Narc Speak - also known as Word Salad
The term "narc speak," short for "narcissist speak," refers to a series of either misleading, loosely related, or nonsensical words that a narcissist will string together to avoid accountability and groom their target into not questioning or challenging them in any way. Like the rest of a narcissist’s behavior, narc speak is about gaining and keeping control over the situation, target, and target’s perception of reality.
You may also hear the term narc speak referred to as “word salad.” However, it can be helpful to understand that there are two types of word salad. On a medical level, the term word salad might be used to describe the disorganized speech from cognitive impairment due to schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, a stroke, or other types of brain injury or mental illness. This is not the same type of word salad in which narcissists engage.
The difference between a medical word salad and a narcissist’s word salad is that medical reasons for word salad are cognitive issues. With narcissists, it’s due to them lacking the desire for sincere, solutions-oriented communication. When a person suffers from a medical form of word salad, it is not intentional; it’s generally ongoing and happens regardless of the topic brought up. The person with word salad usually struggles to make themselves clear, and their disorganized speech may improve with medication or time. Narc speak word salad is intentional. It isn’t pervasive through all of their speech. It tends only to happen when they are trying to avoid accountability or gain control. They don’t strive to make themselves clear. If anything, the conversation gets more confusing and frustrating, the more they speak. Medication or time don’t impact their behavior in any positive way.
Examples of Narc Speak
Narc speak: “Trust me. I would never hurt you.”
Translation: “You can’t trust me. I am going to hurt you.”
Narc speak: “I love you.”
Translation: “I don’t love you. I want you to think I love you because it keeps you around so I can continue to use, abuse, and exploit you for my selfish reasons.”
Narc speak: “I will do what it takes to earn your trust back.”
Translation: “I want you to think I’m dedicated to rebuilding trust, so I’m going to tell you anything I think you need to hear, and maybe I’ll be on my best behavior for a while if that’s what it takes to keep you sucked in. Nothing I say will be the complete truth, but you should be grateful that I’m even willing to discuss any of this, as frankly, I feel entitled to do whatever I want, and you need to deal with it. We both know that you aren’t going to leave. If you need additional proof about what I’m doing, or what I did, I won’t give it to you because you might leave. I’ll get upset and tell you that you live in the past or bring up old issues and keep pushing you to trust me and never question me. And if you have a hard time trusting me, which you should, then I’ll make you feel like you are the one who is jealous, insecure, and has issues with trust."
Mary catches Jim in a string of lies and confronts him about it.
Jim: You took all that the wrong way, but I think you were looking for a way to diminish this and an excuse to leave. I respect your choice, but you should look at that if you want to find love.
Mary: What exactly did I take wrong?
Jim: Whatever you perceived in my text that would provoke you to give up on something with this much potential so quickly.
Mary: You mean all the small lies?
Jim: Tell me exactly what it was that made you decide you should give up on us.
Mary: All the small lies.
Jim: All in jest. The crux of humor. There is no plural to that word. I am not a liar, but I understand your past and how it looked in the text. I know how you feel, and I respect your choice. I wish you nothing but the best.
They redefine words and concepts to convince themselves and others that they aren't a liar. For example, a narcissist might say, "I was never involved with that woman," and in their mind, since they never officially dated or were married to that woman, then they weren't ever "involved" with her. If the target finds out down the road that they were having an affair with that particular woman when confronted, the narcissist might claim that they weren't technically involved, and because the target wasn't clear, they told them what they felt to be the truth.
With both the plausible denial and their redefining words on the fly, the target eventually realizes that they can never fully tell what's happening. You may find yourself asking them the same question, worded in ten different ways, to make sure you've covered all your bases, and then you still wonder what you've missed and how you can be more transparent with your communication. And frankly, it doesn't matter how clear and direct you are because if the narcissist can't play the semantic shuffle or redefine reality, they will most likely resort to either blaming you or someone else or just flat-out lie about what they did. So don't be fooled into thinking that the issue is with your communication. If the tables were turned, and you were to play the semantic shuffle or redefining reality game with them, they'd be outraged.
Incoherent mumbling. They will mumble something incoherently in the middle of a discussion but won't repeat it when asked and will often accuse the target of not listening to them. Then, if the issue comes up later, they will say, "I TOLD you." This seems to be a type of insurance for them. It is a way for them to avoid being accountable, because however things turn out, they can always say, "That's what I said," or, "It's not my fault you didn't hear me."
They are denying their bad behavior and instead of bringing up and focusing on the target. Because the narcissist is never at fault and has a massive sense of entitlement to do whatever they please. They believe their behavior should never be in question; instead, any potential problem someone else has with their behavior is invalid. The focus quickly shifts to make the target the problem, and the conversation is derailed.
Target: "Why is that woman texting you sexy pictures of herself?"
Narcissist: Well, you still talk to your ex-husband."
Target: "What does that have to do with anything? I only talk to my ex when I have to, and even then, we only talk about the kids."
Narcissist: "Well, I don't like that you talk to him, but I don't say anything to you about that. I think you still want him back. I mean, how do I know I can trust you? You could be having sex with him, for all I know."
While narc speak is often word salad, it can also be any form of communication that doesn’t make sense or is the opposite of what’s happening. Narc speak is crazy-making and often leaves those who experience it feeling frustrated, exhausted, and confused because they are usually working overtime trying to make sense of a nonsensical conversation. They often spend a lot of energy trying to get through to the narcissist, and to get the conversation back on topic, thinking that a lack of communication is the issue—which it’s not. The narcissist isn’t trying to reach an understanding; they are trying to confuse and detract from the original topic at hand. In short, the narcissist is trying to keep control over the situation and the target by not giving them the clarity that they need.
Narc speak often involves a narcissist talking in circles, not staying on topic, or flat out not making sense. An added layer to the crazy-making can be when the narcissist blames the target for not communicating effectively or for the conversation getting derailed or not resolving. Narc speak often leaves a person wondering what on earth has just happened. The conversations are so confusing and exhausting that the target often gets burned out and only wants the madness to stop. They then often spend hours or days rehashing what was said to untangle it and try to formulate reactions to all the points that they didn’t get addressed. These conversations are often such a mishmash of unrelated matters that the target has a hard time articulating what has just happened or what was even said to friends or others.