If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a Narcissist or other form of manipulative person, then you’ve probably experienced some form of “difficult” communication. You may have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to improve your communication with them–and you probably thought this breakdown of communication was partially your fault.
…And so you probably went to great lengths to try and get your partner to understand where you were coming from, thinking that if you could just get them to see where you were coming from, or if you could just get them to understand that sometimes their communication (or lack of communication) was really hurtful that things would change.
But my guess is that things never seemed to change for long…and probably even got worse.
This is because a relationship of anykind with a Narcissist is a one-sided relationship, or what I call a “manipulationship.” Manipulative people are not solutions oriented, and they don’t seek to have an equal relationship with others.
A manipulative person’s goal is to gain (and keep) power and control over their victim and over the situation. They are not looking to have a fulfilling relationship.
What is “word salad” ?
And their confusing communication is all part of their attempt to keep power and control. In fact there is a term for this confusing communication. It’s called Word salad (also often refered to in slang as “Narc Speak”).
In a clinical setting, word salad is known as a nonsensical mix of words, phrases, or conversations and is traditionally associated with a person who has Schizophrenia, Dementia, Logorrhea (a communication disorder of the brain), Schizophasia, Receptive Aphasia, or cetain types of brain injuries.
A more extreme example of word salad might be along the lines of this: Asking a person how they are doing, might lead to a response such as, “I am, well, you know, pleasant…the things in the refrigerator, sometimes go red, like they do.” The level of severity of mental illness, or brain injury often determines the severity of word salad. A more milder form might be loosely enough related so that a person could follow the intent of the communication, even if the words aren’t strung together properly. Example: Asking a person how they are doing might lead to a response such as, “Good, good, things, you know happy, pleasant, he’s a nice boy, smiles a lot.” (The intent, or implied feel of the conversation is that this person seems to be doing pretty well.) In people with mental illness and brain disorders, these forms of word salad are not intentional, and are due to some form of cognitive impairment.
What is Narc Speak?
However, in the context of “Narc Speak” word salad is a combination of intentional manipulative conversational techniques that are designed to frustrate, confuse, and erode the sanity of the victim by getting them to question their perceptions of events, as well as their own judgment in general.
Narc Speak most commonly happens when then victim confronts the Narcissist with their behavior, although if the Narcissist is using these technique to “gas light” word salad can happen at any time.
The twelve most common techniques of word salad in the context of Narc Speak are:
- Conversations that are generally repetitive, and never end with a resolution.When confronted with their behavior, the Narcissist will often become defensive (as it is never their fault), and then deny the behavior, deny previous conversations about this behavior, bring up all kinds of other unrelated topics that serve to make the victim feel exhausted as well as feel insecure and question their motive for even bringing up this topic to begin with–often times feeling like they are being difficult, have trust issues, or have a hard time of letting things go (even though the reality is that the victim keeps bringing up the same topic, because the Narcissist’s behavior is a problem, and not because they have issues.
- Circular conversations. Conversations about the same topic (generally the Narcissist’s behavior) that happens over and over again, without the Narcissist’s behavior ever-changing. Since the behavior never changes, the victim often feels like what is the point of even having the conversation in the first place. The lack of insight and the Narcissist’s desire and willingness to change is absolutely crazy making for the victim, and then they often feel that they are the one with the issue–since the Narcissist doesn’t see their behavior as a problem. Some common topics of circular conversation are generally about obvious behavior that shouldn’t need to be addressed time, and time again with another adult: Why are you posting pictures on Facebook of you posing with other women? Why can’t you ever talk after 5pm? Why wasn’t this bill paid? Why do I smell alcohol on your breath? (If they are an alcoholic).
- Condescending & patronizing tone. Oftentimes the Narcissist will provoke the victim into an intense emotional reaction, and then stay cool, calm and collected. Their non-emotional response often further enrages the victim, as it comes across as insulting, condescending, patronizing and entrapping (as it’s meant to). This tone is often used by a Narcissist during the “discard” phase of the relationship, or during a smear campaign–during both of which the Narcissist has already told other outside people (his new “supply”, and other various friends and family of both the abuser and the victim) that the Narcissist is leaving because the victim is crazy and has an awful temper–and then does something outlandish to the victim in order with the goal of provoking them to prove their point.
- Accusing you of doing things that they are doing (projection). During a confrontation, a Narcissist will often “project” or accuse the victim of the exact thing that they are doing, which (obviously) serves to enrage the victim, as the Narcissist seems so blind to such obvious hypocrisy.
- Different masks are seen.Anytime that a Narcissist feels like they are losing control of situation, they will begin to throw every manipulation and mask they have at the victim in an effort at regaining control. The victim might see the different masks such as the good guy (I love you/”future faking”), bad guy (it’s all your fault/devaluing), dangerous guy (if I can’t have you, no one can), and little boy (I’m sorry, I don’t know what I’m doing/pity ploy–often time with puppy dog eyes). A Narcissist trying to regain lost control is one of the most wild things a person can witness. They will throw all their masks, and manipulative techniques, and lies and cons at the victim–all at once, in a frantic attempt ar regaining control. The victim is often left with the terrified feeling that they really don’t know who this person is (because they really don’t).
- The eternal victim. Somehow their cheating and lying always leads back to a conversation about their traumatic childhood, their ongoing struggle with addiction, all their problems with you, the kids, work, or a crazy ex.The victim feels bad for them, even when they’ve done something horribly wrong. Oftentimes the victim feels that maybe this time they are getting at the root of these ongoing problems, and that maybe the Narcissist’s (cheating,lying, stealing) allowed for them to bond through these intense conversations about all their trauma and previous abuse, and that a new level of honesty and communication was reached. The victim often thinks that now the relationship is “getting real” and can really be fixed this time. (But in reality it will just be more of the same.) Ironically, Narcissists always complain that they are the victim, when in reality it is those closest to them that are continually victimized by them.
- You begin explaining basic human emotions and/or behaviors. You find yourself explaining things like what it means to be nice, what flirting is, or how their (very obvious) behavior is (very obviously) impacting others. Victim’s tend to (understandably) think that they are in a normal relationship with a normal person–especially if the Narcissist is “covert”. They believe that if they just explain to them their issue with their behavior, that the behavior will stop–but it never does. They continue to see shades of the same issue over and over again, each time getting more and more frustrated that they don’t seem to see the very obvious connections between the different situations. Normal adults do not need these things explained to them. And they for sure don’t need these things explained to them time and again.
Victim: Why did you just call your co-worker “honey” and give her a big hug goodbye? I’m standing right here you know.
Narcissist: I don’t see a problem with that. We are coworkers.
Victim: That is flirting. You are married, and I’m not okay with that.
Narcissist: (Either will continue to deny what they know they are doing, or will give a fake apology.) I’m sorry that upset you. (Notice how a true apology isn’t given.)
Three months later…
Victim: I’m upset that you posted a picture of yourself at a nightclub, and you have your arms around two women!
Narcissist: We were just having fun–they were just some girls at a club.
Victim: It looks like flirting to me. Why do I have to keep pointing this out to you?!
Narcissist: Well we can’t all be as perfect as you. You need to lighten up. Obviously you have trust issues.
- Excuses. Narcissists are never accountable for their behavior. Ever. That in itself is crazy making, but add in ridiculous excuses, and the fact that their words rarely match their actions and it’s even more enraging. Narcissists will offer their victims different versions of what happened, as well as excuses as to why it happened until the victim either accepts one of the versions, or they become so exhausted with the whole conversation they give up.
Narcissist gets caught cheating, and at first denies it. More evidence comes out, then he admits to the bare minimum–yes, he slept with her once, and it’s the victim’s fault because she was never home. More information comes out, then he blames the other woman, by saying she threw herself at him. More information comes out and the story and excuses keep changing. Narcissists are not only pathological liars, they take great pleasure in lying, as when they can get their victim to believe something it makes them feel superior. Narcissists always have a handful of different versions of what happened, although none of which are the truth. (This is one of the many reasons that closure is not possible with a Narcissist.)
- “What in the world just happened”. The conversation was so draining, the victim often spends hours or days rehashing what was said, in an attempt to untangle it, as well as trying to formulate reactions to all the points that they didn’t get address. The conversation was such a mishmash of unrelated points, that the victim can’t even articulate what just happened or what was said to friends or others, often describing it as “A bunch of craziness,” or “The conversation went nowhere…as usual.”
- Random words and phrases strung together. Example: Both Narcissist and victim are watching TV, and the Narcissist blurts out, “You are so stupid.” The victim then turns to them as asks them what on Earth they just said to which the Narcissist might respond that they either said nothing as all, or that they said “Can you get me a glass of orange juice?”
- “Plausible Deniability,” as in the good old Bill Clinton type. They choose their words very carefully. Extremely carefully, (“There IS no relationship,” instead if “There WAS no relationship”). It is as if it is a game to them to lie without lying. Every word put of their mouth is carefully chosen, and you realize that they never did say what they seem to have said. You find yourself asking them the same question, worded in ten different ways, just to make sure you’ve covered all your bases, and then you still wonder what you’ve missed. It doesn’t matter, because if you actually hit on what they did, they will resort to a bald-faced lie anyway.
- Incoherent mumbling.This seems to be a type of “insurance” for them. They will mumble something incoherently in the middle of a discussion, but won’t repeat it when asked. Then, if something comes up the next day, they will say, “I TOLD you ……” The way this was used, in instances I can remember, it seemed to be for the purpose of both avoiding confrontation AND avoiding accountability. It is also a way for them to avoid being wrong, because however things turn out, they will say, “That’s what I said.”
- Denying their own bad behavior, and instead, bringing up (and focusing on) the victim’s. Because the Narcissist is never at fault, and they have a huge sense of entitlement to do whatever they please, they believe that their behavior should never be in question, instead, any potential problem that someone else has with their behavior is invalid, and all their real (or imagined) problems with the victim’s behavior are then focused on.Example:Victim:”I thought you said you were going to cut off contact with your exgirlfriend.”Narcissist: Well, you still talk to your exhusband.”
Victim: “Only when I have to–and only when it’s about the kids.”
Narcissist: “Well, how do I know that for sure? How do I really know I can trust you?”
Victim: “Because I’ve never given you any reason to not trust me.”
Narcissist: “Well, maybe you have and I just never mentioned anything before. Have you ever thought about that? You could be cheating on me with him for all I know.”
All forms of Narc Speak are forms of verbal and emotional abuse, as their purpose is to gain power over the other person by attempting to erode their sense of reality. If you are in a relationship or dynamic with a partner with someone who is using Narc speak as a way to punish, or otherwise minimize, or manipulate your reality, please know that this isn’t healthy communication–and creates a win/lose situation (with the victim being the one who loses).
Some pointers on how to handle Narc Speak
If you are encountering these erratic and nonsensical forms of communication, you can try setting a firm boundary by letting the other person know that you do not share their reality by saying something like, “Well, that’s your opinion” or, “I don’t see things that way.” This may sound like you are shutting down communication, but you are not. It is a way to let the controlling person know that you are maintaining your power and control and do not share their perception.
Here’s an example of a potential way to handle Narc Speak using the above example:
Victim:”I thought you said you were going to cut off contact with your exgirlfriend.”
Narcissist: Well, you still talk to your exhusband.”
Victim: “That is a different topic. We are talking about you and your exgirlfriend. When we are done with that topic, we can discuss why I still talk to my exhusband.” (Perhaps the victim still talks to her ex because she has kids with him.)
Narcissist: “I want to talk about that topic now. I bet you are cheating on me.”
Victim: “I want to finish our conversation about your exgirlfriend and then we can discuss my exhusband.”
Narcissist: “It’s always all about you isn’t it? You’re the one with trust issues. I can’t stand that you get so jealous.”
Victim: “Let’s stay on the original topic. We can talk about that after we finish discussing you talking to your exgirlfriend.”
Narcissist: “You are so manipulative.”
Victim: “Well, that’s your opinion.”
Narcissist: “Yes it is.”
Victim: “So can we go back to discussing why you are talking to your exgirlfriend?”
Narcissist: “No. Get over it already.”
At this point it has become clear that the Narcissist doesn’t want to work towards a solution. The partner was able to stay on topic and not let the Narcissist drag the conversation off topic and spin it back onto the victim.
How to know when to stay and when to go
If the Narcissist (or any other type of person) is unable to be accountable for their actions, and/or isn’t interested in improving their communication skills, then the communication in this relationship will continue to stay at this level.
If you are in a relationship with someone who has this level of ineffective communication, I encourage you to draw a line in the sand for yourself. Get an idea of how long you are willing to hang in there and what kind of changes you need to see happen–and in what time frame. If nothing changes by that date, then you will hopefully have more peace of mind and clarity about when to leave.
A special thank you…
- Definitions and examples on point #11 and #12 come from a fantastic email I recieved from a reader by the name of “Ka”. (Thank you Ka!)
My goal is to educate, empower, and inspire other abuse victims in understanding more about what happened to them (and how to prevent it from happening again), as well as how to go on and rebuild an amazing life.
Even though I have had a lot of "in the trenches" experience with highly manipulative people of all kinds, I consider myself to be a student of Narcissism, mindset, motivation, healing, and life in general, and am by no means an expert on any of these topics.
It's for these reasons, that when you are reading my information that I encourage you to hold to what helps, and let the rest go.
Latest posts by Dana (see all)
- Episode 55: How Do I Stop My Addiction to the Narcissist? - August 23, 2017
- Episode 53: Strategies to Help Prevent Your Child from Being Manipulated by a Narcissistic Parent - August 21, 2017
- Episode 54: How can we handle victim blaming and revictimization? - August 18, 2017