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3 Phrases Narcissistic Partners Use During Conflicts

Words that let them withhold empathy, inflict guilt, and shift blame.

Key points

  • A narcissistic partner may use three seemingly innocent phrases during a conflict to manipulate you.
  • The phrases are: "I am sorry you feel that way," "You have anger issues," and "You ruined it."
  • These phrases allow the narcissist to withhold empathy, shift the blame, and inflict guilt.

Bringing a problem to a narcissistic partner can be painful. It seems to ignite an ugly battle that is rarely fruitful. Often it is difficult to identify the narcissistic partner as the problem because they use three phrases during the interaction that seem innocent but, in fact, may be extremely manipulative. The sentiments allow the narcissistic partner to deflect accountability, shift the blame, and inflict guilt.

The first phase is, “I am sorry you feel that way.” This response seems civil, but let’s take a deeper look. Instead of the partner putting themselves in your shoes in an attempt to understand how you feel, they immediately reject your feeling and label it “yours.” They do not accept it and they refuse to even contemplate why you feel the way you do. This anti-empathic statement may demonstrate that they do not care to try and understand how you feel or where you are coming from.

To provide additional clarity, compare this sentiment to a more empathic response such as, “You are mad. I get it. I’m not sure why, but I want to understand,” or “You are disappointed that I forgot about dinner. You have every right to feel that way, but I am here now and I brought dessert.” Or, “You are hurt. I understand. But, honey, it was just a giant miscommunication.”

These statements honor your feelings even if a partner disagrees with your perspective after considering it. They are empathic as opposed to a rebuttal that immediately rejects your feelings and perspective.

Second, if the phrase "you have anger issues" is used by your partner during the middle of a disagreement, it may signify your partner’s attempt to shift the blame. A narcissistic partner often deflects and projects, which means instead of looking inward, they immediately blame you. Being unfairly attacked when you are not the one who made the mistake can be maddening. It is natural to get upset in this situation. Yet often the narcissist takes advantage of this and accuses you of being “out of control.” In reality, they may be the person who is rageful.

But because you are a person who engages in self-reflection, you may quickly agree that during the interaction you felt really angry. This can cause you to think that the narcissist is correct. Yet, this may not be accurate. It is natural to feel anger when something in a relationship is wildly unfair. In fact, your anger may be a sign that you are being manipulated. It is also important to note that it is your ability to verbalize that you are angry, and why, during an interaction that indicates that you are coping with your anger just fine. If you are a person who can say, “I am really, really frustrated right now,” you are probably OK.

A narcissist’s rage, on the other hand, is an immediate knee-jerk reaction. They instantly strike out against others when they sense a threat to their ego. Instead of identifying and articulating why they are angry, they act it out. A partner who lashes out at you in place of specifically identifying that they are angry may have the “anger issue.” If they cannot say their feeling, the chances of them acting on it inappropriately increases. For instance, a partner who consistently verbally abuses you instead of admitting that they are mad may be a person with anger management issues.

Third, the phrase "you ruined it" may be a narcissistic partner’s attempt to inflict guilt. They are usually shocked and indignant when you attempt to address an issue in the relationship or try to tell them that they hurt you. They may get dramatic, as if they are mortally wounded, or they withdraw and refuse to speak to you. Either way, they are communicating to you that you are not allowed to confront them or express a feeling in the relationship that they do not like. Next, they accuse you of wrecking the day—because you “dared” to try to address an issue in the relationship.

You may be a person who has a strong conscience, so the idea that you “ruined” a happy day together, as the narcissist suggests, may elicit shame and guilt. However, try to keep things in perspective. It is necessary to talk through issues in a relationship in order to maintain trust and closeness. If you are punished for attempting to address a problem, it may be your partner who is unable to work out conflict.

If you hear the three sentiments explained above routinely during a disagreement with your partner, they may have strong narcissistic tendencies. Spending some time educating yourself on this dynamic may prevent you from being manipulated. Thinking about an exit strategy may also be necessary.

Facebook image: Hryshchyshen Serhii/Shutterstock

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