Narcissists are the consummate scoreboarders, obsessed with their comparative standing with others. With a built-in selfishness, entitlement, presumed enlightenment, and disregard for others’ feelings, they are on a quest for superiority. If you satisfy them by acquiescing to their demands, they will allow you into their circle. If you do not satisfy them, if you dare to be too distinct, they make it their task to bring you down.
This life approach sets narcissists up for frequent anger. Some can hardly contain their anger, and they leave no question about the fullness of their resentment. These people are loud, blustery, and openly aggressive. But others are more coy, employing a passive aggressive form of anger. They have witnessed how openly aggressive people can make fools of themselves or how it leaves them looking vulnerable. So, they become stealth. They use a hit and run approach to conflict resolution, reasoning that a lower anger profile enables them to find greater control while being less vulnerable to others’ retaliation. In their minds, the passive aggressive form of anger is genius.
What is worse, their narcissistic need for power leaves them impervious to the discomfort they generate in others. Having no empathy, they enjoy seeing you struggle. Furthermore, they take a perverse pleasure when you see them as impossible and incapable of being tamed. Power is their goal, and your exasperated reaction feeds their egotism.
Simply put, a narcissist’s passive aggressiveness is driven by cruel motives, indicating a very deliberate form of manipulation anchored in a desire to create maximum dysregulation within you.
Behaviors associated with passive aggressive anger are predictable. For instance:
- Half-hearted efforts
- Hesitance to make commitments of any sort
- Shutting down in the midst of crucial communication
- Sulking and being routinely moody, all while denying that there is a problem
- Being forgetful, chronically tardy, procrastinating
- Acting evasive, difficult to pin down
- Being absurdly defensive, but blaming you for being offensive
- Leaving all sorts of tasks partially completed
- Staring ahead, feigning disinterest as you express your needs
- Being predictably unpredictable, reliably unreliable
- Projecting a “leave me alone” attitude.
The passive aggressive narcissist wants you to see them as baffling, non-cooperative, vague, and disinterested. And when you confront them about their intransigence, they will respond with an incredulous: “What are you talking about? I’m not the one who is difficult, you are.”
As part of their cruelty, they non-verbally send implied messages such as:
- “You are such a loser and a nobody.”
- “You are unworthy of my attention or coordination.”
- “I love messing with you.”
- “I couldn’t care less if our relationship is damaged. In fact, I want you to feel like damaged goods.”
- “Can’t you see? It’s all about me…you’re just a nuisance.”
- “Every time you come against me, I’ll do my best to bring misery down on you.”
Of course, they deny these messages, and if confronted, they will just tell you it’s all in your head. But secretly, they take delight as you strain to find the best ways to respond to their stubbornness. In their cruelty the more dysregulated you seem, the better they feel about their elevated status over you.
For instance, they like it when:
- You (the target) talk like a victim. (“Why are you treating me this way?”)
- You plead or attempt to convince them to change. (This allows them an opportunity to double down on their non-cooperation.)
- The target blows up in anger
- You relate with an ongoing sense of annoyance, impatience, and displeasure
- The target has to rearrange your plans or priorities due to their unreliability
- You lose money because of their decisions
- When friends, family members, or associates conclude that you bring too much personal baggage because of your ongoing angst
- When your reputation suffers as word gets out about your struggles.
It is crucial to remember that passive aggressive narcissists are deliberately playing mind games with you, and that they are the ones who make up the rules of engagement. Any interactions with them are going to be stacked in their favor because they know that relationships require a joint commitment to civility, even as they remain disinterested in civility.
In other words, remember: The passive aggressive narcissist always wins.
Knowing how committed the narcissist can be to their cruel games, you can feel deflated and defeated. But what if you decided to go onto a different path? What if you decided that you are no longer going to enter into the narcissist’s games? To that effect, you can conclude: “Ok. The narcissist can be declared the winner, but the bottom line is…I don’t care. I’m not inside the contest!”
Narcissists engage with people with the purpose of defeating the other. That is a sad, pitiable truth. So, if you are to remain emotionally steady, your best recourse will be to stay as far away from that person as possible. It may take time to disentangle, but make that your goal. Do not make it your task to reform the narcissist. Remind yourself that over time, you can do just fine without that person’s cooperation or endorsement.
You are a free person with a good mind, whereas the narcissist is an authoritarian person who wishes to diminish you. That is not a match that will ever work. Choose a separate path, and when the passive aggressive narcissist predictably gripes at you, your response can be: “I’m not going to be pulled in anymore.”
To watch the video version of this topic, please click here.
~Dr. Les Carter