We need to have an honest conversation. I’m about to clue you in on something that will put a few pieces of the puzzle together, validate your sanity, and make dealing with your narcissistic ex-spouse so much easier. It took me five minutes once I realized what narcissism was to understand that narcissists have their own speak, but it took me almost three years to learn how to interpret and respond to it. I am now officially convinced that in addition to English, Spanish, and French … the language of narcissism should be taught to every single woman, lest she end up in a relationship with a narcissist or worse, in our position.
By the end of this post, you’re going to have an explanation for the “non-English English” being thrown at you, how to respond to it, and validation that you are not crazy.
What is Narcissism?
In case you’re new to narcissism, let me give you a brief definition. Narcissism is a legit personality disorder where one has an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for validation and attention from others, and a significant lack of empathy. Its hallmark traits include an exaggerated sense of self-importance and entitlement; a need for constant admiration; a fantasy world that revolves around success, power, and themselves; an air of superiority; an expectation of unquestioning compliance; envy; unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others; and narcissistic abuse.
If you’re going through a divorce or are divorced from a narcissist, then you know that they have no actual desire for you, but have an unquenchable desire to control you. The best way I can explain it is that they want to live their life their way, while making sure they control every aspect of yours. You are not a human with rights, you are their property — plain and simple. If narcissism is part of your story, then you probably experienced the love-bombing, blame shifting, devaluation and discard phases, triangulation (i.e. affairs or dragging people into your covenant marriage), gas-lighting, silent treatment, lack of empathy, isolation, and abuse.
Now we could talk about narcissism all day but I want to focus on one particular aspect of narcissism that makes reconciliation, co-parenting, communicating, and literally resolving almost any issue close to impossible … and that is the specific language that narcissists use.
How to Recognize the Language of Narcissism
Trying to have a conversation with a narcissist is like shouting at a wall and talking to a confused alphabet — it’s pointless. Narcissists use a manipulative code that is confusing, indirect, well-crafted, makes no sense, and rarely lines up with facial expressions or body language. It often involves circular conversation, compulsive lying, twisting of truths into untruths, and projection. (This is where a narcissist will actually project something that they’re doing onto you.)
These conversations are condescending and patronizing, with the goal of provoking an intense emotional reaction from you while they stay calm and collected. This is often seen in the discard phase of the relationship where you see the birth of the smear campaign. (You know, where a narcissist makes up lies about you and how it all went down in and effort to provoke a response where you feel the need to defend yourself, thus creating situations that validate their position.)
Do you see how calculated and complicated this is? Narcissists speak in English but their words are indirect, incoherent (stringing together intelligent words that make absolutely no sense or that you’d need a dictionary to decipher), and are carefully crafted. In other words, they say a whole lot of nothing without saying anything.
How to “Communicate”with a Narcissist
I use the term communicate loosely because you really can’t. No amount of explaining basic human emotions or your point of view is going to change anything. They simply cannot rationalize with you and aren’t going to take a hard look in the mirror in order to do it. In fact, anything you can and do say to a narcissist will eventually be used against you.
So what do you do?
- First, research narcissism. Learn how to recognize it, what tactics are being used against you, and effective strategies for responding (or not responding).
- Leave emotions out of it — emotions have no place in your exchanges with a narcissist (but they do have a place in exchanges between normal people). This was the hardest concept for me to grasp. It involved taking a step back whenever I felt triggered or received a communication so that I could think about how to respond instead of reacting in that moment.
- Go “no contact.” This might be difficult if you have children, but as much as humanly possible, keep your communication to an absolute minimum. Communication is a beautiful thing when you have two people who are devoted to the same common goal (your children’s best interests), have the ability to co-parent, and are speaking the same language, but we’re talking about narcissism here. You simply have to give up the idea that you’re going to have closure to your situation, and that there’s something you can say to make a narcissist see the error of their ways.
- Don’t fall for it. There will be times when a narcissist might be so nice, that you think they have changed and you can open up. Do yourself a huge favor and don’t. Just. Don’t. I believe in God’s great power of healing but narcissism has no cure because the people who have narcissism don’t believe that they need one.
- As much as possible, ignore the smear campaign, accusations against you, and calculated jabs that are designed to provoke a response. You know who you are in Christ and that’s what truly matters, not their opinion of you.
- Keep texts as short as possible. I like to have things in writing, but I have been guilty of letting things build up and responding emotionally to texts, especially at the beginning of the divorce when I was processing the hurt and confusion of my situation via the only mode of communication allowed me. I’ve since learned that if if you feel the need to get something off your chest, do … but don’t do it in a text message to your ex.
- Recognize that this is NOT about you. Narcissists have a legit personality disorder that is derived from a deep insecurity (usually as a result of abuse or “golden boy” syndrome).
You Are NOT Crazy
My dear, let the record reflect that you are not crazy. You simply married a narcissist and only people who have been through it will understand it. Learn to recognize narcissism, understand the language, and respond in a way that this type of speak requires and you’ll be one step stronger, a level wiser, and you’ll have a whole lot more peace in your life.