Starving The Narcissist: Don't Feed The Trolls!
We often hear narcissists compared to vampires. We often hear about narcissistic supply. Narcissists cannot create or sustain self-worth, so narcissistic supply is what they extract from their interactions with other people and turn into their version of self-worth. They need a constant stream of attention or recognition in order to feel validated. It doesn't have to be positive recognition or attention, just recognition or attention. They like that, but it is not necessary. Any recognition or attention is generally good enough. In the same vein, it doesn't have to be positive validation. Just validation and acknowledgment that they exist is fine.
For a very simple example, we can look to the so-called "trolls" on the internet. Most of us have encountered at least one and many of us encounter them all the time. If you go on the internet, you can't miss them. In news that surprised nobody, it was revealed a few years ago that studies indicate internet trolls display elevated levels of narcissism. And that sounds about right. What other kind of person makes a hobby out of attacking, harassing, bullying and upsetting others - especially when the only end-game seems to be to feel powerful and get attention?
This has resulted in the now-common refrain, "Don't feed the trolls!" This means don't respond or feed into this person's desire to upset others, disrupt the conversation or otherwise cause trouble. No one stays at a buffet when there is nothing to eat, and true to form, trolls that are ignored soon give up and go away. They look for other watering holes where they can ambush people in the hopes of extracting supply they can convert into self-worth. Many people respond to these internet narcissists because they believe somebody should say something about the cruelty, bigotry or whatever they may be spouting. And that's totally understandable, but it's the wrong response.
The best response is no response. Remember: narcissistic people receive their supply of self-worth in two ways: either directly through attention given to them or indirectly through competitions they create with other people where they come out the winner. Most of them are just trying to argue and upset people. If they say things that are rude and horrible, people will be much more likely to respond. They feel validated by the attention and powerful because they have upset other people. They are also usually trying to prop up a weak ego and self-image by appearing smarter, edgier, tougher or more powerful than they really are. They likely don't even really believe the awful things they are saying and even if they do, why dignify and validate such nastiness with a response? It only emboldens them to continue. It certainly won't make a difference in anything they believe. The best thing to do is simply ignore them. It starves them of the sustenance they need to continue on and makes it more likely that they will simply give up and go away.
It may seem like there is no connection between trolls on the internet and a narcissist that you are dealing with personally, but isn't there? Besides the fact that you know this person and they therefore have more access to you and can also make their insults a lot more personal, what is the difference in the behavior? There isn't one. And therefore, the best response is the same: NO RESPONSE. Starving a narcissist of the attention they are looking for is the fastest way to make them understand they are wasting their time.
This is not easy, but it's similar to dealing with the trolls on the internet, as odd as that sounds. People are people are people are people, whether they are standing in front of you or whether they are not. There have probably been times when you really wanted to respond to someone but you didn't because you knew it was useless and would only perpetuate a situation you didn't want to participate in. We have all seen something an internet troll has said and thought, "I'm not even going to bother responding to this because there's just no point." It's the same in person. There's no point. You will just be drawn into an endless argument where you are not even being listened to, for no other reason than because the narcissist needs something to inflate their floundering self-esteem or because they just have nothing better to do. It's only different because you think it's different. The narcissist on the internet and the narcissist in your life both see you the same way - and it's the way they see everybody. In fact, the narcissist in your life probably has more contempt for you than the narcissist on the internet does, not less.
It's important to realize that when you are dealing with narcissistic people, you are likely not dealing with someone who has had a misunderstanding and wants to resolve it, or a person who is trying to make a valid point in a proper conversation. You are probably not dealing with someone who understands what equality is or who has any interest in it at all. You're dealing with someone who sees your value as solely based on what you can give them and that's all. You're dealing with someone who doesn't care if they are hurtful, doesn't care if they are mistaken, doesn't care if they are rude, doesn't care if they are wrong. You are dealing with someone whose goals for the interaction are very different from yours.
You want resolution and understanding because you believe if there can be resolution and understanding, the problem will go away. The narcissist wants conflict because they need to blow off steam and feel powerful. It isn't going to work out and it can't be resolved because the narcissist doesn't want it to be. There's not even anything to resolve. They have no point and no side here. The conflict is the point. That's why arguments happen even when you are agreeing with them, or why they will suddenly start arguing the opposite of what they were just saying. They are looking for an opening to attack and when they can't find one, they just start attacking you anyway. In all seriousness, what is the point of attempting to reason with or even responding in that situation? As an exercise, see if you can come up with a reason to do it that makes any sense. If you can't come up with anything but you've been doing it, ask yourself why.
If you respond to a narcissistic person who is behaving in this manner, either on the internet or in real life, you are feeding into their desire to cause conflict, upheaval and upset. In doing so, you're reinforcing their destructive coping mechanisms by showing them that they can in fact get what they need by behaving this way. People will never stop doing something if it works. They will never heal if their symptoms have a payoff. Instead of feeding the narcissist's need for supply, starve them and feed your own self-respect.