Narcissists & the Power of Passive-Aggression

zari-ballard-image-quoteA narcissist’s use of passive-aggression is one of the most powerful weapons in his arsenal of evil tricks. I never even fully understood the meaning of passive-aggression until many years into my relationship with an N when it finally “clicked”. And I’m a college-educated woman! The truth is that, for many of us, life before the narcissist warranted never having a reason to have to “understand” it and that’s perfectly okay.

Without having prior experience, I didn’t exactly understand the dynamic of a true silent treatment or the real definition of the term “narcissistic”.  All my life, I thought the word narcissistic meant conceited or “full of oneself” when – oh my God – it means so much more than that!

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Now that I’ve gained the experience, of course, I see that the narcissist is all about passive-aggression whether he uses it all the time or whether he uses it just when he needs it. Passive-aggression is part of the nature of these creatures and this is why, as normal humans who rarely have to deal with it, we don’t grasp what’s happening to us for such a long time. The narcissist’s use of passive-aggression is what causes us to feel that something is “off” in the relationship early on. It’s the “knowing” that something isn’t right with this person but not being able to put our finger on it. It’s the constant – almost paranoiac – sense that a whole lot is going on behind our backs even though we can’t see it, prove it, don’t hear about it, and are made to feel ashamed of it when and if we do happen to mention it to the person we think is causing it!

Probably the best example of the narcissist’s use of passive aggression is – of course – the silent treatment. There isn’t a single person here that hasn’t felt the sting of this mind-crippling rejection tactic a zillion times over. What better way to passive-aggressively tell us we mean absolutely nothing than to silently appear to erase us off the map? Can’t get any more passive than that!

The first time my narcissist pulled a silent treatment, I thought for sure he must be dead. I mean, why else would he ignore my texts, not answer my calls, and not answer his door? It never even occurred to me that the silence was on purpose! As days passed, however, and my worry instinctively turned to something else, I did a midnight drive-by only to discover that his car, much to my horror, was indeed on the move. In other words, he was obviously out and about and very much alive! I didn’t know which was worse, thinking he was dead and rotting in his apartment or knowing that he was alive and well and ignoring me. What I did know was that I needed to puke so, just past his apartment, I pulled into a dark parking lot and that’s exactly what I did. I puked.

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Triangulation is another passive-aggressive trick of the mind executed to perfection by narcissistic partners. The narcissist skillfully and deliberately conjures up insecurities in his partner by merely speaking of or interacting normally with anybody and even any THING (think The Cell Phone Game). The interaction described or displayed can be good or bad and have the same effect. For instance, a narcissist, in casual conversation with his partner, can actually speak negatively of a girl at work in such a way that the partner instantly feels that something is going on. At the same time the partner feels suspicious, she’ll often also feel guilty for even thinking such a thing given the conversation. This is the type of narcissist-empowering passive-aggressive posturing that creates insanity! How can we feel jealous of someone whom our partner obviously doesn’t like? Or does he???? Maybe – just maybe – we really are delusional just like the narcissist claims us to be! And the next time it happens, even after discovering that we were right, we’ll still question ourselves simply because the narcissist is so good at what he does. The same thing occurs with The Cell Phone Game. Even after great sex, all my narcissist had to do was glance at his cell phone in front of me and I’d have a wave of anxiety. And he knew this too and that’s why he did it. What’s the matter with you? All I did was look at it.

I could go on and on with examples of the N’s passive-aggressive talents but I’d be preaching to the choir, right? All we need to know is that passive-aggression is the all-encompassing umbrella category under which every single narcissistic behavior can be neatly filed. Future-faking, the game of seduce and discard, giving the nefarious narcissistic blank stare, managing down our expectations, intimidating us into silence…all of this is a narcissist’s way of passive-aggressively bullying us into submission. Even if our narcissist is a screamer, getting in our face over every little thing, it is the passive-aggressive behaviors that cause us the most grief. Why? Because of the covert nature of the attack and because, in the moment, there appears to be no proof of anything even this is false. The proof is in the feeling itself. In other words, our gut feeling – our instinct – IS NEVER EVER WRONG. This phenomenon, of course, is for the Universe to explain but suffice it to say that this IS absolutely true and realizing it will save our souls.

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During my N’s first silence, even as I imagined him possibly dead, I still had an uncomfortable feeling that something even more sinister than death had happened…but I ignored it. It took hitting the road in the middle of the night and seeing it with my own eyes to believe it. This being true, how amazing that later, when the narcissist began to hoover, I was so easily convinced to get over it! Like you and me and everyone else reading this article, I always wanted to give my narcissist the benefit of the doubt. Somehow he’d create enough plausible deniability in his story that I’d let it all go. He also, in a quiet and very passive-aggressive way, let me know that if I pushed the issue, he’d just go back from whence he came. I took the easy way out.

I spent years doubting my undeniable intuition rather than accepting the truth – that this person I loved lived an entirely different life behind my back…that everything he said and did had an entirely different meaning on purpose. Passive-aggression is a very clever control tactic but unless you’ve actually experienced it coming from a narcissist, there’s simply no way to recognize its most sinister form.

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Remember…to a narcissist, every day – all day – is about what he can get away with. If he can passive-aggressively make you feel you’ve absolutely lost your mind…that you’re just another psycho ex like all the rest…he’s gonna do it.

Think back to every suspicion you’ve ever had about your narcissist– no matter how seemingly irrational – and I guarantee you were spot-on. The bottom line: trust your gut instinct, my friends, because it is never wrong. You are NOT stupid or delusional and you are NOT making a big deal out of nothing. Passive aggression, as clever a tactic as it may be, is still no match for the truth it disguises. If you’re being told the truth, you simply won’t have the intuitive feeling that you’re not. Now, sometimes this feeling doesn’t come right away…sometimes it comes days or weeks or even months later…but it will always come. You won’t just figure it out, the answer will come to you. And when it does, no matter what you are told or how often it’s denied, know that you know the truth…that your intuition is never wrong. And then, act accordingly on your own behalf. If we allow it, the truth will set us free.

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    November 21, 2016 at 5:09 am Reply

    Three times he let me find out myself “accidentally” that he was seeing someone behind my back. In between, we had many conversations like this:

    He> “Julie says there’s a great new series on TV”
    Me> “Who’s Julie?” (a pang of anxiety in my stomach).
    He> “Someone I know.” (Smiles silently to himself smugly)
    Me> “What do you mean by that?” (Getting more anxious)
    He> “A friend.” (Calmly, with a smirk)
    Me> “From where?”
    He> “Oh, just somewhere.”
    Me> “Where?”
    He> “Does it matter?”
    Me> “Someone you are trying to shag?” (Stomach churning)
    He> “That’s not what I said.”
    Me> “Well who is she then?” (Upset, on brink of tears)
    He> “Just someone I know”. (Totally relaxed and smiling.)
    Me> “Where do you know her from? Your street? At work, Where?”
    He> “Does it matter?”
    Me> “Yes, I want to know if this is yet another woman you are shagging behind my back”. (Tears welling up in eyes)
    He> “Why are you getting so upset?” (Calmly)
    Me> “Is something going on or what?” (Tears running down face)
    He> “Stop being so silly. You are paranoid” (Totally calm) “She’s just a girl in the office. I’ve worked with her for years”.
    Me> “Why do you keep doing this to me? Why don’t you just tell me right at the start who Julie is? Why do you deliberately string me along until I am in a state?” (Bursts into tears of relief that *this time* it isn’t someone he is having a secret affair with.)
    He> (Shakes head slowly and speaks calmly and reasonably.) “I can’t believe you can get so worked up over a girl’s name. You are so paranoid it’s ridiculous. You should just hear yourself sometimes! I’m going home now, you have put me in a bad mood and I just want to be on my own.”

    • Zari Ballard

      November 21, 2016 at 3:40 pm Reply

      OMG…we all hung out with the same guy, I swear! What typical word garbage! Good God!

  • TJP

    September 15, 2016 at 7:36 am Reply

    Dear Zari,
    I must commend you. Your site is amazing and ought to receive so much more public attention. I am in almost disbelief the extent to which each and every one of your posts, speak directly to me and are a complete reflection of my 11 year experience with a narcissist, my ex-partner. You refer to the imprisoning and self-deprecating, yet optimistic thought process that leads an otherwise intelligent woman to spend – waste so many years with a man of such character. Clinging on to the ‘good’ memories and so full of (futile) optimism.
    I wholly agree that they know full well what they are doing, as a personality disorder, which is clearly what this is – these people need help. At least, this was what I recommended in my Victim Impact Statement upon recently appearing in court as a witness, having been a victim of what the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) defined as, ‘Assault by Beating’.
    As explained in my statement, despite all of the emotional and eventual mental abuse, the constant abandonment that I had suffered, I could not believe that our relationship was ending with his hands on me, strangling me, in front of our daughter. I reported it to the police hoping to get a restraining order. They told me it was so serious that they would have to arrest him. I was shocked – arrest?? It took them five months to finally arrest him. Then I am told, I have to appear in court – court??!
    I cannot tell you just how surreal and invasive it is to have to stand in front of multiple strangers to disclose what was essentially my private, personal relationship. I guess it is a case of being careful what you wish for, as I had many times wished I had an arbitrator when we were in dispute, because I knew it was not I, who was telling lies or had got the facts wrong.
    As it was, and to be expected, he was found, ‘not guilty’. I did not stay for his defence statement, his lawyer had done a good job of portraying me as the aggressor, despite my being not only the victim but the witness who had been instructed to attend court on behalf of the CPS. Such is the British judicial system. I was questioned and humiliated and accused of and, of being the perpetrator. I can only imagine the lies my narcisstic ex must have told to denigrate my character – in court. Interestingly, I did not do the same, I merely stated the facts. I could have embellished the facts i.e. lied, however naturally, I chose not to.
    I could go on and on about my 11 year experience however, you have essentially already written about it via your articles. My main reason for submitting a comment is to request that you explore this topic further if at all possible as you have provided almost every possible example. I would like to ask, do you think that narcissism is an avoidable male trait (altho some women are guilty) which appears to varying degrees in all men?
    Also, my ex-partner is a cancerian, I spent many years googling; ‘cancerian men and the silent treatment’, ‘traits of cancerian men’, ‘cancerian men and abandonment’…… then, ‘silent treatment’, ‘passive aggressive men’…… I even purchased books, as I was desperate to understand my partner, I was desperate for our relationship to work, I was desperate for us to be a family. I realised that men whilst simple creatures have specific needs, I also realise that as a woman I don’t fully understand their needs or their impulses – as it is completely impossible for me to do so.
    The book, ‘Fascinating Womanhood’, which is a truly fascinating book, which suggests many things to achieve a positive outcome with one’s, partner/husband. Many of her suggestions do work, but often only in the short term. I wondered if I was too lazy as I could not possibly implement the suggestions over and over. I am not naturally manipulative, or use mind games to achieve a goal. Essentially, to be a ‘fascinating’ woman, its means having to adapt ones personality and thought process. Worth it, I guess, if it means keeping your man happy, but then what about feeling like a complete fraudster. This book goes against everything most feminists believe.
    Anyway, I digress, I wanted to ask if you could write articles which explore narcisstic males and whether this was an inherent trait, whether it is society’s imposing that all relationships be monogamous which leads to this behaviour in what is clearly very virile men. Please do not think I condone their behaviour for one minute, but as someone who seeks to achieve a balanced view in all things, I am genuinely intrigued if it is the enforced domestication of men, the requirement that men be in tune with their feelings, help with household chores, be our soul-mate and confidante, whereby once they were allowed to literally escape to the shed at the bottom of the garden or, visit the local pub each evening. Is it the re-imaging of men which leads to this behaviour. I do believe that all men have an element of Aspergers Syndrome within their character, to varying degrees. This is not to simplify the condition which has a wide spectrum – but many men seem to share such characteristics of detachment, lacking emotion and so on. The aforementioned book seemed to normalise men’s ‘narcissism’ as it offered solutions on how to deal with the kind of man that my ex partner is and was. That led me to believe it was simply male behaviour or at least, that difficult behaviour of this kind was peculiar to men.
    I eventually came across your website because after reading this link and sending it to the police because whatever they were told in court that day, I wanted them to know what he was getting away with. I found that I needed to read more articles like the one above – I needed to know about others with this experience. I googled ‘narcisstic personality disorder’ and no website offered such a precise, specific pinned down definition or real life examples of the narcisstic experience as does yours. Your articles helped me to not feel ashamed or guilty or angry for having wasted so many years with this horrible man. A man who made me wonder many times, if he even likes women, I mean it would appear so since he has cheated with so many, some of whom the thought makes my stomach churn and I just don’t know how he did it or, how I stayed. It went against everything that I am and believe in.
    I have wished that I could send a link to this site to everyone I know he has bad-mouthed me to, to say, ‘look, this is who he is, and this has been my reality’. But, I know that unless one has lived it, they will never fully comprehend it all. That it is possible for someone to behave in this way, to cause this much pain. That the person they consider to be a reliable upstanding member of the community is in fact, a fraud.
    My daughter witnessed violence that she will always remember, it affected her at school, causes her to cry spontaneously as though her world is falling apart, in which by her own admission causes her to feel anger and all because, I held on to a man with whom I thought would allow us to be a cohesive family, with whom I wanted her to have a strong relationship and with whom I could give her happy childhood memories. However close I had come to achieving the latter, it is now all wiped away. For that I do feel guilt. Guilt that it took physical violence to finally go, No Contact – it’s been almost 9 months now. As for my daughter, she never wants to see him again. I have gently told her when I feel it is ok to discuss the issue – that she can see him whenever she wants to. I have not bad-mouthed him to her, at all. I have no doubt that he believes that I have and have told others such. However, my daughter is adamant, she wants No Contact, with whom we now refer to, at her request as, ‘That Man’.
    Abuse from a narcissist is sinister and covert and can be a lonely maddening place for the victim. Initially, when he used to disappear, I would get on with my life, throw myself into motherhood – and embark on new often challenging, hobbies. He would eventually reappear, as you know, as if nothing had happened – even after abandoning me for THREE YEARS with his child!!! I was two months pregnant, but Yes, like a fool, I still took him back – why? Because after three years, in which he had not even fully acknowledged my pregnancy, it was as though the relationship had never really ended emotionally, at least not for me – I know it was the lack of closure and absolute disbelief that an intelligent, responsible man could behave in this way.
    In later years, the pain, the accusations, the confusion became more intense and rendered me useless, unable to function for days. When you are a mother, this is not a good state to be in.
    It is so very sad that it took physical violence and being thrown out onto the streets with my daughter who had a foot injury at the time and could not even walk unaided – with all our things – that is what it took to finally reach that place emotionally, whereby I knew I would/could not look back. Any why, did he do this, because I finally exposed him, foolishly thinking that by gently broaching the topic, he would open up to me. No, I received the silent treatment for a week before being thrown out onto the street…..
    I could go on and on and on…….
    However, I thank you for this site and for being so articulate to the point that you are able to capture, express and share and bring together and make sense of all of this. Everyone and anyone who has ever experienced this abuse, needs to read the articles on this site as the fact that someone I don’t even know can tell me what I experienced without me having to say a word, is beyond comprehension and definitely aids the road to recovery and the ability to move on positively.

    • Zari Ballard

      September 16, 2016 at 4:44 pm Reply

      Hi TJP,

      I am so grateful that you connected with my website but so sorry that you’ve had to endure all this suffering. What a bastard! Here in the states (and at least in Arizona), it’s easy enough to get a restraining order just by going to a court house and asking for one. Of course, he can contest it but it does keep him at a distance. I can’t believe he was found not guilty even though the police obviously thought it important enough to want to arrest him. That is awful.

      Yes, my most recent article is all about how a narcissist’s break-up never seems real and this is why we continue to take them back almost as if they’ve never been gone. It’s like that part of our life, when they disappear, gets put in suspended animation – frozen in time – along with our feelings. I understand how horrible it is. We spend most of the relationship addicted to the very drama that we hate…addicted to the hope and the suffering. We don’t want to let go of any of it! But, as we know, we absolutely MUST let go or else we will waste the rest of our life trying to no avail.

      I am going to go to my personal email right now and send you my books in PDF. I’ll send them to the email address you used to write your post. If you don’t see it there, check your SPAM folder. I believe they will help you as well and they go into much detail about my own relationship and how I mentally broke free even before it REALLY ended for good. And if it’s ever possible for you, I do provide consultations via phone and I speak with people in the UK all of the time. There is also a really cool support group in the UK – The London Narcissist Abuse Support Group – or something like that. They just opened up a second chapter in Manchester I believe.

      You are right to go No Contact and to stay quiet even if he smears you. You can’t defend against idiocy and the very fact that you say nothing puts you in the better light. As for your daughter, you are doing everything right there as well. Let him dig his own parental grave as narcissist’s typically will do. Just be there for her and know that you are doing the best that you can. Have no guilt, my sister! How could you have possibly known? There’s is no way to see it coming if you’ve never experienced it – no way – and sometimes it takes a physical event to end it.

      Thank you for writing such a heartfelt letter…I appreciate you. It makes my own experience all worth it to be able to give comfort to someone else in this same damn boat. Recovery is a team effort:) LOOK FOR THE BOOKS – THEY WILL BE ON THE WAY IN TWO MINUTES.

      Zari xo

  • tracy

    February 24, 2016 at 8:58 pm Reply

    This is one year later. All of the things I read about the narcissit are 100% correct, I was hooked and in love, a sweet child like man turned into a vendicive callous bully. I escaped after his second psychotic rage which he rubbed in with a vicious email. He was expected me to forget the terror & insults, resume the relationship.
    I went NC, within 3 weeks he was in a wonderful new relationship with a reserve lady, he is a big user of online dating sites.
    I was hurt and broken all year, he contacted me 4 months into his current relationship with the predicted Hoover messages. He stupidly brought his current partner into his FB world, this has created a wonderful problem, he can’t discard her easily.
    He was forced rush into this relationship,she was there waiting after online grooming, unfortunately for him she seized the opportunity to go very public, not releasing that she was only positioned in his friends to punish my disobedience.
    He is in such a mess and I am safe, no longer afraid, and very ‘understanding’ I agree and stay neutral when he complains about his plight.

    • Zari Ballard

      February 25, 2016 at 12:24 am Reply

      Hi Tracy,

      Thank you for writing and I am grateful that you feel safe. However, maybe I am misunderstanding, but it sounds like you still speak with him. If so, to him, he’s perfectly happy that way because it is keeping you in the queue. Every day, all day, everything a narcissist does is about what he can get away with. If he can have a new girlfriend and complain to you about it, he basically got away with it. Of course, he is going to make it sound as if it’s nothing that he wants to be in but the truth is that no one is forcing him to stay in a relationship. This is why NC is so important. In order for you to move on, not allowing him to call whenever he feels like it to get a sympathetic – albeit neutral – ear would be a good start. I know it’s hard and at least talking to him doesn’t seem as painful as not talking to him at all…I get that. But it never works. Just beware of the intention on your end…we already know what his intention is. Narcissists are so clever…we think we’ve won and that we have things under control and then we get blindsided. He’d be in even more of a mess if you blew him off and that’s exactly what he deserves.

      Good luck and stay strong!

      Zari xo

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