The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
If you've read Stop Explaining to The Narcissist, you know that trying to explain yourself to a narcissist is pointless. In many situations, it is the exact wrong thing to do, as it offers opportunities for gaslighting, blame-shifting, motive assignment, narrative twisting and hands the narcissist ammunition to use against you, either in this conflict or during a later one. It is a pointless, frustrating exercise that does nothing but damage you and does not reach the narcissist at all.
Why do we keep trying to explain? As we explored in the other article, as rational adult people, when there is a misunderstanding or a contradiction, when we believe someone has gotten us, our intentions or our motives wrong, we want to correct this misconception. We want the people around us to see us as we see ourselves. When they don't, this can be stressful and even hurtful, depending on what it is. But people entangled with narcissists often have an especially difficult time trying to stop explaining, even when they know it's absolutely useless. This unconscious desire to correct or control the opinions others have of us is often rooted in a need for validation that stems from old wounds:
"If someone does not agree with me that I am good/lovable/worthy/OK/etc., then I cannot believe that I am good/lovable/worthy/OK/etc."
For someone with this kind of conditioning, proving their worth or essential "goodness" to another person - particularly someone they care about - becomes disproportionately important in the relationship and in their lives. This is very damaging when someone is in a relationship with a narcissist, because narcissists do not give consistent validation or have stable, consistent and rational opinions. Trying to prove anything to them is pointless and giving them so much input over your self-worth this way opens you up for a large amount of hurt.
So OK. We know that explaining ourselves to a narcissist is a waste of time and is even harmful in many situations. So what do we do instead? As stated in the aforementioned article, if you must respond, it is best to respond with something that doesn't validate the narcissist's assertion but which also does not feed into the situation. Something like, "You're entitled to your opinion." This not only does not validate or even mention the narcissist's assertion about you, it relegates it to its proper place: an opinion. That's all it is.
It is not a fact. It is not a definition of you that you need to internalize or take personally. It is nothing but the opinion of another person - a person who is not even able to understand or face the truth about themselves and their own behavior. Yes, you probably care about this person , but that doesn't somehow make their opinions or perceptions of you more valid or true. It just means they could hurt you more if you allow it. Put the things you are being accused of or labeled with where they belong: in the category of someone else's opinion.
But now that we know that, how do we actually do it? How do we stop explaining? This is the challenging part. People often become locked in cycles in these kind of relationships: they try to resolve a conflict, the narcissistic person shifts the focus to them and it devolves into the person trying to explain their motives or defend their behavior over and over again to someone who is absolutely not interested in understanding and possibly not even capable of hearing it at this point. Or the conflict begins with the narcissist attacking and accusing. Either way, it is a pointless, fruitless exercise that goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing.
The key to unlocking the cycle is to see this behavior for what it really is: a bait and switch. The narcissist may or may not actually believe the things they are saying to or about you, but that's not the point. The point is that now you are talking about you. Whatever issue you were trying to resolve with them, whatever question you asked of them, whatever explanation you were looking for from them is no longer the topic of discussion. You are now upset and emotional, explaining, denying or defending yourself and whatever point you originally had is lost in the weeds of whatever left field the narcissist has dragged everybody into. The narcissist has taken the offensive and you are now automatically on defense, trying to explain to this person that what they are saying about you is not true, not fair or not the point. The actual point you were trying to make - and the threat the narcissist perceived in it - has now gone by the wayside. That is the point of this behavior.
What they said to bait you is not important. They could have easily said one of a hundred other things. The fact that you reacted is what matters. This is how narcissists learn what hurts you: you show them. They throw everything they can think of at you and the things you react to or get upset about will be repeated because they worked. It's as simple as that. This is the extent of their power over you, and it is really no power at all. You can choose at any time to stop taking the bait. It isn't easy but with practice and a clearer perspective, it is entirely possible.
Seeing the narcissist's behavior for what it really is - an attempt to shift what they perceive to be threatening focus to someone else and nothing more - is part of having that clearer perspective. Another part is exploring your own behavior. What are you really trying to do? Why are you putting so much time and energy into this? What is this really about? In these questions lie the answers that will help you to understand your own motivations so you can break this cycle instead of simply reacting to it.
For example, if you find that you are trying to prove to the narcissist that you are a good and worthy person, some questions you could use to explore this are:
- Why is this so important to you?
- Why are you willing to invest so much into proving this?
- What are you hoping to get or achieve by doing this?
- Who are you really trying to convince?
- Where did the idea come from that this needs to be proven to - or believed - by anyone but you?
- How can you validate this for yourself so that you don't need another person to agree with you in order to believe it?
In this way, you can explore what the true motivations are behind your behavior and what you are really trying to accomplish with it. This will help you to come up with healthier ways to meet whatever needs or address whatever wounds are connected to it. You can also explore why you are reacting to certain things the way you are and what this means for you. In this way, we can not only get control of our reactivity and defeat the bait and switch, but we can also address these things within ourselves so that we are no longer vulnerable to this manipulation tactic.
This is essentially how The Grey Rock Method works: you can stop reacting when you understand what they are trying to do and how they are trying to do it. You can stop reacting to their endless provocations when you truly realize that what this person is saying has nothing to do with you at all, and even if it somehow does, it is the opinion of a person who lives in a fantasy world - literally. The truth is, the opinions other people have of you - even people you love - don't really matter when you know who and what you truly are. They don't define you when you can validate yourself. Understanding that is how you stop explaining to the narcissist.