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Narcissists are Dedicated to Misunderstanding You

Updated on December 21, 2017
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The Little Shaman is a spiritual counselor, hypnotherapy practitioner, and a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders.

If you read the article Stop Explaining to The Narcissist, then you know that explaining your position to them is pointless. What some may not realize though is that the reason it's pointless is because most narcissists are dedicated to misunderstanding you. In a very real way, their survival depends on not understanding and on denying what you're saying. What you're saying is being perceived as hurtful, deceitful, dishonest... whatever. They essentially believe you are trying to trick them. If you're saying good things, they will believe you're trying to manipulate and fool them. If they believed you and you were not being sincere, this would leave them open to being hurt and they will not allow that. If you're saying bad things, they will believe you're trying to hurt them. You're just saying they did something wrong to shame them because you are a bad person who wants to hurt them. Everything is about self-preservation with these people, and most of their behavior is an over-reaction to perceived threats that are hugely exaggerated in the narcissist's mind. For the most part, this is because narcissists do not believe other people are capable of being honest. They always think there is an ulterior motive or a scam or a manipulation going.

Part of this is because that is how they operate; they don't understand the value or importance of honesty, integrity or sincerity - and actually disdain or look down on those things - and part of it is probably because since they can't trust their own feelings, they don't understand how other people's emotions work. Their truth changes with their feelings - which change on a dime - so they would have absolutely no trust in the feelings of other people. How do they know that person's feelings won't change? They wholeheartedly feel they will. Since they perceive their own feelings as facts - regardless of how unstable they are, no proof or truth you show them will matter if how they feel contradicts it.

For example, if the narcissist hates themselves right now, nothing you say or do will be perceived as anything other than hateful. If the narcissist believes they are the greatest thing that ever lived right now, everything you do and say will be perceived as echoing that sentiment. Your actual motives or feelings will not be considered here. Narcissists don't understand that other people have feelings. They think they understand, because intellectually they know that, but they don't seem to realize that other people's feelings are separate and different from theirs. It's all subconscious, like so much about them is. They believe the way they feel is the way everybody feels.

If you ask a narcissist whether or not they understand that you have feelings, they will probably say yes. If you ask them what they think your feelings are, if you say, "How do you think I'm feeling right now?" they will often simply recite generic or vague things, like sad, bad, happy, mad - and these will often be in accordance with how they may be generally feeling, not you. If you ask what they think your feelings about them are, that's when you'll likely hear more specific emotions, and many times they will be way off base. That's because they are actually talking about their own feelings. They mistakenly believe these feelings are coming from other people. In other words, they think their feelings are your feelings. They don't realize there is a difference. For more information on that, check out The Narcissist's True Motivation.

Narcissism is defined as a failure to distinguish the self from the external world. This is something we usually only see in small children. This is why they tell you to talk to your children about divorce and things like that, so that they will know it isn't their fault. The world of children is very self-centered, with everything that happens being perceived as happening because of them, good or bad. Narcissists operate almost exactly the same way. This is why they believe their feelings are everybody's feelings. They are the most important thing in their little world, the only real thing, and the only person that matters. They project their feelings on to the world at large, and they do not understand that what they are experiencing is a boomerang effect of those feelings simply coming back to them, not the genuine emotions of other people. This happens because their feelings are too overwhelming and uncomfortable for them to deal with, so they foist them off onto other people. Now they actually have an enemy to fight: you.

This is similar to something we see in animals called redirected aggression. It's the result of frustration and over-arousal. Let's say there are two dogs in a house, looking out the window. These dogs live together and get along. A strange dog walks by the window and both dogs inside the house start to become agitated. The longer the strange dog is out there, the more agitated and frustrated the two dogs in the house become. One dog at the window blunders up against the other in their excitement and suddenly a fight breaks out. Why did this happen? Because anytime there is agitation or over-arousal, aggression can follow because of the pressure and it will usually find the most convenient target. In the case of the narcissist, this is you. You are not the cause of the over-arousal or the upset; they are beating themself up with internal abuse nonstop regardless of what's going on. However, you are going to be the one they lash out at because of it. Why? Because you're there. You're a convenient target. They have redirected their aggression and hurt at you because there is nobody else. Their pressure and frustration from this internal abuse is so severe that they have to release it somehow. It comes out in many ways; aggression can take many forms from covert to blatant - ignoring somebody, spreading lies about them, spending recklessly, nasty sarcasm, these things are all aggression - but the target is always somebody else. We see the same thing with a man who cannot strike back as his boss so he abuses his wife, who may then abuse the children, who may then abuse the pets or other children. This is redirected aggression.

The difference is that the narcissist's "enemy" is internal, and largely fictional. The people in our example know that they are redirecting their aggression to someone who doesn't deserve it. The narcissist experiences the world differently and does not believe that. This is why they are closer to the animal analogy than the human one. The dogs are simply fighting to release the frustration and pressure; there is no understanding about who deserves what. They are simply reacting to overwhelming feelings and attacking the nearest thing to get some relief. This is how most narcissists operate.

The reason narcissists employ all of these subconscious mental gymnastics is so they can deny all of these things, all of these negative, horrible feelings and all of this horrible abuse they are heaping on themselves. Their entire life is predicated on ignoring all of these things, and pretending everything is totally fine. Better than fine, in fact. This is the fabled false self we often hear about with narcissism. That false self is the only barrier between themselves and the truth, and it's flimsy even at the best of times. Behind that barrier is every ugly, worthless, despicable thing they live in fear that other people will see.

That is why explaining doesn't work. This is why they are dedicated to misunderstanding you. If they are forced to acknowledge what you're saying, it completely disrupts their denial. This can be catastrophic for the narcissist. Those who are forced to confront the truth and who are stripped of that barrier often decompensate, which is what some call "collapsing.". They may even become suicidal. It is imperative that they keep that fiction in place, and the things you are saying - regardless of what they are - threaten that fiction and are therefore intolerable. People often think the narcissist's abusive behavior is what they are trying to hide. It isn't. The abusive behavior is what they are using to try to keep their fiction in place. They abuse those that they think will disrupt or destroy this fiction in an attempt to force them to stop or back down. What they're trying to hide is what they really think they are: an unlovable, ugly, disgusting monster that no on could tolerate or even look at. It's a sad irony that in their hysteria to protect the fiction designed to hide that ugly monster, they often end up convincing their loved ones that that's exactly what they are.

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