May 28, 2008

You're so hard to talk TO!

Dance Class  by Edgar Degas

"Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term describing the uncomfortable tension that may result from having two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging in behavior that conflicts with one's beliefs."

 I’d like to write about my old friend, Cognitive Dissonance. A recent experience forced me to ask who was more accurate: my self-perception after years of living with myself---or the perceptions of know-it-all narcissists.

See, here’s the thing, most people say I’m an easy person to talk with. To me, sharing differing thoughts and experiences creates reciprocally beneficial relationships. Self-revelatory communication implies both people are peers, mutually vulnerable, committed, and admittedly ignorant about fixing other people’s messes. ha!

But there are those egotistical folks who think they know what everyone in the world should be doing; which in the case of passive-aggressive narcissists means nobody in the world should know what they’re doing. Like choreographing other people’s ballets without their permission.

Passive-aggressive narcissists worthy of their stealthy name, loathe being caught bossing folks around. They detest the spotlight because their egos can’t afford to make mistakes. They manipulate other people’s tour en l’air since they’d never be so courageous as to try the move themselves. If we fall on our butts, they observe our thud from behind closed curtains, otherwise known as ego defenses.

The next conversation (re: LECTURE) will go like this, “I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen. You never listen. You’re impossible to talk to!”

Maybe they never noticed: talking takes two. Dance instructions take one: the choreographer with a stick and the object in a tutu taking leçons from her master. The object in this case, is YOU. Bet ya didn’t know you could pirouette on command, did ya?

Being told something about myself that didn't fit my perceptions took me by surprise. People were always willing to talk with me---even strangers in produce aisles. My brain took a brief intermission from reality in order to readjust itself when I was told:

“That CZ, she’s so hard to talk to.”

Now let’s compare that statement with an alternative appraisal of my communication skills: 

“That CZ, she's so easy to talk with.”

The truth about my conversational proficiency is in the selection of prepositions: to versus with. What I’m really being told is that my ability to pas de bourrée on cue, is unpredictable and lousy. I’m not a compliant ballerina if a manipulator intends to choreograph my life for me. Which is why narcissists make judgmental statements like, “That CZ, she’s so hard to talk to.”

Talking with was never their goal, though. Most of us never noticed we were being talked to like objects because we assumed we were talking with a peer.

Dishonest conversation happens all the time in passive-aggressive relationships. We’re never the wiser ‘til narcissists give up pretending their interest lies in building a relationship. As many people reading this blog can attest, our resistance to subversive control makes narcissists very angry. Uber-angry. We were supposed to dance en pointe, dammit and now we’re prancing across the stage in combat boots unbefitting an object of their projection.

What disobedient ballerina-things we are. We’re so damn hard to talk to.

Pay attention though. When the relationship is threatened with disagreements, narcissists find alternative listeners. Why? Because our past conversations, intimate though we may have thought them to be, were never about mutual relationship. Which is why hoping for compromise or reconciliation is pointless. Talking was and is all about securing receptive objects performing as the N suggests without ever wising up to the manipulation.

If narcissists calculate their invested energy as not meeting expected rewards, they’ll vanish without recourse or chance of rebuttal. Though Narcissists never leave without getting in at least one last word. This is typically a scathing reprimand something or other like this:

“Before I go, you’re gonna get a real talking to!”

Note: the narcissist does not say, “You’re gonna get a real talking with.” Which would of course imply reciprocal respect, mutual compromise and commitment to a valued relationship. The only valued conversation narcissists have with any object worth their time, is dependent upon maintenance of superiority.

If narcissists become frustrated with our lethargic double pliés, they'll reject us as disobedient students without any intention of wasting more time in pointless conversations. We’re no longer reliable, you see. We can’t be trusted. We might keep doing what we’ve been doing: thinking and acting for ourselves.

If you're being told your relationship ended because you were hard to talk to, consider it a compliment. You have a good sense of self. You’re resistant to N-filtration. You've moved away from the Narcissist and towards your own self which is a move in the right direction. Like another statement I heard only a few years ago:

“That wife of mine…she’s so hard to talk to.”

Well, pas de bourrée couru for me. Let those narcissistic instructors take a brisé volé off the nearest cliff. I’ll dance my own dance and if I fall on my derrière while doing arabesques in Doc Martins, I'll give myself a hug, stand up, and try again. One thing I won't do is take off the sturdy boots and wrap my feet in toe-padded slippers.

 Hugs all,



  1. Well written and well received. I suppose I appreciate learning through CBT since now I am more understanding of not only what I am saying and how I say it but what exactly others are saying.

    I have found that if I question some one on this level.. the discrepancy within the value of one word I might receive the response...well you know what I mean. Then I grab the nearest garbage can and draw a face on the front of it and leave. garbage cans are great for echoing.

    Digging a little deeper ..I can be a witness to my need to be seen and heard essentially acknowledged. In the nearest circumference of a narc that pretty much looks like me going into the bakery to buy tires for my car.

    Wouldn't it have been a whole lot easier if a narc would just say...I don't have the ability to comprehend "other". They say it in every other way but the easy way.

    Narc the 2nd was all about telling me I never listened to him. Well, your entry here has now explained why exactly I never listened to him.

    what is even more fascinating is that I was told that I do all the talking. Oh, and this gets good. I mean to say that this particular narc would send me letters that were a mile long. I mean 2,3 4 pages of words. NO SHIT! If I were paid to read (listen) I would have by now be living on an island and dwelling beneath the palms.

    The letters were just a fragment of what took place in 3-D.

    This certainly rings an old bell.
    I listened all right. What I didn't do is take orders. Thanks for pointing that out. anonymous **

  2. BTW, in his autobiography, 'Surprised By Joy,' C.S. Lewis very diplomatically said of his father that he was 'a very difficult man to inform.' Kind of the flip side - I guess it is just another form of projection. :-)


  3. K G...that is a great way of putting it. I mean if we pull the emotional stance or connection out of it then
    "difficult to inform" is what is left.

    Thanks for the quotation. It is quite effective.

    anonymous eyes

  4. Thanks for your comments, Eyes and Katherine.

    Its’ important to also say we won’t realize we were being 'talked to' until the relationship has ended (or progressed to obvious conflicts).

    Narcissists are skilled at pulling other people’s strings. If we believe the relationship is reciprocal, we might get the surprise of our life when the narcissist is so offended by our resistance that he or she leaves in a self-righteous huff.

    Narcissists manipulate other people to meet their own agenda. It’s what we do when we’re six years old but narcissists never grow beyond this immature development. So do they know they are manipulating people? Some do. But the majority of narcissistic people that’s I’ve known personally, are unaware they are manipulating and controlling. They assume everyone is just like him or herself…

    I can remember numerous instances when I tried to talk to the biggest N in my life and couldn’t quite reach a point of mutual understanding. What did I say to him?? I said, “I’m having a hard time talking with you.”

    And what did he say? “That’s because you’re so hard to talk to.”

    Hehehe…hey, the N-relationship gets funnier and funnier the longer we’re away. In fact, all human relationships tickle my funny bone now.

    And no, I’m not making light of narcissistic relationships that have caused more grief and pain in my life than anyone should be so unfortunate as to experience. But once we’re out (and yes, we CAN recover our sense of humor even if it feels as though we’ll never laugh again), it’s much easier to spot ‘destructive narcissists’. Perhaps we paid the price for greater awareness of self and others, which hopefully means: we never have to talk with narcissists again. Ha!


  5. “Passive-aggressive narcissists worthy of their stealthy name, loathe being caught bossing folks around.”

    My ex s/p should be the poster child for an passive-aggressive narcissist. So I know something concerning this issue. But to be honest at the time I didn’t know there was even a thing called passive-aggressive behavior let alone a personality disorder...

    “If you're being told your relationship ended because you were hard to talk to, consider it a compliment.”

    My ex put it this way telling me “you don’t like people telling you what to do”. This of course surprised me and at the time didn’t know what to make of it. Of course this was also told to me before I knew about projections so please bear with me. Anyway, I have always been a team player and never had anyone else make this kind of comment about me and in fact received high marks from friends and co-workers about being criticized albeit constructive or not and not take it personally. In fact I tell my bosses to tell me if I am doing something wrong, I mean how else is one to learn? Guess that’s why it threw me for such a loop? Also I remember a lot of other negative comments about my behavior but never once did I ever heard that about herself. It was so easy for her to look at my mistakes but if I would ever do that to her? Well, if you know what it’s like to be around someone who displays narcissistic rage then you would understand why I try hard never to open that door.

    Thanks CZ and yes now I take it as a compliment.

  6. You know, I kept hearing the same thing. It is so uncanny that despite how special they like to believe they are, they're actually all the same.

    It took me several years to understand that I was being talked AT and not TO. It also took me years to figure out what both my N mother and N ex-husband meant by "you don't LISTEN". That phrase actually meant: "YOU DON'T OBEY."

    No, I don't. I'm terrible at OBEYING. Compromising, negotiating, taking turns, I can do that. OBEY? No thanks.

  7. My god, that is exactly how my "partner" acts. He wants me to be his ballerina, follow his instructions without ever questioning. Why? Because he knows better, and following the instructions of those who know better is a "smart" thing to do." And you're a smart girl, right? You're one of the winners." It's funny really. He has graciously "given" me one area where I can "teach him" - computers. I don't mind helping anybody with computers but it's the way he says it - it is a way of saying that HE will naturally be "teaching" me about everything else.

    About leaving, he's "threatened" to leave several times. His way of putting it is "If you won't let me help you, there's nothing I can do." And I've been hoping several times that he will leave, but he just doesn't.

  8. Where, or where does such a disorder come from? Psychodynamic thinkers, e.g., Kohut, have busied themselves with faulty parenting. But, try to get one of them in therapy, perhaps after an narcisstic injury, but after that, don't expect them to stay. Learning theory suggests that features may have been learned early on, and therefore can be corrected through new learning, but try to get one of these narcisstic persons to even consider self-improvement through education -- no such education desired.

    I wonder if this diagnosis is simply an artificial construct, a strawman that will be blown away in the upcoming DSM-V.

    Passive-aggression has been found to be used when another person does not do what I want him or her to do, hence not terribly useful in dealing with these difficult people.

    Finally, I have seen naricissistic features indirectly addressed in the medical research of bipolar disorder, where the causation may be found in different parts of the brain.

    However, I have found no empirical literature specifically addressing etiology of this disease.

    But just think what we have: a person content with him or herself, but making life impossible for those around him or herself. Hence, unlike other psychiatric disorders, only other people want to see change. If such a species exist, run as far as possible from any emotional entanglement. It may be hard enough just working for one.

  9. Hi Vince,

    Pathological narcissism (NPD) will not be blown away in the upcoming DSM-V. We will see a change however. Narcissism will be measured as a dimensional personality trait, which makes a lot of sense. As you mentioned, people with bipolar disorder also exhibit varying degrees of narcissism, most obvious during manias. Even normal people have picked up narcissistic traits from our self-promoting, self-centered, more self-ish society.

    Some theorists suggest that pathological narcissism is the result of abuse. Because MOST people overcome difficult, even abusive childhoods, it is reasonable to consider a biological component in the development of pathological narcissism (nearly impossible to eradicate as you also mentioned).

    I think (this is my view and it is not how others might view NPD), that there are two components in the development of pathological narcissism (NPD):

    1-Biological (nature)
    2-Environmental (nurture)

    Throw in a third component of Abuse and you have the makings of a pathological, malignant narcissist.

    I also believe early intervention (childhood) can prevent NPD from developing into a full-blown pathology. However, early intervention requires professional support for the child and parental education including parental support.

    We cannot blame parents entirely because as a society, we are dangerously ignorant about psychological pathologies and even then---even if parents are equipped to handle a narcissistic child or teenager, the biological component (heredity factors) and the child's individual personality may overpower parental intervention!

    People say they overcame their narcissistic personality or that someone they loved/knew has cured their narcissistic personality. Well, it’s reasonable to assume this narcissistic person was NOT a malignant narcissist whose most dangerous behaviors are ego-syntonic. I think the narcissistic pathology is more deep-seated than that.

    This does not excuse pathological narcissists from seeking treatment nor does it obligate others to put up with their cruel treatment. A narcissist may not know whether or not their self-centeredness can be changed. It may take a lifetime to find that out. Much better to be a work in process and who knows? They may be able to break through a disorder that limits their lives and harms other people.


  10. I wanted to add one more thing:

    If a malignant narcissist commits crimes against society and is 'caught', they may be given the AsPD diagnosis (Anti-social Personality Disorder) with narcissistic traits. Without committing any crimes against society, the same person would be diagnosed as NPD, minimizing the degree of psychopathy.

    And, let's never forget that diagnosis IS a bit of an art form. What one psychologist deems to be NPD, another might define as 'traits'.

    And also:

    What people need to realize is that the malignant narcissist has the 'potential' of acting on his/her psychopathy. So my concern about measuring narcissism as a non-clinical trait in everyone's personality is that we will by default, minimize the dangers of the pathological narcissist. We will view their self-preoccupation as being no different from our own.

    Even with a greater understanding of 'normal to pathological' narcissistic traits, we may be blinding ourselves to the critical distinction between benign narcissistic traits and malignancy.

    Not to be dramatic however, for some---this could be a fatal mistake.


  11. Daughter of a Narcissist Father:

    Excellent post CZ - I felt 'relieved' reading it - as I can identify so much with what you wrote.

    I've experienced similar wording and actions.

    As you can see in your post, the 'psychological' twister that occurs with the interactions with a Narcissist is very 'subtle' but very effective in hurting us (if we don't obey).

    For me, part of the trouble is that it's so very hard to explain this 'to the outside' world. This, therefore, COMPOUNDS the hurt.

    If I had a bruise - I could be open and talk about my bruise.

    But the intricate twists and turns a Narcissist takes with your mind, emotions and soul, are almost impossible to describe to others.

    The Narcissist continues to 'spin' the 'story', and you continue to be partially 'caught' (as in the case of family). This despite setting as many boundaries as you can.

    For those of you who can do a 'clean break' - bravo! - go for it. How free it would feel.

    If you're free - then fly, fly, and fly high!

    I hope we all will use our 'people' gifts with everyone around us - but don't 'feed pearls to the swine - for they will trample them and turn around and attack us - Bible quote).

    Take care,

    Midlife Mom and Daughter of a Narcissist

  12. I am so thankful for your insightful writings. They have been critical to my healing.

    I ignored the dangerous ground I was treading. When he asked me to marry him after three wonderful and glorious months, I being drunk off the wine of his nectar said yes.
    When he pretended to be open and honest about most things, I chose to ignore the "white lies." but the night he took me outside and said to me are your SURE this is what you want?
    I replied "Yes, I'm sure" his reply was "Welcome to Wayland's world!" Not long after that I felt my brain begin to short very soul being sucked by vampire who feeds day and night.....
    In hindsight he warned me clearly of what was to follow. In that simple statement there laid the truth !!!

    I began to rebel... well, just stand up for myself and dare to have opinions,feelings etc.... the ending you can guest....

    I was abandoned one month before the proposed wedding without ceremony...his last words, "If only you cared for me."

    One day I must send him a "Thank You" note and her my condolences, he married her in four short months......

    Your blog has assisted in delivering me from self shame, humilation and blame.
    In the end, he gave me the greatest gift of all...
    He left me... you have given me a greater gift ..release !!

    1. Welcome to Wayland's World? Oooooooooooooo....that sends chills down my spine!! He must have been a real charmer, that Wayland!

      Sounds like you were smitten the way most people are when the narcissist appears to be the man of our dreams. And then one day, he suddenly makes an about face and leaves.

      I don't think most people understand how deceptively manipulative narcissists can be. They really can pretend so well that their partner has no clue what they're thinking (or planning!)

      Their sudden departure is confusing enough but then they add insult to the injury by blaming US for being deficient! The cognitive dissonance is a miserable foe to contend with while reality slowly settles in.

      It can be a long journey back to wholeness and support groups are extremely beneficial. We may need daily contact with other people like ourselves.

      You can check out our support group here:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, DeBorah!


  13. About a year before he left my husband of over 20 years literally sat me down on the couch an said, "I can talk to anyone in the world, but you're impossible to talk to." I thought it was a bizarre and cruel thing to say to someone, especially someone you're suppose to love. I tried to explain to him that he had never treated anyone in the world the way he had treated me. I'm sure he has never stood over another person screaming in narcissistic rage, called anyone else the names he called me, told someone they were worthless/useless, ripped a door apart, made sarcastic/mocking apologies when down his knees, gaslit, or used abusive passive-aggressive manipulation. I couldn't understand why he seemed to have absolutely no insight into how his behavior (his emotional/psychological and sometimes physical abuse) was an extremely significant part of the problem.

    At the time I didn't realize all of that was classic NPD behaviors. I knew he was being abusive, but I was confused as to why, after 17 years, he had "suddenly" become an abuser. Now I recognize the abuse had been there all along, it was just more covert.

    1. Hello IsilzhaVeni,

      It's been a few months but I just discovered your comment when replying to anonymous below. Sorry about that!

      What you've written sounds like classic NPD, yes. The abuse you've experienced might increase once a partner with NPD has decided to leave the relationship because s/he found a replacement. When that happens, the former partner is pretty much useless and subject to varying degrees of abuse. It doesn't always mean they were being abused during the relationship.

      The harder someone tries to "hold on" to a narcissistic partner who wants to leave, the more abuse and cruelty they'll be subject to UNTIL they let the narcissist go. In seemingly one second to the next, we've been devalued. How is anyone supposed to understand that if they haven't studied NPD?

      Thank you for your comment---it's validating to me also when someone says their former partner accused them of being hard "to talk TO." It's rough when you feel like you're the only person in the world who's been through somethings as crazy as that!


  14. My narc X friend was a massive passive agressive toolbag. She'd never SAY "ur mine don't befriend others" but she'd routinely sabotage my other friendships and could be friendships. Bang eight years of blind devotion and an oath to be BFF's I'm pretty sure she made me promise later she walks out and I only have three friends to my name and a few associates her and there cuz she made me feel so guilty talking to "others".

    Xtra props for identifying the "feeling like a tool" after she dismjssed me after I had so madly devoted my life to her. At the end of the day I feel more like I was a hired assistant for 8 years of her life then fired after, instead of some sort of mutual connection which benefit us both which would go on forever or till'were both done with it,'but I'd had at least got a half say in what happens between us and my needs could count some of the time!

    1. Hi Anon,

      Sabotaging friendships can happen in so many ways and people might not realize they're isolated until they're D&D'ed by the narcissist. Sometimes narcissistic people can be especially defensive and/or vindictive, ruining the last remaining friendships we have with lies, rumors and gossip: the Smear Campaign.

      I hope you're restoring those friendships you left behind and getting your life back in order!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...