The conversation begins so normally. There is good flow from one person to the next. Each hears and understands the topic at hand without any indication of stress. Then out of nowhere, it dramatically shifts. The conversation becomes one-sided, almost lecture-like, the words toward others are harsh and biting intertwined with statements of self-praise, and there is an absence of one discernible topic. It has divulged into a narcissistic rant, better known as verbal vomit.
Sometimes the narcissist is aggressive with the attacks such as: “You are an idiot,” “You can’t do anything right,” or “You never back me up.” Other times it is passive-aggressive such as: “No one shows me love,” “I’m all alone,” or “Nobody cares what I think.” Sandwiched in between are statements such as: “When I compare myself to others, I’m better,” “You don’t know how good you have it with me,” “I’m right most of the time,” or “I’m a good person.”
The person on the receiving end is caught off guard. Fearing even more retaliation, they sit in silence, quietly dying. This can go on for minutes or hours depending on amount of sewage being spilled. By the end of the rant, the narcissist feels better and relieved, even believing they have effectively communicated. They seem to have gotten a “high” of sorts and are often shocked when others don’t agree or feel the same way.
What’s behind this? Simply put, the narcissist has unmet needs which they expect the person on the receiving end of the attack to fulfill. Narcissists must have attention, affection, adoration, and affirmation from others in order to validate their self-grandiose ego. This need is never satisfied, which frequently exhausts the other person who receives little to nothing in return. When the other person does get some attention, it is often because the narcissist wants something. It is rarely given for free or without condition.
Can’t the narcissist get their needs met from somewhere else? Yes, and frequently they do. For some, work is an excellent place for validation, a doting parent or grandparent who believes the narcissist can do no wrong, or community organizations such as a charity or church where the image-conscious narcissist can shine and be recognized. However when any of these fail to meet the narcissist’s needs, they take it out on immediate family or close friends.
What’s the solution for the narcissist? Everyone has a need for some attention, affection, adoration or affirmation. These things are not inherently bad; rather, they are a necessary ingredient for a healthy self-image. Think of a 2-year-old and the amount of attention they need and demand. However, as a person ages or matures, these needs should be met internally, not externally. A healthy ego appreciates attention from others but is not dependent on it to survive. Getting a narcissist to this place is possible, usually with the help of a professional counselor. A significant other is not able to assist in this area because that will only create more dependency on the other person to meet the narcissistic needs.
What can the person on the receiving end do to self-protect? There are several options a person can do in the middle of a rant: walk away, be silent or ignore, distract or interrupt, dissociate, retaliate later, or match verbal assaults with more verbal assaults. However, there are consequences for each one. Walking away can result in the narcissist hunting the person down. To be silent or ignore means the narcissist is unaware of the hurt they are causing a person. Trying to distract or interrupt might prolong the rant. Dissociating from the conversation leads to a huge disconnect in the relationship later. The narcissist might not be able to connect the dots when the retaliation comes at another time. Matching verbal assaults makes the other person no better than the narcissist.
Nonetheless, each of the above mentioned can be useful depending on the circumstances. The other person should pick one and stick with for the whole rant. For instance, if a person chooses to be silent, then be consistent. Don’t switch to matching verbal assaults.
To further highlight the hurt experienced, address the comments approximately 24 hours later. This allows some time for the other person to cool off and the narcissist to settle down from their ranting high. This can be done in writing or verbally (don’t text it as this is way too important of an issue for a casual text message). Be as specific as possible about what statements were painful. Remember to sandwich those complains in compliments for a more effective method of digestion.
Most important, the other person must be diligent in NOT internalizing the verbal assaults of the narcissist. Many times the narcissist doesn’t even remember what they said and believes they came across well. Part of having a personality disorder is the lack of a perspective of self and others. The narcissistic perception is not accurate. The other person should say this as a mantra the next time they are confronted with a rant.