Is confrontation ever a good thing?  Well, let’s just say it is both inevitable and necessary.  Since variety is built into the human experience, we will have episodes when we differ.  Sometimes we just need to educate each other.  Sometimes we miscalculate, requiring a recalibration.  Sometimes insensitivity needs to be addressed.  And sometimes we need to sort out the impact of personal decisions.

In healthy relationships, we acknowledge our differences and make room for confrontations. 

Clean communication in such moments is vital for relational growth and coordination.  When the goal is harmony, and when it is managed with appropriate assertiveness, good things can result.

Unfortunately, narcissists are saddled with pervasive immaturity, meaning confrontations with them can quickly turn disastrous.

It is in moments of conflict or strain that a person’s level of inner strength is displayed, and inner strength is not a narcissist’s strong suit.  They lack psychological composure, which prompts a self-serving attitude to emerge…strongly.

When confronted, a narcissist’s beginning point is the establishment of power.  Defined by self-absorption and the lack of empathy, narcissists seek control.  In their minds, they are enlightened, you are not.  They need you to understand them, yet will not offer the same in reverse.  They will correct you, but will reject any hint of being corrected.  Your words will be turned against you since it is natural for narcissists to think competitively.

When you confront a narcissist, they will display predictable patterns.  For instance: 

  • Erecting thick, impenetrable walls, they will become irrationally defensive.  
  • They will use tactics of denial, justification, reversal, or mockery.  
  • You will be invalidated…repeatedly.  
  • The narcissist might be prone toward rage or strong anger.  
  • Often, they will shut down passive aggressively.

This means it is likely that you will witness the narcissist decomposing right in front of your eyes.  They are emotionally weak, to the point of ineptitude.  The ego is pitiably fragile.  Having little inner peace or confidence, they cannot be objective.  Instead, they look outwardly for affirmation, and when you prove incapable of reading their minds or when you are unwilling to bend to their demands, it won’t go well.  And to top it off, they will interpret your confrontation as rejection, which only fuels their irrationality.

It is difficult, to the point of impossible, for a narcissist to think constructively in those moments.  You will not hear statements like:

“We think differently.  Let’s talk.”

“I hadn’t considered that perspective.  I’ll give careful consideration to what you are saying.”

“I can tell this is important to you, so I’m all ears.”

“Sometimes I’m not as ideal as I’d like to be.  You got me!”

In moments of confrontation, openness and cooperation are necessary ingredients, but narcissists have built their public image upon a False Self, meaning they can’t tolerate the potential of having to take off the mask.  

Instead, narcissist will resort to arguments and gaslighting.  Their strategy is to confuse you, to tear you down…all for the purpose of maintaining the dominant position they so desperately need.  But in the process, the narcissist is actually conveying: “I haven’t grown up yet.  Do you want to see what a petulant little child looks like?  Here it comes!”

When narcissists decompose in the midst of confrontations, know that you are dealing with someone who wants to bring you into their chaos.  They instantly take on the victim’s role (which works for them), then they will use the tactic of blame-reversal. 

However you respond, remind yourself that it’s in moments like this that you will need to employ your inner resolve.  Ask yourself:

  • Can I remain true to my own maturity without that person’s understanding or cooperation or validation?
  • When do I need to cease pressing my case and simply act with assertiveness?
  • What am I learning in the midst of this conflict…about the narcissist, about myself?
  • What is my baseline in this relationship?  How should I adjust my expectations?  Should I just stay functional?  Do I need to draw a hard line?  Should I bring in reinforcing voices?
  • Do I have to keep exposing myself to ongoing insults and invalidations?  What is my future with this individual?

Decomposing is what narcissists do. 

Their psychological foundation is so shaky that they cannot manage tensions and strains.  It’s not in their make-up.  That being the case, stay true to your needs and convictions while also reminding yourself that you have your own integrity on the line.  The narcissist carries internal rot, so your challenge is to keep your composure.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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