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If you’ve read my book Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare, you know I have a whole section in it dedicated to translating commonly used phrases that are essentially used as weapons in the hands of an emotional predator.
I’ve created a list of these to give you the shorter version. Spoiler alert: it’s not pretty. But it is useful to decoding the language of a manipulator – and hopefully learning to trust their actions more than their words.
12 Things Narcissists Say And What They REALLY Mean
Anyone who has ever been in a relationship with a malignant narcissist or otherwise manipulative, toxic person is well acquainted with how they use language differently.
The phrases that most people use in everyday conversations bear a far different meaning in the context of an abusive relationship with a narcissist. As Carrie Barron M.D. notes, “Current thought challenges the notion that narcissists secretly suffer from low self-esteem or insecurity. Or that they suffer as much as we thought in the ways that we thought. Recent findings indicate they take pleasure in successful manipulations. Putting down unsuspecting, soft-hearted souls in their midst is a sport. They truly believe in their superiority even if objective evidence does not back it up.”
When you’re dealing with an empathy-deficient individual with a high sense of entitlement and a sadistic need to bring others down, conversations become crazymaking minefields meant to psychologically terrorize and divert you. In fact, to decode a narcissist’s language requires listening more to their actions than their words.
When a narcissist’s words are translated into their actual meaning, the results are frankly disturbing. Here are twelve common phrases narcissists use and what they actually mean:
1. I love you.
Translation: I love owning you. I love controlling you. I love using you. It feels so good to love-bomb you, to sweet-talk you, to pull you in and to discard you whenever I please. When I flatter you, I can have anything I want. You trust me. You open up so easily, even after you’ve already been mistreated. Once you’re hooked and invested, I’ll pull the rug beneath your feet just to watch you fall.
2. I am sorry you feel that way.
Translation: Sorry, not sorry. Let’s get this argument over with already so I can continue my abusive behavior in peace. I am not sorry that I did what I did, I am sorry I got caught. I am sorry you’re calling me out. I am sorry that I am being held accountable. I am sorry you have the emotions that you do. To me, they’re not valid because I am entitled to have everything I want – regardless of how you feel about it.
3. You’re oversensitive/overreacting.
Translation: You’re having a perfectly normal reaction to an immense amount of bullshit, but all I see is that you’re catching on. Let me gaslight you some more so you second-guess yourself. Emotionally invalidating you is the key to keeping you compliant. So long as you don’t trust yourself, you’ll work that much harder to rationalize, minimize and deny my abuse. While you’re working so hard to please me, I am reaping all the benefits without any consequences for my behavior.
4. You’re crazy.
Translation: I am a master of creating chaos to provoke you. I love it when you react. That way, I can point the finger and say you’re the crazy one. After all, no one would listen to what you say about me if they thought you were just bitter or unstable. Forget the fact that I am the one who’s truly rageful and irrational, lashing out anything that threatens my sense of superiority.
5. My exes are crazy.
Translation: I made my exes crazy. It was so fun! All I had to do was provoke, poke and prod until I got a reaction. Finally when I did, I used those reactions against them to show everyone how unhinged they are. Soon, you’ll be the “crazy ex” too.
6. She/he is just a friend.
Translation: I keep this person as a backup for whenever I get bored. They may replace you if you leave. In fact, they may already be acting as a valuable side piece. If you complain about my shady behavior with this person, I’ll make sure you seem like the controlling one.
7. You’re so jealous and insecure.
Translation: God, this love triangle is fun. I love the way you compete for my attention. Makes me feel so desirable and powerful when I flirt with others in front of you. Gets you riled up. It’s especially entertaining to manufacture insecurities in you by pointing out flaws that don’t exist or to pick at the wounds that already do. The more diminished you feel, the less likely you’ll try to escape my grasp. The truth is, everything you suspect about my flirtations and affairs is grounded in reality. But let me remind you: I am entitled to everything. That includes the attention of other romantic prospects.
8. You have trust issues.
Translation: I am an untrustworthy person, which I’ve shown time and time again by betraying you. Your gut is right, but it’ll be a cold day in hell if I ever admit it. The best thing you could probably do is trust yourself and run in the other direction – but of course, that would be far less fun for me.
9. It’s not all about you.
Translation: It’s really all about me, me, me. If you ever turn the attention back to your own needs, I’ll make sure to project my own self-centeredness onto you. I’ll make you feel guilty and ashamed of having these needs in the first place, because I’ll never be able to fulfill them. I just don’t have the emotional equipment to do so – nor do I want to, because it takes the focus away from the person who’s really important. Me!
10. Why can’t we remain friends?
Translation: I really don’t like losing members of my personal harem. I’d prefer to keep you on the back burner in case I need to use you in the future. Plus, collecting exes is a hobby of mine. It’s so convenient to be able to reach out to one whenever I am feeling especially bored. Who knew being friends could be such a great way to prevent losing valuable sources of supply so easily?
11. No one would believe you.
Translation: I’ve isolated you to the point where you feel you have no support. I’ve smeared your name to others ahead of time so people already suspect the lies I’ve told about you. So yes, some people may not believe you – especially the ones who still think I am an amazing person. Especially the people who continue to enable me.
There are still others who might believe you, though, and I can’t risk being caught. Making you feel alienated and alone is the best way for me to protect my image. It’s the best way to convince you to remain silent and never speak the truth about who I really am.
12. You’ll never find someone else like me.
Translation: If you never find someone else like me, that’s a good thing. There are empathic people out there who will treat you far better than I ever did. But I’d never want you to find them or discover your true worth. I’d prefer you to keep pining after me.
Get my #1 Amazon Bestselling Book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare.
About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author
Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent book, POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology.
She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline, Salon, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.
4 thoughts on “12 Things Narcissists Say And What They REALLY Mean”
Very true. They act like they’re unaware of this but secretly they know what they’re doing and who they are.
Excellent as always, Shahida (I hopped over to your articles on Thought Co, too). Given that these tactics are ingrained in the ‘toxic normal’ of our culture, it’s great to see reminders … and good strategies for staying clear. Thanks for the great work. Jamie
This was my second favourite chapter in your book. (The first one is the one about the ten life-changing truths. I made a slide of those and pinned it on one of my cube walls at work so I could look at them when I was still hurting from the final discard.)
My ex used to say “I am sorry you feel that way” in a certain way. I could tell that he was not sorry at all. He used to put emphasis in ‘sorry’ and in ‘you.’ The way he emphasized ‘sorry’ was with disdain, a sense of superiority. I could see very clearly that he didn’t give a damn about how I was feeling and that he was not going to change his ways at all. And the way he emphasized ‘you’ was as if telling me that everything was my fault.
Shahida, your book was life-changing to me. I found healing in your pages, as well as my long-lost strength. I owe you my sanity, my life, my everything. Thank you so much for writing it. I can only imagine what you might have gone through considering the quality of your book. Only someone who has lived it and walked it can truly understand and put a like that book together. I imagine it might have not been easy at times, going back through memories and feelings. If that was the case, I’m sure that I am not alone in telling you that it was worth it, for us survivors.
#2!!!! My ex. I’m sorry you feel that way. It still can raise my heart rate. A great list but #2 is my favorite (haha truly a shit line). It was also the preferred ‘apology’ of Kevin Spacey. Ugh. I’m speechless at these allegations. It’s awful and it’s hopeful but it’s a lot all at once. I guess bring it on. One step closer to healing as prevention.
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