Do you use Explaining to try to Settle an Argument with a Narcissist?
Have you found yourself feeling exasperated, blamed, or twisted into a mental pretzel when in a disagreement or argument with a narcissist? Well, most of us feel that way, even with minor issues when someone has a disorder on the pathological narcissism spectrum.
In relationships we expect to have differences of opinion here and there. Usually through discussions and openness, we’re able to better understand each other and move forward. One person explains their point of view and the other person does the same. Not too complicated – it’s something we’ve all done our entire lives with friends, siblings, parents, partners, etc. But this very ‘normal’ approach to human communication rarely works to resolve conflicts if the other person has narcissistic personality disorder or psychopathy.
An Argument with a Narcissist
Suddenly what we know almost instinctively (explanations/ compromise), no longer works. It’s easy to fall into the trap of repeated explanations, hoping that if we present our stance in a certain way, they’ll get it. Many survivors have reached out to describe the long discussions or show me the long texts/ long emails they’ve written to their narcissistic partner. All attempts to explain their point of view to their disordered mate.
Gaining a better understanding of their personality structure would help and reduce the energy survivors invest in trying to explain themselves or a situation to someone on the pathological narcissistic spectrum.
Fragile Sense of Self | Fragile Identity
The most important facet of this disorder that one must appreciate if they are to understand narcissistic personality disorder is the fragile sense of self. Everything filters through this delicate, frail self-identity. Let’s look at an example:
Robyn and Michael (narcissist) had been married for 8 months. Since their engagement, Michael never told Robyn she was beautiful or offered any compliments. The only time he commented on her looks were to make fun of her outfits (e.g., uncontrollable laughter when he could detect the color of her underwear under her skirt.)
The relationship revolved around him completely. It was holiday time and they were preparing to go to a formal family event. Robyn walked out in a beautiful dress, smiled, and said, “What do you think?” He nodded his head and darted his eyes back to his phone. She very gently sighed, “I miss the days when you’d tell me I look beautiful.” She said it softly to him because her life required she walk on eggshells to avoid conflict. However, it did not matter – Michael pouted like a young child and exclaimed he was tired of her criticisms (she never criticized him). He told her that he stopped complimenting her because SHE does not know how to take a compliment, “so why waste my time.”
Robyn spent the day trying to improve his pouty mood, however, he refused to speak to her during their 45 minute drive. When they arrived at the event he would not sit with her. He refused to speak to her on the ride home. At the end of the day he told her she ruined the event for everyone by picking a fight earlier due to “insecurity.” And, as with many involved with a narcissistic partner, she launched into repeated explanations of why it was not insecurity; why she was not trying to make him feel badly; why she would like to hear warm words from her husband; why it wasn’t a fight she was starting. All forms of explanation were fruitless.
The next morning he woke up with a smile as if nothing happened the day before. The bottom line with that interaction is that Robyn highlighted the lack of loving behaviors often demonstrated by husbands, and she was right. However, his fragile sense of self can handle nothing that holds him in a negative light, particular by someone he felt was inferior to him. Even something so minor. Her comment was akin to pouring tar on a perfectly white carpet.
4 reasons explanations rarely work
Now let’s look at four reasons explanations rarely work when in an argument with a narcissist (Video or the list below the video)
Your motivations are no where near their motivations. Their reality is grounded in the protection of a severely fragile sense of self above all else. If your explanations are not to support the false self, you or your stance is the enemy. Your facts do not matter.
– They tend to be distraction fighters (manipulation). If they see that they cannot dispute your facts, they will pull the focus elsewhere toward anything secondary, irrelevant, or unrelated. For example, they’ll harp on the words you used, your style (“emotional”), your motivations, etc. Therefore, offering explanations when they are engaged in this behavior will not resolve the conflict, as they are intentionally shifting the discussion elsewhere.
– They lack the ability to fully comprehend a social situation due to faulty self-awareness, lack of empathy and selfishness. Absence of a core self is limiting. Explaining a situation that is above their emotional capacity will not improve their understanding.
– They tend to be competitive, not cooperative in discussions. They consider themselves superior/ the best. If their partner is explaining repeatedly, that fits their belief that their partner is inferior. They hold the belief that the superior person does not explain. Just the act of explaining often leads them to view their partner as ‘the loser.’
Rhonda Freeman, PhD