, flying monkeys, cognitive dissonance, and triangulation – become part of the survivor’s regular vocabulary. Sadly, they become more adept at explaining the definitions of these terms than most mental health professionals, because they are not just terms learned through memorization, but rather words learned through painful, real-life experiences.
Their new-found vocabulary becomes powerfully liberating, as they finally offer a palpable term to explain the insanity that once was their reality, but that they were previously at a loss for words to describe. They grow so knowledgeable about the subject of narcissism and traits of NPD; they deserve to earn honorary doctorate degrees in the subject.
The crazy-making conversations of the past start to make more sense through the new lenses of awareness. Survivors begin to finally be able to put the finger on and pinpoint the emotional abuse they suffered, but failed to perceive was abuse at the time. The layers of blame, guilt, doubt, confusion and uncertainty of their reality that had tormented them start to erode, as they recognize that the layers were deliberately and deceptively deposited onto them by their narcissist. This is the pivotal point, where recovery from narcissistic abuse begins.Without awareness and education about narcissistic abuse, the chances that a survivor will end up in another abusive relationship are infinitely higher.
Emotional abuse is as devastating as any other kind of abuse. It’s intentional and malicious exploitation and manipulation of the heart, soul, spirit, mind, and often the wallet of another human-being, cloaked in counterfeit expressions of love and concern.
Bree Bonchay, LCSW, is a psychotherapist with over 18 years of experience working in the field of mental health and trauma recovery. She specializes in helping people recover from toxic relationships and shares her insights about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychopathy in her blog FreeFromToxic. Her articles have been featured in major online magazines and she has appeared on radio as a guest expert. In addition, she is a dedicated advocate, educator and facilitates survivor supports groups and workshops. Her book, I Am Free, is the first non-fiction anthology raising awareness about the damaging effects of pathological relationships.Follow Bree’s Blog by email to receive new articles delivered directly to your email.
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