“Listening is a form of accepting”
Stella Terri Mann
Before we realise that we are dealing with a narcissist we treat them like a “normal” person. The way that they communicate might leave you feeling like you were talking to a brick wall. Every attempt that you make to reach them will be blocked, interrupted or negated. You will feel confused, frustrated anxious and finally realise that you attempt at talking to them is absolutely futile. There are three things to always remember when talking to a narcissist. The first thing is that they are narcissists and while they can be charming and good company, they are always narcissists. Scratch the surface and their default personality type will emerge. The other thing is that it is important not to be open with a narcissist. They will go in search of your vulnerabilities and while they might seem charming at the time, they can take all information they learned about you and use it against you at a later date. The third thing is, do not listen to the content of what they say. See how they behave, see how they treat other people and see what they say about mutual acquaintances. The way the narcissist replies to any communication will depend entirely on who the audience is and what image the narcissist wants to project at that time. No communication with a narcissist comes from a place of the heart. A narcissist can do a 180° turn on the way that they are communicating if someone else walks into the room.
The way that Narcissists communicate is by controlling the conversation. This happens in many ways. The most obvious phrases that they use are:
- Well at least …” (anyone who replies to something that someone else has said with this is not going to show an empathetic response)
- “It could be worse”
- “I know what you are thinking”
- “I know what you are feeling”
- “I know why you did that… you did it because you think”
- “You are…”
- “You did that because you want to make me feel guilty” (for lack of gratitude)
- “You think …”
- “We think/like/dislike/believe …”
- “You have no real friends”
- “You are always…”
- “Nobody is dead..”
- “What they don’t know won’t hurt them”
- “I never said that”
- “You’re paranoid you are making it all up”
- “I never”
- “You always”
- “You are too sensitive”
- “You are always making stuff up in your head”
- “You need to get some help”
- “Why are you being so defensive?”
- “You are so childish/immature
- “I am not arguing ,I am just discussing”
- “I am not shouting you are” (while shouting or speaking in a loud voice to drown you out)
- “Mary has a real problem with you, she thinks that you are really weird”
- “You are delusional”
- “Nobody likes you”
- “You are too fat/thin/tall/short
- “We get invited out because people like me, they only tolerate you because they like me so much”
- “No wonder I stay out all night, when I come home I have to put up with your behaviour”
- “Don’t you dare discuss our private life with other people”
- “You are thinking of someone else, I do not behave like that”
- “I am not going to play your stupid games” (when you pull them up on some bad behaviour)
- “They don’t really want you to attend their party, they only asked you to be polite”
- “Stop showing off”
I have put this in the first person singular, but it applies to everyone (“I know why they, s/he did that, they are jealous of me”). Narcissists are very critical, judgemental and suspicious of other people, they project their own wildly self-obsessed motives on to everyone (including very small children and babies) and everything else like animals and environmental influences. People who are not narcissists simply do not speak the same language as the narcissist which is cruel and manipulative.
Example of a typical conversation:
Narc: “ Hi, how are you?”
Person: “Oh I am fine thanks, I am a bit tired, I didn’t sleep very well last night ”
Narc: “Well at least you have a bed to sleep in”
End of conversation.
Narcissists are genuinely not interested in how you are (it is one of the few things that is genuine about them), a question about your welfare is a mere formality and they will usually not give you time to answer. They are not interested in any physical, practical or emotional problem that you may have and that is why they invalidate what you told them before you can expand, even for something as benign as a bad night’s sleep.
- If you come from a family where one or both parent(s) are narcissists, communicating with your siblings will probably be a great strain. The reason for this is that there will be a lot of secretiveness and triangulation, so healthy communication techniques were never established in childhood. A narcissistic parent will probably attempt to keep his/her children from forming close bonds (because they see it as a threat), it is to prevent off spring from supporting each other, validating experiences, recognising abuse and maximise their amount of control.
- Narcissists will often and frequently interrupt a conversation to say something utterly irrelevant to bring the attention back on to themselves.
- They will frequently talk in a voice much louder than everyone else in the room, it is to draw attention to themselves
- Narcissists are not interested in whether you are interested in what they have to say, they are after all really just talking to themselves.
- Narcissists do not listen to other people. You cannot communicate with another person if they are not listening to what you say.
- If you tell a narcissist something emotional they will usually react in a very inappropriate way. If you tell them something sad they might laugh out loud or if you tell them good news they might shrug with total indifference or look annoyed. They could say something nice like “that is great news” but their tone and facial expression will tell you that they are not one bit pleased about someone else’s happiness.
- Narcissists will treat children like adults (and their adult off spring like children) they will use age inappropriate language with them and give them far too much responsibility far too young and treat them like children when they are adults
- They do not like other people to be happy or have good relationships they try to butt in or break it up. They find the connectivity between others a real threat. This is very common for example, if a young child forms an attachment to a baby minder or au pair, the mother (usually) will fire that person as the bond between the two will be a threat and therefore not tolerated. This can however also happen with the family pet, they will literally give it away or put it in a shelter (it really can be that petty and that is why it is so hard to understand them). They will also get over involved in the friendships and marriages of their adult children
- If you are trying to communicate with a narcissist and you say something like “I just broke my leg” a very predictable reply would be “well at least you didn’t break both of them”. This type rebuff is a control technique that is employed so that a conversation can never get into full flow. They are not interested in what you think or what you have to say (unless they are harvesting information to use against you or others at a later date).
- Narcissists go to a lot of effort not to expose themselves for what they are and live in fear of being “discovered”, that is why they talk a lot of gibberish most of the time. They are constantly on high alert to try to ascertain what they “should” say to project them in the best possible light. As a consequence, they are very unpredictable and are capable of saying just about anything.
- They will punish others for self-championing (both as parents, friends and acquaintances), they usually put a person down with snide comment or jeering laugh (the “don’t be ridiculous” one). If you pick the narcissist up on these reactions they will say “I was only joking, can’t you take a joke” or “What, I didn’t say anything” but they know very well that they have driven the message home.
- One result of having narcissistic parents is that their children can become excessively reactive and will put the needs of others before their own. They are constantly on high alert and will try to predict what people want before they know themselves, and will do things for other people before even asked. This makes them extremely easy to manipulate, because even the slightest hint that someone wants something from them will make them jump into action. This is a coping mechanism from childhood because it is easier to think that you are giving something away of your own volition rather than be forced to relinquish something by your very powerful punitive parents, or to simply have “stuff” (achievements, relationships, toys, pet, promises) taken away from you. This fear can and does make its way into most of their adult relationships
- The other result is that they children of narcissists can become narcissists themselves through childhood emotional wounding and the psychotic parental model.
- The narcissist will corrupt your core beliefs about yourself so that they are weak and therefore you are easier to control. Any comment that you make, if it does not suit the narcissist, will be flatly contradicted. They will deliver it with such certainty and force that you will doubt yourself. The naive bit is the question that we ask ourselves “why would someone say that if it was not true?”, the reason is to control you. The narcissist has to negate a lot of what is said to, and around them to prevent you from seeing the truth, so nothing you say matters.
- If mother and father are abusive it feels like an enormous act of betrayal, you trusted them as your parents and a child will learn to hide it (the betrayal) and their emotions around that betrayal, even from themselves (it is called disassociation) – because they are literally hostage to the narcissistic parent(s) abuse and there is nowhere else to go “I cannot believe she would do that to me, her own child, I must have done something to deserve it”. The children of narcissists (who do not become narcissists themselves) have a fear of hurting the feelings or of creating negative feelings in others (and themselves) so have a tendency to over intellectualise and try to construct counter reasons and excuses for their parent’s abhorrent behaviour. The narcissist will also be phobic about their own emotions and the emotions of others, the difference is that they have absolutely no fear of hurting the feelings of others. The fear of other people’s emotions manifests itself in the perceived threat of being expected to show empathy – of which they have none, so they are never real sure which way to “play it”. Frequently, you can see a narcissist scan a room to observe the reactions of others, so that they can use it as a cue on how to behave.
- Narcissist cannot play nicely with their children or with others. They play as they live, and that is to win, and enslave those around them, get as many resources as they can, which include power, control, attention, time and money, they thrive on upsetting people and pitching one against another. They get you off balance because their behaviour is so utterly bizarre to a “normal” person, it is difficult to work out the pattern. They can be nice and charming, just so long as NOTHING threatens them, if it does they might be “nice” in the moment if you are in company, but they WILL get you back for what they perceive as an injury or insult to their persona. This is not rational, it could be because you disagreed with them on something minor, paid more attention to someone else or even received a compliment when they did not.
Another way a narcissist controls is to say something like “what would you like to do for your birthday?” and you might say “I’d love to go to the restaurant on the High Street”, the narcissist will immediately flip it back and say “Oh I heard that it has really gone downhill, let’s go to the Italian one on the other side of town”.
- The probability is that the narcissist hasn’t heard anything about the restaurant at all.
- They do not prefer one restaurant to another, they might even prefer the one that they rejected.
- It is your birthday – why can they not compromise and go where you want (you will probably be paying anyway)
- It is all about control, to make you do what they want.
- At this stage you could argue back but experience will have taught you that this could induce a narcissistic rage and it really isn’t that important anyway and if you do insist on going to your restraint of your choice they will create a horrible atmosphere, sulk, give you the silent treatment and ruin the occasion for you anyway.
- A narcissist at this stage will feel like they have won a game by controlling you and they will be “happy”.
It is important to note that all narcissists when asking/demanding a favour will redress it or reframe it as though they were doing something generous for the other person. So, they might say something like “I thought I would leave my dog with you this Christmas as I am going away and I know it is a horrible time for you to be alone”, you answer them with “no, no it is okay, I am going to be out a lot and won’t be around to take care of him or her”, “don’t worry, s/he will be fine, so long as you feed him etc.” “no really, I don’t think that I will be around enough”, “no I insist, I wouldn’t dream of letting you be alone at this time of year”
Here are some things that a narcissist will do to have their own way.
- Not listen to what you are saying.
- Trade on the fact that you are going to be polite and not rage back at them.
- Deliberately misunderstand anything that goes against what they want for themselves.
- If you are arguing calmly and well, an intelligent narcissist will take your point of view and argue it back to you treating you like an idiot for not seeing it “their way” in the first place.
- Arguing with a narcissist is not about the subject matter, it is about them getting their own way and making you bend to accommodate them and it is all about winning.
- If you tell a narcissist that you are going to do something nice for someone they will tell you not to. So for example if you say you are going to visit someone in hospital they will say “no, they said they explicitly that they don’t want visitors” (the narcissist probably hasn’t spoken to that person or a member of their family), if you say you are going to buy someone a wedding present they will say “no don’t, it would really embarrass them”, the only reason for this reaction is to block and control and to stop you from doing anything that might make you “look good/them look bad”. If you go ahead anyway if it is “an important person” in their eyes, they will most certainly try to upstage you, or say something to a mutual friend like “oh poor Mary, she always has to try to buy friendship”.
- If you start to talk about something that a narcissist doesn’t want to talk about they will use word salad, this is a term that means they will start to talk gibberish so that you cannot pick up any thread in the “conversation’ so it is futile to try.