Relationships with narcissists, borderlines, histrionics, psychopaths, other bullies, professional victims and emotional reasoners are often riddled with conflict. After the idealization or love bombing stage ends and the devaluation stage begins, circular arguments, pout outs and rage episodes often become a weekly or daily occurrence. Conflicts are rarely resolved and are frequently rehashed with each new conflict.
In an effort not to trigger an abusive wife/husband or girlfriend/boyfriend, many clients find themselves walking on wall-to-wall eggshell carpet. Living this way is crazy-making and exhausting. Eventually, it becomes untenable.
Oftentimes, conflict with these personalities feels like playing the old arcade game, Whack-a-Mole. Just as you disprove their initial complaint using facts, reason and logic – BOOM! They lodge new complaints, false allegations, victim narratives, vomit emotional bilge and/or rehash old grievances that weren’t resolved or never occurred. Each time you whack one mole back into its hole, three more pop up. It doesn’t ever stop.
What kinds of arguments do narcissists and borderlines typically manufacture?
The pointless kind. Actually, conflict can be multipurpose. As long as the purpose isn’t effective conflict resolution in which both parties get a win! Narcissists and borderlines routinely create conflict to get your attention. They create drama because they’re bored and want the adrenaline rush. They argue about something ridiculous to have a “win.” In other words, to dominate or bully you in order to feel powerful.
They pick a fight to distract you from something awful they’ve done that you may or may not know about yet. For example, they gin up some faux outrage at you, and then storm out of the house for a pre-arranged tryst with the person they’re cheating on you with. They start conflict to unload their feelings (that may or may not have anything to do with you) because they don’t know how to self-soothe (i.e., regulate their emotions). This pretty much makes you their emotional barf bag.
Sometimes they instigate a fight with you because someone else caused a narcissistic injury (i.e., a fragile ego boo boo). They take it out on you instead of tarnishing their public mask or false self. Or — and this is evil — they provoke an argument to set you up for a false domestic violence charge. Men, if you’re divorcing or about to divorce a woman with these issues, don’t take the bait. Walk away from any kind of argument or disagreement and don’t forget to ABR (always be recording).
You may have noticed that resolving disagreements by finding mutual compromise isn’t among the reasons narcissists, borderlines and other emotionally immature people pick fights. That’s because it rarely happens. To be fair, sometimes they’ve a legitimate grievance. But more often than not, they manufacture conflict for one or more of the above reasons. Is it any wonder you’ve become conflict avoidant? There’s no resolving conflicts with these individuals. Additionally, their conflict style is so toxic it’s only natural you seek to avoid them when they’re spoiling for a fight.
To summarize, with high-conflict people the stated issue usually isn’t the issue. The real issue is, as ever, their personality (disorder). They’re bored. They’re attention-seeking or victim-playing. They want to punish the person (i.e., you) whom they believe has wronged them, ignored them or made them feel bad about themselves. For example, by holding them accountable, having boundaries and using facts and logic.
Narcissists, borderlines and other high-conflict emotional reasoners don’t fight fair. They name-call, generalize, make personal attacks, exaggerate grievances, make vague complaints and stockpile old hurts. They yell (sometimes losing control or appearing to lose control), get physical, destroy property, clam up and/or give the silent treatment. They also “kitchen sink.” Or, bring up old resentments (sometimes going back years) during an unrelated argument.
In my experience, kitchen sinking usually happens when the narcissist or borderline isn’t able to defend their actions with double-speak, DARVO (claiming the role of victim or injured party), reversing cause and effect regarding their behavior or emotionally overwhelming their partner via rage, crying or pouting. In order to distract from the original conflict — either initiated by you or you’ve used reason and facts to disprove their claims — they bring up old and new grievances. Hence the comparison to Whack-a-Mole. Just as you quell one complaint, new ones mushroom.
Why do narcissists and borderlines kitchen sink?
There are several reasons why kitchen sinking occurs.
1. No conflict resolution. When conflicts, disagreements and hurt feelings aren’t resolved, they get stored in the resentment warehouse. With every new conflict they get recycled. Particularly, when you have a new grievance or issue. “Oh yeah! Well, what about when you . . . !” This is so unhealthy. Resentments are corrosive and eventually become contempt. There’s no coming back from contempt in a relationship. Kitchen sinking keeps all the old resentments alive and fresh, thus, maintaining the narcissist or borderline’s victim status.
2. Winning. For many narcissists and borderlines, fighting is about winning. Sometimes the fun is in bullying or haranguing you into agreeing with something you both know is nonsensical. When fighting with someone like this this, the more right you are the more wrong you are. Let that sink in for a minute. The more sensible your argument, the more incomprehensible their argument.They’ll rage, pout out, bully, cry, threaten, silent treatment and victim posture until you concede. Kitchen sinking is an effective way to wear you down and wear you out.
3. Engagement. Endless, circular arguments keep you engaged. If you’re still fighting with them, then you’re not
abandoning divorcing or breaking up with them. Kitchen sinking is effective in this respect. Remember, this kind of conflict is their “normal.” It’s incredibly abnormal, unhealthy and destructive, but it’s how they emotionally engage. Furthermore, when you’re not actively in conflict, you probably spend an inordinate amount of time preoccupied with how to avoid yet another conflict. This is an indirect form of engagement that, again, keeps your attention on the adult toddler. Your time would be better spent understanding why you tolerate such toxic nonsense and formulating an exit strategy.
4. Avoiding accountability. Kitchen sinking is a great way to derail and tangent an argument via distraction. Derailing often occurs when you’re making progress in defending yourself or your point. Then, the narcissist or borderline peppers you with hot button topics (e.g., all you care about is work, you’re a bad dad, she does EVERYTHING, your mother, you’re cheating and are secretly planning divorce, etc.) When this occurs, objective reality is irrelevant. You’re deep in subjective emotional reasoning land now and it keeps escalating until you forget the original conflict, concede and apologize.
Tangenting is a less explosive form of derailing, but with the same end result. The subject is changed to other issues that are marginally related (rather than completely unrelated topics in derailing). The adult toddler then refuses to return to the original issue when you try to redirect. They accuse you of avoiding the issue or being controlling, which becomes another tangent issue. She or he does this without a trace of irony.
How do you expect to resolve a conflict with a person who believes their subjective “truth” instead of verifiable, objective facts? How do you expect to reach an equitable resolution with a person who thinks compromise is the C-word and that all interpersonal interactions are zero sum games? How will you ever be able to find mutual resolution with someone who experiences win-win as a crushing defeat?
You can’t. At least you can’t win playing by her or his rules.
Drop the rope, let go of the need to prove you’re a good boy or good girl to someone who’s determined to “win,” even if it’s destructive to themselves, you and the relationship. That’s how you win a game of Whack-a-Troll. You don’t play. Or, you can keep playing by the narcissist’s one-sided rules. It’s better to redefine winning, which likely means losing the relationship and getting your life back.
If you’re still in the relationship and trying to preserve what’s left of your sanity, redirect back to the original issue when she or he begins kitchen sinking. If they defiantly persist, walk away. It’s hard to win a war on multiple fronts. Hence the multiple conflict points. Kitchen sinking is like a baseball pitching machine gone berserk. Until you’re ready to exit the relationship, I recommend investing in a helmet and a reinforced steel cup.
- Narcissist Fight Club Rules #1 and #2: Don’t Tell the Narcissist They’re a Narcissist
- Narcissist Fight Club Rule #3: The Fight Isn’t Over Until You Admit You’re Wrong
- Narcissist Fight Club Rule #4: Facts Are Meaningless
- Narcissist Fight Club #5: The More You Defend Yourself, the More Vulnerable You Are
Counseling, Consulting and Coaching with Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyDDr. 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 or send an email to email@example.com.
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