If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, borderline, psychopath or histrionic, you probably understand why these personalities are also referred to as high-conflict. It’s because they chronically manufacture an over abundance of conflict, chaos and drama. Like a World War II factory in round the clock production.
Surely the narcissist takes a break when they’re asleep, right? Some clients report being raged awake by their narcissistic or borderline significant other accusing my clients of cheating on them in their dreams.
Crazy never rests. Some even create drama in their dreams.
Arguments are typically pointless, circular, mushrooming, based on emotional reasoning and unresolved. The mad stacks of unresolved grievances are then recycled and rehashed with each new conflict like a snowballing conflict monster.
Conflicts with narcissists and borderlines follow uncannily similar rules. I call them the Narcissist Fight Club Rules. Here’s a shocker — fighting fair isn’t one of the rules! The narcissist or borderline dictates the rules and gets to fight dirty. Their targets do not.
You’re expected to take it, fall on your sword, apologize and then pretend like it never happened. Or, you can try to discuss what happened after things calm down, but then you risk going back down to Crazytown and the only one who enjoys that is the narcissist because they have home court advantage. Unlike healthy conflict, which focuses on resolution and compromise, unhealthy conflict is about winning and keeping you engaged.
NARCISSIST FIGHT CLUB RULE #4: Facts are meaningless and logic is incendiary.
When fighting with a narcissist, borderline, histrionic, psychopath or other abuser, facts are meaningless. Logic is incendiary. Emotional reasoning trumps critical thinking. Reality is determined by the narcissist (image management) or borderline (maintaining victim status) and is subject to endless, self-serving revisions.
Pointing out their contradictions typically elicits accusations that you’re “mean” or not able to let go of the past. Even when the past was 10 minutes ago. More like they’re angry you’re accurately remembering what they’ve said or done. When they demand you tell them the truth, if it isn’t the truth they’ve predetermined they accuse you of lying. Thus, demanding that you accept their lies as truth and reality. It’s crazy-making.
Narcissists, borderlines, psychopaths, histrionics and other personality disordered abusers lie. They lie about big stuff. They lie about little inconsequential things like buying milk at the market when they really bought Kombucha. They lie when the truth would serve them better. They lie when they’ve nothing to gain. They lie when they’ve nothing to lose. They also gaslight, which is a special kind of lying in which they deny things they say or did, even when you’ve witnessed these things firsthand and documented them with video or audio recordings. They lie about what they’ve said in emails when the emails exist as proof of what transpired.
There are four primary reasons these individuals lie. One, for personal gain. For example, they want money, material goods, sex, status, power, professional advancement, to avoid unwanted consequences like detection or abandonment, to seduce or to hurt or punish their enemies and rivals. If lying gets them what they want, they’ll do it. Two, they lie to survive. If narcissists and other abusive personalities were honest about who they are and the abusive, shady and sometimes criminal things they do, who in their right minds would want anything to do with them? However, sometimes they’re honest about their true nature and hide right out in the open. “I’m crazy.” “I can’t be faithful.” “I’m a snake.” Ignore these admissions at your own peril.
Three, they lie because it induces duper’s delight, or “the pleasure [they] get over having someone else in [their] control and being able to manipulate them” (Paul Ekman, 1992, Telling Lies). In other words, they feel superior and powerful when they deceive others. Oftentimes, you’ll catch these compulsive liars smirking as they relish the sensation of pulling one over on you. If you’ve witnessed the smirk you’ll likely never forget it. Four, if they can persuade, guilt or intimidate you into believing their lies, half-truths, distortions and historical revisions, they determine your reality. When the narcissist, borderline or psychopath determines your reality, they’re in control. If they’re in control, then they feel like they’re winning or safe from abandonment, which circles back to the first reason.
For narcissists, the point of conflict is to win in order to feel superior. Winning bolsters their false self. Narcissists develop a false self to mask the core wound of feeling unloved and inferior. Hence, the compulsion to win at all costs. Borderlines develop a false self to mask the core wound of abandonment. For borderlines, the point of conflict is to not be abandoned. One of the ways they may try to avoid abandonment is by keeping you engaged through conflict, chaos, crises and drama. Save me. Rescue me. Help me. You’re a bad person if you don’t help me. What many disordered individuals really want is to be enabled to continue on as they are. Helping them would mean no longer protecting them from the consequences of their behavior. (*By the way, cars, kids and kittens are abandoned. Adults are left.)
As noted, conflict isn’t about resolving issues in order to strengthen the relationship. It isn’t about finding compromises so both parties can get their needs met. It’s about winning or staving off abandonment and they’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish these aims, including lying. Denial of facts, historical revision and emotional reasoning are all forms of dishonesty.
What happens when you catch them in a lie during a conflict? Deny, lie, cry, rage, pout, play the victim. And it keeps going until you concede, submit and apologize for making them behave so badly. Perhaps you’ve tried using facts and logic when you JADE (justify, argue, defend, explain) as they accuse and attack you (this will be discussed in Narc Rule #5). Doing so just makes them all the more angry and escalated their defense mechanisms and abusive behaviors like projection, denial, projective identification, gaslighting, DARVO (playing the victim) and intimidation.
Again, the facts are what the narcissist or borderline says they are. Their facts are often either outright lies, cherry-picked grains of truth coated in distortions and misdirects or their subjective feelings, which they believe are facts. As such, the facts are refutable, especially if they portray the narcissist in a bad light or mean the narcissist or borderline will suffer consequences. Without mutual acceptance and adherence to facts, honesty and accountability there is no conflict resolution, only appeasement, concession and capitulation.
Stop enabling these individuals. When you do, you’re enabling your own abuse. Perhaps you believe continuing to restate the facts or finding different ways to explain reality to them will eventually be effective and you’ll return to the love bombing or honeymoon/idealization stage of the relationship. Please go back and reread the paragraphs about the goal of unhealthy conflict. It’s not going to happen.
Still want to belong to this club?
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries.
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