Why Narcissist Can't Hear YOU, Understand What You Are Saying To Him

Uploaded 6/24/2023, approx. 25 minute read

First of all, to all my friends in Rostov-on-Don, the Russian Federation, on this difficult day, please stay safe.

I hope things turn out for the better, whatever that means for each and every one of you.

Today, we are going to discuss a loaded topic.

Why does the narcissist block you out? Why wouldn't he hear you? And when he does listen or pretends to be listening, why doesn't he understand you? What is the source of his constant and consistent incomprehension and surprise at how things evolve?

The thing is that the narcissist self-deceives. The extent of the narcissist's deception denies belief. The narcissist even deceives himself into believing that he is not deceiving himself.

Talk about a double bind. And it all has to do, of course, with grandiosity.

My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Search Lab, Narcissism Revisited, a former visiting professor of psychology in Southern Federal University in Rostov-on-Don, the Russian Federation, the scene of the recent battles, and a long-time member of the Faculty of CIAPS, Commonwealth for International Advanced Professional Studies in Cambridge, United Kingdom, Toronto, Canada, and with an outreach campus in Lagos, Nigeria.

Grandiosity is a cognitive distortion. We all have cognitive biases. Some of us even have cognitive distortions, and yet we are still considered to be normal and healthy.

So what's the difference when it comes to the narcissist?

The narcissist's grandiosity is a cognitive distortion that is affected.

In other words, the narcissist is emotionally invested in distorting reality so that it buttresses, affirms, confirms, and supports his inflated, fantastic view of himself.

Grandiosity is a desperate attempt to fend off life-threatening shame and hurt, and frustration in suicidal ideation.

In other words, if grandiosity were to not work, if grandiosity were to fail, the narcissist would devolve into the equivalent of a borderline. He would develop emotional dysregulation and suicidal ideation.

And this is exactly what happens when grandiosity is shut down in the process of narcissistic mortification.

So grandiosity is critical, absolutely critical.

Now, to maintain and sustain the grandiose firewall, the grandiose wall of China, the defense against internal shame and hurt and external shame and humiliation, the narcissist prefers to listen to internal objects rather than external objects.

Now, every human being alive, I'm not sure about the dead, but every human being alive has this phenomenon. Everyone has internal voices and external voices, and we are typically able to tell the difference.

The internal voices are known in the clinical phrase "internal speech". The narcissist listens to internal voices in his internal objects the same way every other human being does. There's nothing special about this.

Even more so, in the vast majority of people, actually in everyone, internal voices override external voices.

But with the narcissist, the internal speech generated by the internal objects overrides not only external speech, but overrides the very existence of external objects and external stimuli.

So, the narcissist's internal speech suppresses his ability to perceive the outside world as external to himself.

In a way, the narcissist's internal speech annihilates the narcissist's boundaries.

The reason may be that the internal speech in the case of the narcissist is linked intimately and inexorably to a bad object. The bad object wants to destroy the narcissist, hence the eradication of boundaries. Whatever the reason may be, while each and every one of you, healthy, normal people, each and every one of you, have internal voices that override external voices.

In the narcissist's case, his internal voices, the internal speech, overrides all external stimuli, including cues and information about the separate existence of external objects, such as his intimate partner.

And this is, of course, a great definition of psychosis.

Now, this happens only in the presence of a cognitive dissonance.

When the narcissist receives information from the environment that conflicts with his grandiosity, with his fantastic self-image, with his inflated self-perception, only then he uses his internal speech, the voices in his mind, the internal objects that speak to him, he uses these to suppress reality altogether.

And this is a process known as reciprocal inhibition.

Actually, there's a neurological aspect to it. It really happens in the brain, and we can watch it happening in functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI.

This is known as the brain's corollary discharge.

So what the narcissist does, when there is a conflict between information, data coming from the outside, and information and data coming from the inside, for example, his grandiose self-perception and self-image, this creates a cognitive dissonance.

And to resolve the cognitive dissonance, the narcissist's brain fires a specific cascade, multiple unit activity, known as corollary discharge, and this creates reciprocal inhibition, a suppression of the external stimuli in favor of internal speech that is misperceived as external stimuli.

Now you're beginning to understand the neurology behind the snapshotting or introjection process in the narcissist's mind, where he replaces external objects, such as his intimate partner, with internal objects that represent the external objects in his mind.

Gradually, of course, having been subjected to repeated messages from the outside that contradict, conflict with his self-image and self-perception, the narcissist begins to withdraw.

The environment of the narcissist keeps bombarding him with countervailing information, data, and arguments.

Reality keeps saying you're wrong, you're not what you think you are, you're not who you think you are.

And this is painful, and this is intolerable and unbearable.

At some point, the narcissist cuts off reality literally, physically.

He goes into schizoid isolation, withdrawal, avoidance.

The risk of experiencing pain is too much.

But there's another risk.

If you're grandiose, if you're self-deceptive, you are under threat.

You keep generating danger for yourself.

If you were approached by a gold digger and you tell yourself that you have garnered her attentions because you are irresistible, that's going to end badly sooner or later.

If you believe that your audience finds you awesome, admires and adulates you, while actually they find you revolting, they are fascinated by your freakishness and creepiness, that is a problem.

Misreading other people, cues, environmental, behavioral, sexual, others, is dangerous.

Grandiosity, therefore, is dangerous.

And to avoid the risk of being victimized or being penalized, the narcissist says goodbye to reality and becomes a solipsist.

And at home.

But solipsism enhances the narcissist's gullibility and vulnerability.

I once wrote about myself, it was 25 years ago, "People make use of my grandiosity and paranoia, yet I cannot discard these cognitive distortions. They render me gullible and vulnerable to victimization, disrespect and ridicule. I am my worst enemy.

Okay, remember how the narcissist copes with this?

He suppresses external stimuli by redirecting his attention to internal voices, to the speech acts or the internal speech of objects in his mind, the introjects.

Now, everyone does this.

There is a study from the Department of Linguistics at the University of British Columbia. It was led by researcher Mark Scott.

Scott theorized that copies of our internal voices produced by a predictive brain signal, the corollary, copies can be created even when there is no external sound.

In effect, our inner voices are the result of our brain internally predicting our voices sound, our own voices.

So the brain keeps generating internal voices. The brain keeps anticipating and predicting there's a predictive model about the environment, about the world, about reality, about other people, what they might do, might not do, etc.

And the brain generates internal speech.

Scott knew that when external sensory information matched the internal copy that our brain produced, that external information would be edited out.

Yes, when the brain's prediction ends up matching reality, the brain discards reality.

I'm going to repeat this because it's counterintuitive and it's bloody mind-boggling.

Our brain keeps generating internal voices and these internal voices keep telling us, this is what's going to happen, you should get prepared, you've done wrong, you've done right, this is the way to do it, etc., etc.

These voices keep talking to us. They are introjects.

If the voices, the content of the internal speech matches reality, the brain discards reality, the brain listens to the internal voices and prefers them to reality.

Scott conducted the following experiment.

When participants said certain syllables just in their heads, such as "al", "ar", "bar", "bar", you all kinds of syllables, they were instructed to say these syllables in their heads.

And then there was an external sound that matched the syllables that they were thinking of in their heads.

The impact of the external sound was minimal to zero. In other words, the brain focused on the syllables produced by the internal voice, the internal speech, the internal objects, and ignored the syllables produced outside, externally, in the world, in reality.

But when the internal syllable didn't match the external sound, the perception of the external sound did not diminish.

So there was hearing involved. People were listening to a sound without engaging in any speech imagery.

There was matching. The participants thought about the same external sound that they were hearing, and there was contrasting. The participants imagined a different sound than what they were hearing.

And in all these cases, inner speech weakened the impact of external sounds when they were both the same.

The study says the findings provide strong evidence that a system involved in processing external speech also works on internal speech.

And this is reciprocal inhibition.

Scott says the work is important because this theory of internal speech is closely related to theories of the auditory hallucinations associated with schizophrenia.

And here we are beginning to diverge from normal. While normal, healthy people prefer internal speech to external reality if the two match, if they do not match.

The narcissist prefers internal speech to external reality if they do not match.

As usual, the narcissist is a mirror image of a normal, healthy human being.

That's why I keep saying I'm not quite sure that the narcissist is human.

He's been wrongly wired, left to right rather than right to left or whatever.

The narcissist is like a mirror image.

I repeat, if you're a normal, healthy person, what goes through your mind will prevail if it matches reality. Your brain will ignore reality. Pay attention to what goes through your mind.

But in the case of the narcissist, the narcissist's brain will pay attention to the internal voices and the internal speech when they do not match reality. The narcissist's brain will ignore reality because it is uncomfortable, challenging, countervailing, undermining, contradictory, dissonant.

Then the narcissist withdraws insight and develops something called selective auditory attention. He listens to the internal voices and he bottlenecks the external ones.

It's as if external voices get stuck in the very narrow neck of some imaginary bottle so that they don't get through to the narcissist.

So the narcissist shuts you off, cuts you off, ignores what you're saying.

Consequently, he's unable to understand what you're saying.

This leads to dissociation, amnesia, memory gaps.

Very often the narcissist will contest, will say, "You haven't said that." "Well, you got it wrong. You said something else." Even if you were to produce a recording of what you have said, the narcissist would still deny it. And he would still deny it because he has truly no recollection.

Your auditory output never reached his brain as auditory input because he was engaged in selective hearing, selective auditory attention. He was filtering your speech. He was enhancing some parts of it which were ego conformance or ego congruent.

In other words, some parts of it which fitted him, fitted his narrative about himself, about the situation, about the world at large. So he was filtering and enhancing.

And then he was engaging in selective perception.

We'll talk about it in a minute.

And created a sensory contrast.

He converted you into background noise, white noise.

Do you remember the old televisions, black and white televisions? Those of you who, like me, were born in the age of the dinosaurs. The old black and white televisions with rabbit ears, you know, this kind.

When you turn them on, there was a white screen of snowflakes, a screen of white noise.

The narcissist converts your speech into white noise, into background noise.

And then contrasts his own internal voices with this field of noise.

So his internal voices become the signal and you are the noise. And there's a signal to noise ratio.

A very common mathematical measurement of the efficacy of a filter in communication.

You're becoming background against which his speech, his internal speech, is further emphasized.


And he prioritizes the information so that you have very low priority.

And his internal speech is very high priority.

And all these mechanisms and processes are intended to do one and only thing.

To preserve grandiosity intact. Not to incur a dent in the grandiosity. Not to risk the fantasy. Not to challenge the hallowed assumptions about oneself and others.

The narcissist uses attentional control, aka concentration or focus. He chooses what to pay attention to and what we ignore. He has endogenous attention versus executive attention.

So in his case, endogenous attention is emphasized at the expense of executive attention. Even more so, endogenous attention, attention coming from the inside, attention to internal voices, attention to internal speech, suppresses, inhibits executive attention. Attention to information coming from the outside.

And all this is embedded in selective auditory attention, in selective hearing.

Now selective hearing is a normal process. Everyone has selective hearing.

And this is why you can, for example, talk to someone in a cocktail party. It's your focus, your selective hearing, your focus on that person.

A mother would wake up when the baby cries. Although the second before there was a car crash and he didn't wake her up. But the baby's whimper woke her up.

That is selective hearing.

But selective hearing becomes pathologized, malignant, and dysfunctional and maladaptive in sensory processing disorders. For example, in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, in post-traumatic stress disorder, in schizophrenia, as I mentioned, selective mutism, auditory processing disorders.

And I venture to add narcissism.

The narcissist has something called selective retention. This is a process where he remembers accurately messages that reflected his interests, his values, his beliefs, his grandiose self-perception and self-image, his working model, working theories about other people's minds and the world at large, theory of mind and internal working model.

When the outside input, input from the outside, external auditory input, when he listens to you speaking, when you talk to him, he analyzes whether what you're saying conforms to everything I've just mentioned, the narratives, including the grandiose narrative.

If what you're saying conforms, he retains it. And what you're saying challenges or undermines the stories that he keeps telling himself.

He simply discards. He discards what you're saying. Anything that is in contrast with his self-image, his values, his beliefs, etc., he doesn't keep in memory. He narrows the information flow to use a clinical term, so selective retention.

And finally, the narcissist has selective perception. He simply does not noticeand he quickly forgets stimuli that cause emotional discomfort, contradict prior beliefs, including the belief that he is godlike, omnipotent, omniscient, etc.

So he either doesn't notice or he quickly forgets, like instantly.

Now, our attention is very much like a searchlight or even more like a laser beam.

We focus on one thingand then we're unable to pay attention to other things that are happening under our nose.

There's a famous experiment where students were instructed to count the score in a basketball game that was taking place on a screen up there. And then an actor came into the room dressed as an elephant, crossed the room twice and exited.

Only one of the 40 students noticed the elephant because the others were focused on the game.

So they didn't pay attention to the rest.

Narcissist is the same. He's focused on the grandiosity game. He's keeping the score. His body is keeping the score. Exactly.

Yes, his brain is keeping the score.

So anything you say will be measured and judged, whether it can enhance his ability to keep the score, whether it fortifies his self-perception, his beliefs about himself and others, the narrative that he spun, if what you're saying supports all these, great, you're in, is going to retain.

And first of all, he's going to perceive you. He's going to notice that you are there saying something. And then he's going to perceive that you are saying something. And then he's going to perceive what you're saying.

But that's a tall order because the Narcissist's selective perception is very selective. He's much more selective than perception.

It's a process by which he perceives what they want to, what he wants to.

And he ignores all opposing viewpoints, data information, arguments. He sees things based on his particular frame of reference.

And at the end of this video, I will discuss the concept of framing.

He categorizes, he interprets sensory information, sensa, including sensory information coming because your speech is sound waves. It's sensory information. It's auditory. It comes from here and ends up here.

So he uses categories and frameworks to somehow interpret what you're saying and then favor categories or interpretations or information that support, uphold, buttress everything he anyhow believed.

So the Narcissist is a one-man echo chamber. He's a walking, talking, reified confirmation bias. He's totally biased all the time because he interprets all information in a way that is congruent with his beliefs about himself and others, beliefs which are essentially cognitively distorted.

So what's the difference between a healthy person and a narcissist? We all do this. We all do everything I've just said. We all do this.

So what's the difference?

The difference is that the narcissist, the selective perception of the narcissist is total.

Like every single thing impacts on the Narcissist's grandiosity, entitlement, envy.

The Narcissist has an extensive personality disorder. In other words, every single aspect, field, realm, dimension of the Narcissist's personality, interpersonal relations, activity, cognition, negative emotions, everything is impacted all the time by all the information.

So his selective perception is hundreds of times magnified over the selective perception of a normal person. And it envelopes and it captures all the sensory input and then interprets it, categorizes it, suppresses it, and so on and so forth.

Cognitive biases in psychology are based on selective perception or expectations at least, and how expectations affect perception.

Human judgment, decision making, they're distorted by cognitive, perceptual, motivational biases. People tend to not recognize their own biases, but they easily recognize and even overestimate the biases in other people's judgment.

And this is because people are, they're bombarded with too much stimuli and information. They have to introduce some mechanism for prioritizing and filtering and, you know, they have to pick and choose.

And this involves perceptual vigilance and perceptual defenses and everything.

But no one in his right mind applies selective perception to absolutely everything.

The Narcissist does.

You tell the Narcissist, "Good morning." He selectively perceives it. He selectively retains it. And he hears you selectively. Did you say good morning in order to challenge him? Were you insulting him?

This is hypervigilance. Did you say good morning because you were out to manipulate him to obtain some benefit?

The paranoid ideation of the secretary ideation.

So the totality and all pervasiveness of the selectivity of the Narcissist amount to a delusional disorder.

This is a great definition of a delusional disorder.

A delusional disorder is when mechanisms of selective hearing, selective retention, selective perception go awry and take over the entire mental apparatus.

Now, all of us engage in something called framing. We have concepts and theoretical perspectives on how we should behave. Other people should behave, society even, groups of people, how we should perceive reality, how we should communicate about reality.

Framing is a theory, in effect, about how we think and how we communicate interpersonally. Thought or cognitive frames consist of mental representations, interpretations and simplifications of reality, including rules of thumb or heuristics.

Communication frames consist of the communication of the aforementioned frames between actors or between individuals.

Framing is a key component of how we perceive the process of thinking and how we endeavor or strive to somehow bridge the gap between two minds which are inaccessible except through language.

It's a schema of interpretation, a collection of anecdotes, stereotypes, in order to understand events and respond to them.

We build mental filters through which we kind of understand or try to realize what's happening. We even apply these filters to biological facts, medical facts, cultural influences, societal expectations, sexual streets and so on and so forth.

Framing involves social construction. It's a social phenomenon.

You can't create frames if you don't participate in a language community, if you don't somehow share perception of meanings with other people. You have words. If I say water or if I say bottle, you and I are members of the same linguistic community.

So we have an agreement on meaning and we perceive this agreement identically or you wouldn't understand my videos.

Maybe the reason why you don't.

OK, this commonality is a frame. This is the type of frame.

So we have frames in advertising, in religion, in culture and so on and so forth.

The narcissist's problem is that his frames are idiosyncratic. In other words, the frames of the narcissist and by the way, the frames of the psychotic person, these frames are non-communicable because they are too individual.

There's not enough sharing of meaning, not enough exegetic interpretative hermeneutic sharing.

And so the narcissist's internal speech is so unique to him, so unique to him that it's largely non-communicable.

Narcissist faces huge communication barriers and tries to compensate for that by pretending to be someone he's not.

So that people can interact with that, not with him directly ever, but with that.

And what is that? The false self, the image, the figure, the character, the hero, villain, the genius.

So the narcissist sabotages effective communication simply because he can communicate only externally.

He can never communicate his internal world. And he cannot communicate his internal world because it's populated exclusively by internal objects that have very, very idiosyncratic. Indigenous, native internal speech that is non-communicable.

I remember that I keep saying there's an emptiness there. There's nobody home. There's no one there.

And this is very true. There's no organizing principle. All the entities inside the narcissist's mind are equipotent. In other words, all of them express themselves, fight it out, create coalitions, take over self-states and so on and so forth. And there is no someone, nobody is in charge. There's no one in charge. No one to say stop here.

Even in dissociative identity disorder, we usually have a host personality which somehow regulates the alters, the other personalities.

In narcissism and in borderline, this is missing. It's a chaotic landscape.

And to preserve the little integrity there is, to survive simply, the narcissist needs to deny you the power of accessing his mind and then criticizing what you see or challenging it or trying, God forbid, to arrange the furniture.

Equivalence frames are when two or more logically equivalent alternatives are portrayed in different ways. This is known as a framing effect.

Emphasis frames is when we simplify reality by focusing on a subset of relevant aspects of a situation or an issue.

In equivalence frames, the information being presented is based on the same facts, but the frame in which the facts are represented are not the same. They change.

So this creates a reference dependent perception. This is what the narcissist does in effect.

You and the narcissist are in the same situation. You're in the same environment, the same event. Both of you absorb the same data, the same information.

What the narcissist would do, he would create equivalence frames. He would frame it his way, which essentially has nothing to do with your way, but still incorporates all the data.

So he appears to be sane. He appears to be. It's just a matter of opinion, you know.

There's my truth and your truth. There's alternative facts. Rings a bell.

And so the narcissist would always challenge the way you see reality. This is wrongly perceived as gaslighting. It's not gaslighting.

The narcissist really sees things differently as distinct psychopath. The psychopath gaslights you.

Psychopath manipulates you by challenging your perception of reality and undermining it so that you don't trust your judgment any longer.

The narcissist doesn't do that. He simply can't have it your way. He can't accept your take on things. He needs to substitute his mind for your mind. He needs to take over your mind, snatch it, subjugate it, consume it, assimilate it, regulate it, call it anything you want.

Similarly, the narcissist uses emphasis frames. Rather than, for example, tackle a whole situation, an entire situation, he would isolate one element. And he would obsessively and compulsively focus on that element, a subset, some aspect. And he would magnify it, a mole, you know, an anthill. And he would magnify it. And he would render this aspect or this element or this segment the most important thing. And he would develop a whole argument about it, all debate and fight and conflict and what have you.

So narcissist, speech is very manipulative. And I recommend that you watch the video that I've made about the eight or ten ways that narcissist weaponizes speech and distorted.

But again, there is this misperception in the online community of self-styled experts, their dogs and mother-in-laws, because they're all experts nowadays.

The narcissist, as opposed to the psychopath, as distinct from the psychopath, the narcissist is not premeditated. He is not evil or malevolent. He is just who he is, period. He is not someone you would like to be with. He is pernicious, he is virulent, but he is more like a virus. He is more like a tiger.

You say, yeah, but the tiger doesn't have a mind. Tiger can't choose right from wrong. Tiger can't make moral decisions and ethical decisions. Neither can the narcissist.

Many of the processes that I'm describing are totally unconscious. Totally.

Go through my last 20 videos. All these unbelievable distortions of the mind, they're unconscious.

The psychopath does all these things consciously. He is ruthless, he is merciless, he is cruel and callous.

The narcissist just stumbles through life. He's a bumbling fool. He's gullible. He's stupid, pseudo-stupid. And he tries to survive by pretending that he is not he, by mimicry.

It's like, you're looking at me, but you're wrong. It's not me. I'm someone else. It's infantile. It's what a child would do.

Did you break the vase? No, it wasn't me. It was my imaginary friend. And that's who the narcissist is. A child.

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