6 minute read
Have you ever wondered what on earth is going on when trying to talk things through with a narcissist? Does it feel like logic, rationality, and relevance to the actual topic are all completely absent? When this happens, gorgeous one, you’re most likely copping a serve of the narcissist’s word salad.
Undoubtedly, this gaslighting tactic is crazy making! On the flipside, it’s also an opportunity to truly see the madness in unabashed action.
The word salad is a big, fat, red flag that a) the discussion will go nowhere, b) neither will the relationship (it cannot, if working through things together is impossible), and c) your conversational partner may just be pathologically narcissistic.
Recognise the narcissist’s word salad by learning how to spot the key ingredients outlined in this piece. Refuse to bite from now on and take one more step towards breaking the cycle of abuse.
For more tips on how to detach from the narcissist, read Emotionally unhook yourself & starve the narcissist of supply: Here’s how.
The narcissist’s word salad
Although the term word salad is used in the narcissistic abuse recovery community (a.k.a. ‘narc speak’), within clinical settings it references disordered speech patterns as potential indicators of disorders including schizophrenia, dementia, some forms of autism, and bipolar.
It is recognisable through circular conversations & repetition, lack of logic, sweeping generalisations, use of words that are disjointed or unrelated to context, and contradictions. Essentially, it consists of a lack of semantic fluidity.
When used in the clinical sense, this linguistic symptom of a mental disorder is involuntary. This isn’t the case with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
The pathological narcissist uses word salads intentionally, to manipulate and control by inducing that confused, addled state you know so well.
It is a form of gaslighting, the ‘go to’ method for brainwashing to foster loss of trust in reality and yourself. As such, as well as the markers above, the narc’s word salad also includes blaming, denial, shaming and aggression.
Word salad triggers
When healthy individuals work towards resolving conflict the aim is to find a balanced position for all parties. This mindset is accompanied by communicating in a mindful, respectful, and open manner.
Gradually, through a process of reciprocal listening and sharing, compromises are nutted out.
Although often challenging, the motivation to reach mutually beneficial outcomes works because there is genuine care for the other party and investment in finding solutions.
Not so with the abusive narcissist. The NPD mentality does not encompass qualities nor motivations needed for collaborative and compassionate engagement.
Efforts to address any issues that might cause you difficulties, no matter how you go about it, is intensely threatening for the narcissist.
This is because the narcissist’s existence revolves around reinforcing the belief system constructed to support their false-selves.
Anything which challenges the authority, dominance, superiority, or entitlement of the narcissist is taboo and incites defence mechanisms.
Hence, attempts to hold the narcissist to account or refusal of any given demand, triggers a serve of the word salad (amongst other abusive reactions).
The manipulations embedded in the word salad expressly and intentionally prevent the narcissist from confronting a reality where they might just be problematic. To retain their delusional beliefs they push ownership of any issue entirely onto you.
Through any means necessary, this is how it works…
Key ingredients in the narcissist’s word salad
Projection and Blaming
Clear examples of the desperate measures undertaken by the narcissist to protect themselves from reality are projection and blaming. Both are forms of denial.
Projection is evident when the narcissist handballs their flaws onto you. Whatever is unacceptable within them is attributed to you. You know it’s happening when their very own traits are being flung at you. ‘You’re so selfish’, ‘all you do is lie and deny’, ‘there’s something wrong with you, you are mentally unstable’ etc.
Similarly, any relationship difficulties must be the fault of others. Specifically, yours.
They go to any extent to construct a reason, or excuse as to why ‘the thing’ is your fault. No matter how completely bonkers their finger pointing may sound, you are blamed for everything.
‘It’s your fault I’m yelling at you, you’re making me do it’, ‘of course I’m sleeping around you are not attractive enough for me’ blah, blah, blah…
You must always be wrong
Any thought of both being on the same team, is not be shared by the narc.
Everything to the pathological narcissist is a matter of competition.
There must be a winner and there must be a loser.
This philosophy is central to the word salad and fuels the relentless need to prove you wrong about absolutely everything. What the issue is, what happened, how you feel, what you think. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.
Does this sound familiar? Ever tried explaining how you feel to a narcissist? What happens? Yep, even then, you’re wrong. Either for feeling the way you do, or that in fact you don’t know how you feel and they know better.
The reasoning is:
- If you are wrong about everything, then it follows you must also be wrong about any concerns you have about them.
- Correspondingly (to their black and white, polarised way of thinking) if you are always wrong, they must always be right.
- Ergo, they remain perfect and beyond reproach.
Obviously, an additional outcome of a mindset centred on competition, is that a solution focused outlook is not an option for narcs.
Consequently, two-way open and constructive discussions are deliberately obstructed.
For this reason, circular conversations are a primary marker of the word salad being served. Just when you think you have moved passed an issue, it is resurrected. Ad infinitum.
The rationale with this strategy is to demonstrate that there is no solution. None that they can be a part of. Because YOU are the entirety of the problem.
To their minds, tirelessly looping through the same issues teaches you this point.
It’s also kinda handy that endless, fruitless repetition eventually wears you out and you give up in exhaustion.
As I’m sure you know by now, the preferred approach to handling life for the narcissist, is denial. The word salad is a prime example.
It isn’t just about contradicting you so that the fact of your wrongness can be confirmed, it is also about the negation of actual absolute and unquestionable facts.
There is no concrete evidence solid and indisputable enough that the narcissist in their hubris will not deny its existence.
They make bold statements one second, and in the very next sentence proclaim, ‘I never said that’.
Before your very eyes they undertake an act only to hold your gaze steadily and pronounce ‘that never happened’.
You may look at irrefutable proof like a written document in their own hand, or even footage of them busy at something, and they assert ‘it wasn’t me’.
Denial is all about protecting themselves from reality due their inability to cope with who and what they really are.
It’s also gaslighting in action. Repeatedly denying fact has the pleasing effect of having you question your take on reality, and whether you are indeed the problem.
All word salad tactics are deflections. Anything to divert your attention away from their flaws.
In addition to the techniques outlined above, the abusive narcissist chucks in inappropriate, unreasonable, and illogical verbal or behavioural responses to throw you off.
Examples are overt aggressions including rage, intimidation, yelling, threatening you verbally and/or physically; and the more covert aggressions like ridiculing, patronising, condescending, shaming, and belittling you.
This is also where the gobbledygook comes in.
A few choice placements of segues to utterly irrelevant and unconnected topics here and there and rather than staying on topic, you find yourself redirected where the narc wants you, or fully occupied trying to make sense of their nonsense.
Either way, they win. You’re no longer tackling the original issue and the possibility they fall short of perfection is avoided.
The word salad’s poison
It takes a level of detachment to begin spotting these tactics. The word salad is designed to destabilise you into submissiveness, and this is precisely what it achieves.
To begin the process of disengagement, take note of how you react and feel. These are your most powerful indicators that the poison of the narcissist’s word salad is hitting the mark.
Clear signs are:
- You feel super confused and have no idea what just happened
- Despite having raised a concern yourself: a) the conversation is exclusively focused on you, b) you found yourself defending yourself constantly, and c) throughout the discussion you were seeking their validation
- You find yourself repeatedly trying to explain basic human emotions and experiences (to a grown adult no less)
Once you recognise these warnings in yourself start taking note of the techniques when you interact.
Reflect on the intentionality of the narcissist in applying these strategies to gaslight you into taking ownership of all issues*.
Do you really want to spend your precious time, energy and wonderfulness on someone who toys with you in this way?
Gorgeous one, change and growth towards a healthy relationship isn’t going to happen when this is the response to conflict, or your right to set a boundary.
When your own denial shifts, and you start accepting this fact, you will begin letting go.
Your detachment from the games, are the key to reclaiming your freedom.
You’ve got this gorgeous one.
As always, please share your insights, tips and experiences on gaslighting and the word salad. The more we share, the more we teach one another and help those in need to take their step towards freedom.
*For more on the narcissist’s intentionality & gaslighting, read: Proof the narcissist abuses you intentionally and will never change, and 5 ways to counteract the narcissist’s gaslighting.
Salzinger, K., Protnoy, S., & Feldman, R.S. (1964). Verbal behavior of schizophrenic and normal subjects. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 105(15), 845-860.
Vitek, J.A. (2000). Aggression and differentiation of self in narcissistic subtypes (Doctoral dissertation). The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations. (Order No. 9970787)
Wang, H.G., Jeffries, J.J., & Wang, T.F. (2015). Genetic and developmental perspective of language abnormality in Autism and Schizophrenia. The Neuroscientist, 22(2), 119-131.
Zosky, D. M. (2001). The role of projective identification with domestically violent males (Doctoral dissertation). Loyola University Chicago. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations. (Order No. 3001640)
Word salad. Soon to be ex’ favorite tool.
After I was awarded custody of our three daughters (he’s alienated my (over 18) son from me and his sisters – with some word salad and a sprinkling of lies), we moved out. He immediately locked me out of the house and I remained locked out for four months. Had nothing but our clothes and an air mattress, yet he still claimed in court that I robbed him blind. (More word salad that allows him to be the victim).
Here’s an excerpt from my journal about my court ordered packing day.
During my move, I had collected about 2 dozen boxes for packing for months and was intending on leaving them in the garage at the old house. He told me to move them because he needed to park in the garage (never parked in the garage in 22 years). So I moved them to my old garage which he watched me do and gave me approval to do. I went back on a court ordered access packing day and they were gone. This was our conversation.
Me- the boxes that you made me move from your garage to my garage aren’t there. Did you move them somewhere?
Daddy delusional- boxes? I didn’t see any boxes.
Me- you watched me move them. You told me they couldn’t stay in your garage because you needed to park in it.
DD- ohhhh. Wellllll……. there were some really big boxes and then some wine boxes. And there were two that said amazon and then some really small boxes.
Me- yeah??? There were about 20 of them. You remember seeing them now?
Me- where did they go?
DD- well there was some really huge ones. And then a whole bunch of wine boxes….. and then there were some really small ones….. and two said amazon….
Me- I know what they looked like. I brought them here. Where are they?
DD- I recycled them.
Me- you recycled them?
DD- well, yeah!
Me- so you didn’t see any boxes, yet you know what they looked like and then you recycled the boxes that you didn’t see?
Me- helpful! Thanks.
I’m probably dumb for engaging in his twisted tales, denial of reality and projection of evil. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.
Dear Soozie, I had to laugh, I hope you will forgive me. What absolute drivel. I’m loving what I sense is a wee bit of humour in your message despite the horrendous ordeal he has clearly put you through. What a woman you are! What a force! Such a perfect example of the nonsensical, looping, words stuck next to each other that really don’t mean anything at all, word salad. I cannot comprehend how they get away with it. Congratulations on your upcoming freedom Soozie. I wish you every wondrous thing your heart desires, I have no doubt it’s all coming to you in spades. Maggie x
Thank you. At this minute in time you have no idea how everything Maggie and youball have written has helped me. Xxx
Dear Cat, I’m so glad. Sending you all the light & love you need right now as I’m guessing you must be going through the awakening, getting ready to free yourself. You’ve got this Cat. Take care of you. Maggie x
I’m currently in a relationship like this, I want to leave but don’t know how. Every time I try to talk to him he goes all puppy dog eyed and starts being sweet and super greasy nice. He says he will change and tells me I need to tell him if something is bugging me which I do but he makes promises to change, everything is great for a couple of months then he will be back to normal. He is also constantly trashing my parents behind their back and did the same for all my friends. My workmates are all I have left to talk to and they are encouraging me to leave. It’s so hard though!! I used to be so confident and outgoing but now I just go to work and come home. I can’t go anywhere unless I keep my phone in my hand constantly in case he messages me because he freaks out if I don’t reply within a few minutes so I don’t go out anymore it’s just too much hassle.
Dear Sharalee, thank you for sharing. What do you think is stopping you from leaving? Is it the control mechanisms in place? And the isolation? Or is it something inside you…maybe a bunch of things? Are you maybe a little torn? If you’d like to brainstorm ways of leaving with support, feel free to email me at email@example.com. Whatever you want to do, you can make it happen. Often the first step is being really clear on what that thing you want is, then all falls into place. Sending you light & love, Maggie x
I am curious to know about female Narc after discarded by husband before her to be discarded him. It seems and or sensed that alternative supply is ready on hand. What could the ending life of Narc, how one can foresee her future life and or ending life
Dear Nizar, I’m not sure I’m clear on this one. I’m understanding that you are wanting to explore alternative sources of supply for narcissists when they discard their main source of supply; and perhaps how living the life of a narc impacts on them longer term? I’m not sure, my apologies. I’m wondering if seeking support locally might be helpful to really get stuck into talking through questions? Alternatively, I do offer coaching services which I can give you information on if you are interested. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Take care of you Nizar. Maggie x
Any help assistance can guide me about any group or gatherings in late evenings in Euless, TX as am new in this country and don’t find as such. Feel so much lonely. I wanted to come out of trauma bond.
Dear Nizar, I hear you, and this sounds like a fabulous thing to pursue. Can you follow up local services for some referrals as to what is available for you? Some ideas are to contact social workers, counsellors, and calling the national Domestic Violence hotline. I’d love to give you the information you’re seeking but unfortunately, I am not located in the US, and don’t have contact details of providers in your neighbourhood. You definitely will be able to find the right group for you by reaching out to the suggested touch points, they will help. Light & love to you Nizar. Maggie x
I am constantly searching free help on net but unfortunately not getting through. Am new in this country and no help and assistance is available to me. Since I am with very limited source and fighting to survive some how, living day to day life. At times feels helpless.
Dear Nizar, I urge you to follow up on the Domestic Violence hotline. They will help you. First you must reach out. You can do this, even with little resources. Do it, make the call! Maggie x
Hi Nizar, I’m in the DFW area and maybe I can help. Metrocare has an office in Grand Prairie, and that’s not too far from Euless. They’re on South Carrier Parkway, if that helps you to look them up. They may be able to help with counseling, or refer you to group sessions for people in your position. John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth is the county hospital for Tarrant County, where you are, and they might also have referrals to groups like you’re seeking, some even have a sliding scale fee… you pay either nothing, or a fee that’s affordable to you based on income or how much you can afford. Hopefully that will get you started and into some help. Good luck, and blessings!
Dear Shellie – thank you for reaching out to Nizar. This information is fabulous. It’s people like you who make all the difference! Maggie x
Dear artfromperry, welcome to the Narc Wise community! Thank you for sharing your view with us all here. No Contact is definitely an approach advocated for across the broader narcissistic abuse support community, where possible. The reasons are all very sound. Many are explored in check it out if you are interested in ‘No Contact’ as a healing mechanism. Look forward to hearing more of your views artfromperry. Light & love to you. Maggie x
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
This is the first article of yours I have found and will be reading the rest. I married a narcissist who lied and cheated throughout our marriage and he NEVER came clean. When we divorced, he and his family did their best to take my children including making fake reports. We ended up in court several times but thank God I documented the craziness and the judge saw it clearly.
I have been to hell and back and never knew such evil existed. I’ve had an awakening. I’m happily married now, but it took 15 years to work through that nightmare. Thank you again for writing,!
All love and light to you!
Dear Jennifer, thank you for sharing some of your story. There is much that lies beyond these words. It’s so very uplifting to hear stories such as yours of coming through and rebuilding a life of happiness. You are one strong, gorgeous spirit. Please do share more as you read the articles – inspiration from thrivers is always welcome! And thank you dear Jennifer for your kind words regarding this work. I am grateful. Love & light right back at you gorgeous one. Maggie x
I’m doing the no contact its worked for 2 and 1/2 months now out of the blue he calls me like he just stepped out of the room I hung up of course but just hearing his voice made me sick to my stomach
Dear Linda Kirkpatrick Tadgerson, you’ve got this! 100% you’ve got this! Keep hanging up! Keep walking away! Keep not engaging! You are doing a marvellous job. How much is that sick feeling you had when you heard the voice, to keep protecting yourself. You’ve got this. Light & love to you. Maggie x
Great article, stumbled on it looking for the definition of word salad and realized that my 22 year marriage(been separated for 7 since) was exactly what you describe. Never understood the manipulation, I thought I was going crazy and separated myself from escalating the tension by working in my garage and riding my bike to calm down and roll over the arguments in my mind. I would come back and say to myself, just drop it, apologies…but in no more then minutes we’re in the same circular argument. Back to the garage, I would just sit and cry sometimes, sounds weird but after letting out that emotion helped.
You ask yourself is this relationship worth the turmoil, you love this person, have a couple of kids, so you take it as it is. Talking to buddies about their relationships, how they deal with it, just being able to vent helps and contrary to misconceptions about males we don’t sit and complain about our ladies, it has to be something big to get us to do that and we’re brutally honest with each other.
Without going into details, I’ve been called old fat stupid in front of my kids, told my friends think I’m shitty behind my back, I have mental problems. Leading up to our separation I found out some disturbing things I never knew were going on, It made sence why I was being treated this way, an epiphany, an ugly epiphany. This was when the EX started visiting all my friends and family behind my back setting a story to hide her indiscretion’s and make me look like a loser, I’m a drunk, I’m violent, and the worse. I abused my kids, lost custody of my kids, she controlled my kids, she controlled my friends, she controlled my dogs! hehe
I had no idea how love would turn to hate, REAL hate. Even after all this, I still dont hate her or her boyfriend she moved in, my kids don’t care or call or visit, took a long time to get over that, still not but you make yourself sick inside, you have to let go for your own sanity.
Wish I read this post 40 years ago, would of saved me some grief and pain, or not, we are all looking for love and sometimes you just accept or deny realities in your own head. We all have fantasies of how a perfect life should be, but fantasies change as you get older, people change, circumstances change, make the best of it life is short!
Spot on! Now how does one break the cycle of being attracted to one covert narcissist after the next?
You have a gift for delivering the truth about the narcissistic person. Thank you for your work – it has been a God send. 💜💜💜
It’s been over eight years since my relationship with a narcissist came to an abrupt end. The three years of separation followed finally by divorce exposed an entirely new individual to me who I had glimpses of throughout our relationship. I was shocked at how cold, calculating and mean she could be to me, someone who she was married to. In my case the roles are reversed, it’s the woman who is the narcissist and myself, the ex-husband, who deals with her wrath.
One Monday evening she announced our relationship was over and she wanted a divorce. There was to be no discussion, no consultations… nothing. She was done. It was six months later when a close friend opened my eyes to the fact that my ex-wife was a narcissist. I thought I knew what narcissism was but until I started reading book after book on the subject, I barely knew anything.
And after 5 years Of reading and studying the narcissistic brain you’d think I’d have figured it all out by now. And yet, another ah-ha moment for me after I finished your article on word salads. It so clearly set out exactly what I had been dealing with for 17 years in my relationship with her. It’s just still sinking in but thank you for peeling back For me yet another layer of that onion that is the narcissist…bizarre creatures that they are.
Because we share two beautiful teen human beings together I cannot go no contact. But I’ve learned how to build strong boundaries around myself and continue to teach my kids how to build strong ones of their own ( without identifying the real reason they will need them down the road ).
I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally free from this narcissist but I’m finally happy and at peace. And I can recognize when she’s manipulating me and others. No more then ever thanks to this article.
Holy Holy. I’m drained after all the arguments I had with my EX, never have I thought he was an intentional abuser, but he absolutely possess this word salad gaslighting traits. I’m so glad to find out I’m not crazy, this crazy was manufactured by him.