Those Difficult Conversations That Go Nowhere And Leave Us Feeling Like Rubbish………

Have you ever come away from a conversation feeling like you’ve been emotionally beaten up? You’re head is so foggy you’re not sure what just happened. At the start you felt clear about what you were thinking and feeling, now you feel confused and full of self-doubt. You are left with an overwhelming feeling of needing to be listened to and heard. It might be that this happens quite regularly with a particular person in your life.

Others need to feel in control for different reasons. Narcissists need control at all times because they can’t risk anyone seeing that they are wrong or unfeeling. Any difference between their thoughts and feelings and others thoughts and feelings is perceived as criticism or an attack. They have to maintain the perfect exterior to the outside world at all times.

Sometimes people who aren’t Narcissistic feel so out of control of their own emotions that, even though they are usually thoughtful and caring, they stray into using Narcissistic defences. This might happen for example if they have inflicted a major hurt and feel a deep sense of shame and guilt about it.

There are signs within a conversation that the other person is Narcissistically defending:

  • Competing to “win”– Rather than genuinely listening to someone’s point of view, considering it from their perspective (empathy) and working towards common ground and compromise, the Narcissistic Defender competes to win points. They are unable to stop “discussing” until every point has been “won” (e.g. they are right). This leads to…….

  • Circular Arguments– You may have already discussed a topic but the Narcissistic Defender cannot rest until every single point has been won. They are unable to let anything go and only when you acknowledge they are right or that you may have misunderstood something will they let the topic rest.

  • Having a Set Outcome – e.g. “winning” or bending you to their will.

  • Talking Over – or interrupting.

  • Sulking– using the silent treatment to withhold information in order to disempower the other person. Knowledge is power.

  • Triangulating– Pulling someone else into the conversation to back them up.

  • Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t –This is sometimes called the “Double Bind” or “Lose/Lose”. Nothing you can do, say or offer is acceptable to them.

  • Playing the Victim– As you carefully explain how you feel in response to their actions they will suddenly switch to the victim role e.g. “I’m hurting really badly and you are uncaring for having a go at me”. In extreme cases the Narcissistic Defender may even hurt themselves e.g. hitting themselves in the head.

  • Moving the Goalposts– Just when the topic reaches the point where they will need to acknowledge the fact that they are wrong or at fault, they change the subject to something completely different. Moving swiftly on………

  • Word Salad– This is often difficult to spot. The Narcissistic Defender jumbles up words and sentences, the equivalent of a soldier lobbing a flash bang. You are temporarily disorientated and unable to respond clearly.

  • Lack of Ownership– Narcissistic Defenders can’t own their darker side. They simply can’t admit they feel angry/hurt/guilty etc.

  • Projection– A Narcissistic Defender will pull the rabbit out of the hat like a true magician when the conversation strays nearer to the fact they are wrong or to blame for something. At the perfect moment they will accuse you of doing what they have been doing.

  • Shouting/Swearing/Behaving Aggressively– These are all designed to get you to back down and take a defensive position so they can remain in control.

  • Gaslighting– This is a term derived from a 1944 film where the emotionally abusive husband drives his wife to insanity by tampering with the gaslights, then denies her reality when she tells him they have been flickering. Gaslighting can take the following forms: Lying, Denial (even when there is proof), Erosion of the other person’s identity (e.g. questioning/criticism of their likes/dislikes, skills and achievements), Invalidating Feelings (e.g. “Everything’s fine”, “You’re being over sensitive”, “You’re over-reacting”), Actions not matching words (causing confusion and self-doubt) and Questioning the other person’s mental state (e.g. “You’ve always had trust issues”, “You’re probably depressed”).

This blog post has been written to help you understand what might have just happened and to name it as manipulation. We all manipulate others from time to time to advantage ourselves. However, it becomes problematic when it causes distance in relationships or becomes so entrenched it becomes abusive.

If you have come out of a conversation feeling disorientated, foggy, angry, unheard, in the wrong, full of self-doubt and like nothing has been resolved then it’s likely you have been emotionally manipulated. It may take a while for you to regain your sense of self. This is a time for great self-care, including empathy for yourself – “That felt difficult”, “I feel hurt”. Just because the other person is unable to empathise with you or validate your experience doesn’t mean you have to join in with them. Ensure you take as much time as you need to be kind to yourself.