Why Narcissists Cannot Hear You
You might notice that when you speak to a pathologically narcissistic person, though they seem to be listening - often even looking right at you - they then respond with something that has nothing to do with what you've just said, or they only seem to hear one part of what you've said and managed to come to the exact wrong or opposite conclusion of your words. This is often a huge problem in these kinds of relationships, and it is especially bad when the narcissistic person is upset. How upset they are often dictates how much they are able to listen, and if they are too upset, it may be totally useless to even bother talking to this person because they just cannot hear you.
Many people think this is deliberate and for some pathologically narcissistic people, this may be true. But it also happens because their feelings are so overwhelming to them that that wave of emotion simply blocks everything else out. It can seem like they are changing the subject with their responses to you, or that they are ignoring you. And maybe they are. But often is seems that they are not even hearing you. After dealing with this for a while, you may even be able to recognize the look in their eyes when they are no longer listening to you. They seem to be listening to somebody else talking that only they can hear. And in a way, they are. They are listening to the raving, screeching voice of their feelings.
For pathologically narcissistic people, feelings are facts. Instead of being able to view their feelings objectively and as temporary reactions that may or may not be logical, their feelings are interpreted as being factual. In practical terms, this means they fit the facts to their feelings rather than react emotionally to the facts. To put that into perspective, most people don't get upset until something happens or is done to them. Narcissists are ALREADY UPSET and because of that, they become convinced that something must have been done to them to cause those feelings. This happens partly because narcissistic people are so divorced and separated from their feelings through years of denying and avoiding them that they can experience these feelings as coming from somewhere outside themselves.
In other words, they don't recognize that the feelings were already there and are not even related to the situation at hand. They become triggered and offended or hurt so easily that the feelings they already feel break through at the slightest provocation and they then blame the other person for causing them to feel the way they already felt but have been denying. For example, if you say, "Why didn't you wash the dishes," the shame that the narcissistic person already feels breaks through their denial. This may cause them to lash out at you angrily in self-defense, accusing you of trying to hurt them, make them feel bad, of demeaning or degrading them or any number of other things - not because of what actually happened or what was actually said but because of that shame they are constantly carrying around.
This is very hurtful and stressful to a partner or family member who in no way meant anything like that and certainly was not trying to be mean. And now there is no reasoning with the narcissist. They are far too upset. They will not listen to anything other than what their feelings are telling them. Proof doesn't matter. Logic doesn't matter. Nothing matters except their feelings. It's like dealing with a little kid. In some ways, though it's certainly understandable why people feel this way, it's odd to hear pathological narcissists described as apex predators. These are some seriously fragile people. They can't live in reality. They can't face the truth. They live life every single day playing pretend, like a child. They feel hurt and offended and attacked by almost everything anyone does or says, sometimes even things that are complimentary or kind. And why? Because their feelings dictate their reality, instead of the other way around, and they seem to have no way to recognize that this is a problem.
Most people operate like: "You said something mean, therefore I am upset and angry."
Narcissists operate like: "I'm upset and angry, therefore you said something mean."
It's backwards. Events, actions and things that are said are interpreted through the lens of the narcissist's feelings. Because of this, events, actions and motives will often be re-framed to fit the narcissist's emotional narrative. Seen through the lens of this emotion, things that happen or that other people do and say often become much more sinister, suspicious and personal to the narcissist than they actually are. This is one reason why people are often accused of having motives they don't have or of saying and doing things that they didn't.
This is also one of the big reasons it is impossible to reason with pathologically narcissistic people, especially when they are upset. They can't even really hear what you are trying to say and even if they could, they are certainly not going to trust you over their own feelings - which override literally everything. Sometimes they can't even get what they are trying to say right. Narcissistic people have immense difficulty communication with any authenticity because everything is coming in and going out has to go through that emotional filter. More than that, since their feelings are interpreted as factual, they are considered evidence: "This must be true because I feel it. The proof that you were intentionally trying to hurt me is that I feel hurt. The proof that you are tricking me is that I feel tricked. The proof that you are cheating is that I feel like I've been cheated on." There is no way to communicate in this situation because the premise of the conversation - and the issue - is illogical. It is you trying to talk this person out of their feelings - feelings they often had no logical basis for in the first place. Not only is that not possible, but it can make the narcissist feel as if you are trying to manipulate them.
Narcissistic people have huge issues with trust. They don't even trust themselves, so they are generally in a constant battle between trying to determine what is safe and what is not safe. One moment, they trust you more than themselves, so you are a safe place. The next moment, they trust themselves more than you and so now you are not a safe place. In situations such as our example about the dishes, if they were to believe you over their own feelings, that makes them vulnerable to you and whatever evil things you are probably going to do to them at some point. That can't be allowed to happen and it won't be allowed to happen. Even tangible, physical proof does not matter to them in these situations. They are so worried about being tricked and about not being wrong that they can appear to be almost delusional.
"Yes, but here is a video of what really happened."
"You edited it to make me look bad or make yourself look better!"
"Yes, but here is a picture of you doing this thing you said you didn't do."
"You faked that to make me look like a liar!"
"Yes, but here is a message in your own words."
"You wrote that yourself and sent it to yourself to frame me!"
There is no reasoning with this. It's illogical and it is ridiculous. The overwhelming emotions coupled with their fear of being vulnerable and taken advantage of along with their pathological need to be right make communication with this kind of person impossible. You're not on a level playing field at all.
Whether they realize how absurd their arguments can be is a difficult question. Some probably do but may feel they've gone too far with it to simply give in, no matter how dumb it sounds. Others may be in the grip of whatever emotion they're feeling and just running off at the mouth without even really realizing what they are saying. Some may believe they are smarter than the person they are arguing with and can somehow make these ludicrous arguments work, while others may be making these nonsensical arguments because that's literally the only thing they can say.
It doesn't really matter whether they know they are doing it or not, though. It isn't possible to communicate with someone who cannot or will not listen to you, and it doesn't really matter why. The naked truth is that even if you could make them hear you, they still wouldn't care.