I didn’t understand the power of words until I started recovering from narcissistic abuse. My therapist started dissecting my language, and slowly I learned how toxic the narc (and other disordered people) are in their use of language. I had put this issue aside until a co-worker started going through the separation/divorce process. She started sharing with me, and I was a bit shocked at the power of the words she used.
The first one that struck me was “controlling”. She is the mother of 1 child, and she told me that she knew she was controlling and needed to work on it. As I listened to her stories, it became clear that she is in no way controlling. She is a 1st time mother and she wants her son to eat a healthy diet and go to bed on time and brush his teeth – really basic stuff. Her spouse, a covert narc – the hardest to spot – does not want to be involved with the work that goes into parenting. He wants to show his son off at Karate class on Saturday and get kudos for being a great dad, but without any other effort. She had accepted this arrangement because of his use of the word “controlling”. Were he not a narc, when she complained that their son was not being fed vegetables and getting to bed on time when she wasn’t home, he would have said “yes, I’ve been dropping the ball and I’ll pay more attention”. Or he might have said “I’m not sure we should be forcing him to eat vegetables and keep to a regular bedtime. Can we discuss this”. This reaction would have led to discussion and resolution.
The narc has no desire to resolve anything. All they want is to be able to do what they want to do when they want to do it. What better way to achieve that than to convince your wife that she is a controlling bitch. As long as she believes that, every time she thinks about asking you to do something she has to navigate the wave of shame she feels because she is “controlling”.
The reason the narc is able to control you with words is that he knows you inside and out. He has studied your strengths, weaknesses, fears, desires, sensitivities, etc. He chose you because he knew he’d be able to use language to get his way. If this is your situation Kudos to you, because you have to be a kind, loving person to be chosen by the narc. The narc can’t be with a selfish person, because a selfish person won’t take on everything alone. He can’t be with someone who isn’t kind because unkind people can not be manipulated.
My ex narc studied me for 6 months before approaching me. When he started love bombing me, he was fairly certain what phrases would be triggering. From there, it was simple trial and error to land on the best triggers; the phrases that would send me into a shame spiral. For me, these included:
- controlling bitch
- over reactive
- too sensitive
- emasculating bitch
- flighty; can’t remember anything
….you get the idea, right?
Here is how this works.
You, a normal person who thinks she is in a normal relationship, says to her narc “hey, I’m really broke this week. Can we talk about our budget?”. He flies in to a rage and accuses you of being whatever you most fear; in my case, an emasculating bitch who was constantly looking for ways to put him down. With this reaction he has taught me to tread very carefully when it comes to discussions regarding money. He has also reinforced my fear: I am an emasculating bitch. Message sent, lesson learned.
As I write this I’m watching the contractor who is replacing the stucco on my neighbors house. I wrote about our altercation a week or so ago. He has been super nice and friendly since our altercation. I’d love to think it’s because my friend threatened him if he wasn’t, but I am not that naive. He has already set the stage for me to never question his work again. Successfully , too. If I am going to call into question any of his work it will only be with backup by my side. He knows this, so in his mind he can do whatever he wants. I feel totally powerless in this situation. If you have ever felt powerless you know that it can send you down a rabbit hole of self incrimination, which is actually where I’ve lingered the past week. (I’m so happy I’m writing this because I haven’t been feeling OK, and wasn’t sure why; now I know)
If you are recovering from narcissistic abuse I encourage you to start thinking about the words your narc used. Run through the altercations you had and you will find that the narc’s use of words was malicious. His words were chosen to trigger you and send you into a shame spiral; to shut you up and make you easier to control.
As you remember words used against you, write them down. Hopefully, the process of writing them down will start you on the path of self awareness. When I did this I learned that I am not an emasculating bitch, but I am highly aware of my finances and I don’t want to be afraid. I would rather do without than spend more than I can afford; I can easily deny myself if it maintains my financial health.
As you come up with your list of words don’t be surprised if some of them feel accurate to you. Remember – he is a skilled con artist, so of course he has led you to believed some really outrageous things about yourself. If you come upon a word that you can’t shake, carry it with you every day and look for instances. For example, my narc loved to tell me I’m “over sensitive”. My family of origin also told me this, so it was an easy character flaw for him to exploit. I had accepted that I was way too sensitive and that this was a really bad trait. I kept this phrase in my head and every day watched for times in which I behaved this way. And I found them. There were, and continue to be, times during which I take something personally that wasn’t meant to be, or misinterpret a persons intent. There is a huge flip side to this. I am able to feel what is happening around me in ways most people can’t. I can read a room and know, before I’m even through the door, what the mood is. I can sense when a person is angry or depressed. I can look at people I know and recognize when something is on their mind, and I am usually spot on with whether or not they want to talk about it. I can also sense danger. So yes, I am “over sensitive”, and I thank God for it every day. I can’t imagine trying to get through life without understanding what lurks behind the words, the looks, the body language, of the people around me.
I believe that if you come across a word that feels undeniably true to you, like over sensitive for me, you will find that it is true, but not in the sense you have been made to believe.
Have a great week thinking about the words in your life that have become weapons. Have even more fun taking away their power!