The Language of Narcissists
Communicating with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be confusing. Facial expressions don’t always match the situation and even what is communicated through words can feel irrelevant or crazy-making. Language is one of the key tools of manipulation for someone diagnosed with NPD.
When two non-disordered people engage in conversation, they talk to each other. When someone with NPD enters into a discussion, he/she talks at the person. By continuous talking (i.e., talking over someone else or talking quickly to avoid another person’s point of view) the narcissist may wear out someone’s ability to disagree with what they are saying.
They may also use roundabout logic that does not make any sense, but by the time the narcissist has finished speaking, you may not know where to begin questioning. It is often easier to agree. By reaffirming what is being said, even by grunting or nodding, the narcissist can then use that agreement as a binding contract.
A common trait in NPD is compulsive lying. Sometimes they will fabricate information that was once true to make the lie more believable to others. Sometimes they may even go so far as to convince themselves of their lies. Other times they will lie about unbelievable and grandiose fantasies that could not possibly be true. Since the narcissist often resides in a fantasy world to create the “reality” that is best needed to suit their image, they sometimes do not understand the line between fantasy and truth.
They may use language to insinuate various untruths. For example, the narcissist attends a celebrity awards show that he or she bought tickets to see. When meeting a friend a week later, they claim, “I happen to know quite a few famous people. I was with Nicole Kidman at an event recently.”
Technically, the narcissist was at an event with Nicole Kidman. Was he or she “with” Nicole Kidman in the way that one might assume after hearing their friend “knows quite a few famous people”? That depends on your definition of with.
Language can be frequently played with to suit the needs of the narcissist, despite the knowledge that his insinuations are leading the listener down a false path. Since insinuating is different than actually saying, “I have a close relationship with Nicole Kidman”, the narcissist can always place the blame upon the listener for not understanding or misconstruing what they actually said, despite the obvious intention. This type of behavior can fill a listener with self-doubt.
When talking with a narcissist, it is important to remember three things:
- Do not respond quickly or out of emotion. Almost every conversation is a negotiation and, when bargaining with emotionally loaded issues, time is of the essence.
- Do not apologize. Most people who have some sort of relationship with a narcissist will inevitably find themselves apologizing (and agreeing) just to keep the relationship running smoothly. In reality, apologizing to a narcissist can lead to doing things you wouldn’t ordinarily do to accommodate their feelings.
- Do not agree or disagree. If the narcissist wants you to confirm that the relationship they had with Nicole Kidman is real, instead of agreeing to get out of the conversation in a hurry, it is best to use a non-committal answer. By agreeing with a narcissist, you may encourage haughty behavior or even delusions. By disagreeing, you may provoke anger or even violence.
When engaged in conversation with someone who has NPD, try to keep it brief, boring, and unemotional. Sometimes referred to as being “medium chill.” Several non-committal and non-provocative phrases that can be used in most situations include:
- “I’ll have to think about it.”
- “That’s very interesting.”
- “I hadn’t thought about that before, let me get back to you.”
- “I see.”
- “I don’t know enough about that topic to comment.”
- “You may be right.”
- “Thanks for sharing that.”
- “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
- “I understand why you feel that way.”
- “I’ll take that under consideration.”
- “Let’s discuss this later.”
- “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Many people find the end of a conversation to be the most difficult. Sometimes simply saying, “It’s time for me to go,” isn’t enough for a narcissist, and they will push for a longer discussion despite boundaries. They may use guilt or even cause a scene.
Before speaking with a narcissist, you may want to provide clear excuse for when and why you have to leave. Let him or her know before you talk that you must go at a certain time. By giving fair warning, you help the narcissist understand what is ahead as well as solidifying your ability to feel “right” in leaving instead of discourteous.
Communication with a person diagnosed with NPD can be tricky to navigate. Clear boundaries and preparation can help you avoid feeling guilty, rude, ridiculed or worse.
Lee, R. (2018). The Language of Narcissists. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 3, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-language-of-narcissists/