A mark of emotional intelligence is the capacity to tease and act playfully in ways that create bonding and inclusion. Friendly banter can convey affection and approachability. At its best, it lets others know that you enjoy a good time and you wish to share it.

There are times when narcissists like to use humor or playfulness as they engage with you, but being narcissists, they cannot contain their dysfunctions for an extended time. They have to have a superior edge, so when the opportunity arises, they commonly bypass teasing, going straight into taunting. It can be their way of bullying a person into submission or shame, and there is nothing funny or endearing about it…in the least.

Let me give you an idea of how this can work with some real life illustrations:

  • A woman has gained about 15-20 pounds, and at a family gathering, a family member calls her a blubber-butt and tells her to go easy on the Twinkies.
  • Two men disagree about politics, so one tells the other that only stupid people think like he does. Then, “If you want to associate with the dumbasses of the world, knock yourself out. You’ll fit right in.”
  • A coworker disagrees with an associate’s decision about managing a problem. In front of several people, he says, “It’s highly predictable that you’ll go down in flames, and when you do, don’t expect any sympathy from me. In fact, I hope your project fails miserably!” (Then he walks off chuckling and shaking his head.)
  • A marriage partner says to the other, “Before we married, I knew you could be a bit anxious, but no one warned me that you’re just plain nuts! It’s people like you who give anxiety a bad name.”
  • In a social setting, the narcissist remarks, “Why would anyone want to spend their free time with you? You think you’re witty and charming, but behind your back everyone knows you’re just an airhead.”

Make no mistake, taunting is verbal abuse. Its only purpose is to degrade and create discomfort. Its goal is to smear the recipient’s reputation, and it is certainly demotivating.

Taunters are quite willing to kick those who seem vulnerable, which makes it an insidious behavior. But it is essential to remember that it reveals much more about the one who dishes it out than about the recipient. These are deeply wounded individuals who are attempting to compensate for their own struggles with inadequacy by diminishing another. Clearly, they have much unresolved anger inside, but they do nothing to address it constructively. Instead, they wish to send the message, “Remember, I’m a force to be reckoned with.” But as they taunt, they merely illustrate a pitiable need to find power as a cover for their own fear of powerlessness.

How to react to the taunt

When you are the recipient of a narcissist’s taunting, first, allow yourself to feel what you feel. There is no need to cover your hurt or pretend it has no impact. Narcissists can be quite disgusting, and it is reasonable to clearly acknowledge your dismay. For instance, you might openly state to the narcissist that you are unimpressed by their false bravado. Or you may let those in your presence know of your perplexed feeling. It’s okay to state that taunting is not acceptable.

Likewise, there can be times when you’ll need to refrain from contact with that person. For instance, if you are invited to a function after a taunting episode, knowing the narcissist will be in attendance, it might be appropriate to openly state your unwillingness to attend due to that person’s history of rudeness. You don’t have to grouse or whine, but you can be steady in your resolve to stay away from a verbally abusive person.

When narcissists taunt, they illustrate how love is not prioritized. They illustrate how they are not at peace within. They illustrate a general pessimism that lies beneath their calloused comments. And they illustrate no particular regard for decency.

Practice self-care. A person who verbally abuses is capable of other forms of abuse as well. And as you register your distaste for the narcissist’s treatment of you, knowing the narcissist will protest or victim-shame you, stand your ground anyway.

Narcissists who willingly taunt are deeply troubled souls. You owe no fealty to them, and you need not collapse due to their insensitivities. They are not funny. Narcissists are not being playful. They merely illustrate that they are childish cowards.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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