Think carefully about recent times you have been in conflict with a narcissist. How open was that person? What amount of curiosity did that person show toward you? How perceptive was that individual? How eager did that person seem to find common ground? It is only natural for you to want to speak clearly as you address a problem, and you are to be commended when you seek coordination. But inevitably, as you differ with a narcissist, openness is not part of the equation. Tension mounts quickly as you learn that not only are your thoughts, feelings, and interpretations dismissed, but the narcissist insists that there is a price you have to pay for suggesting there is a problem.

You see, when you differ from a narcissist, then speak up, there is a primary problem that will get you into trouble every single time. You wish to tell that person the truth about who they are.

The possibilities are endless. For instance, you may wish to say something like:

  • “You’re being unreasonable.”
  • “Your emotional outbursts are intolerable.”
  • “Your version of what happened is not the only one.”
  • “You have anger issues, and it is hurting us.”
  • “Please stop being so defensive, and listen for once!”
  • “You have taken my words out of context. Let’s get the facts straight.”
  • “I’m offended by the ways you misrepresent me to others.”
  • “Your controlling habits are harming our relationship.”

Sometimes you just want to get straight to the point, you want to call out the narcissist about character flaws. You wish to say, “We can’t get anywhere good if you’re going to continue with your dishonesty.” But as you do, almost without fail, the results are displeasing and uncomfortable.

In such circumstances, it is vital for you to incorporate a major insight: Truth and narcissism cannot coexist. Early in life, narcissists concluded that openness and vulnerability were far too risky. They committed to building a wall of defense around themselves, which became the impetus for them living inside a False Self.

The False Self

In the early stages of life, each person has to determine who to trust and how to connect with others to create relationship safety. But narcissists did not have that experience. They interpreted significant portions of their world as toxic, and they adjusted accordingly. The narcissist concluded that judgments would come their way often and potentially harshly. They surmised that the revelation of personal flaws or failings would lead to bad things happening. The narcissist felt that acceptance could only happen if they adhered to The Agenda, and even then, that agenda could change wildly from one set of persons to the next.

Feeling uncertain about all sorts of life skills, they went into compensation mode. They felt the need to look “together” even as they struggled inwardly with embarrassment or confusion. They learned that their anger would only create a problem, meaning they were constantly finding someone to blame for making them feel off kilter. As they aged, they became convinced that the way to win was to become the one who sets The Agenda for others, meaning their controlling ways became more and more pronounced. The net result of their compensations was an ever-deepening commitment to the False Self.

They absolutely could not utter phrases like:

  • “I’m really struggling right now.”
  • “I’d like for us to find ways to be accepting of each other in the midst of our differences.”
  • “I often feel confused about how to manage my emotions.”
  • “I’m very willing to hear what you have to say about my pluses and minuses.”

With all this as a backdrop, you show up in that person’s life, and you imply: “Can’t we just be honest with each other?” And when you do, it strikes fear in the narcissist who inwardly thinks: “There is no way that I’m going to reveal, much less explore, my frailties.” And that is when the narcissist strikes out toward you with vitriol.

When you confront a narcissist, know that you are ramming into the narcissist’s shield of the False Self. You will witness irrational defensiveness, exaggerated anger, ghosting behaviors, deep contempt, playing the Victim Card, punishing you with passive aggressive responses, and flipping the focus onto your improprieties.

When the narcissist refuses to be forthright and honest with you, understand that you are not at fault despite the narcissist’s protests to the contrary. If the narcissist could be totally honest, you would hear something like: “Hey, I need to confess that I’m not very skilled at handling relationship complexities, so be patient with me. I have lots of learning ahead of me.”

But don’t hold your breath waiting for that level of honesty, and whatever you do, don’t assume that you have to shake in fear just because the narcissist cannot manage the truth.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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