With Narcissists, The Devil is not in the Details, It is in the Context

Ta Da!

Ta Da!

A friend, who is also a teacher, and I used to joke that we were going to make T-shirts that played on the “Got Milk?” ads. Our t-shirts were to say “Got content?” in reference to teaching actual content-matter rather than personal agendas as some teachers do.

Lately, for a variety of reasons, we have been thinking of changing a single letter in our message to “Got context?”

I think this is especially apt when you are dealing with a narcissist.

One of the stresses that victims experience is the worry that others will not understand exactly what happens when you “relate” to a narcissist. Victims can feel the compulsive need to recount details and stories in the hopes someone finally says, “Oh, I see what you mean. That sounds horrible.”

Unless the details are across-the-board horrific (i.e. recounting the time he slammed your head into a wall or she threatened your safety in direct physical way), victims can be left with situational details that may not sound “that bad”.

When you are dealing with a narcissist, though, the details are often not the major issue- the context is.

I lived an example of this. My husband lived 45-minutes from his ex-wife for 3 years. (She kept the family home while he moved out. Given our locale (mountain chic) his best option was home in another small town).

As I have blogged before, 2.5 months after our marriage, my husband’s ex-wife moved in across the street from us.

Many can hear the details of this situation and think the details sound “fine”. They will interpret the scenario as two divorced parents living close to one another for the benefit of the children.

That would be a detail and contextually accurate interpretation of events if my husband’s ex-wife were not a narcissist.

If she truly had wanted to move in across the street from us “for the benefit of the children”, she certainly would have thought to contact my husband about this idea. But that was not the context.

How did we know the kids were not the primary concern? Because she never mentioned it. She actually told the children, “I want you to keep it a secret from your Dad that we may be moving in.”

My husband and I may not be the best parenting duo, but we certainly feel confident in our ability to recognize his children as they are across the street from us.

The move was never really about the kids. That was simply a “detail”. The context was that this was a woman who was going to be required to parent full-time (for years she had a live-in au pair to care for the kids, that was going away as the kids entered school), who loves to control situations through secrets and mis-information as all narcissists do.

If you have a narcissist in your life, and I know many of you do, please realize that many times, your stress and confusion are not simply related to the details (because narcissists are SO GOOD at manipulating these) but rather the context.

When others don’t “understand” your situation, just tell them “That is o.k. You are just getting the details. You are not understanding the context.”

Because we know, having dealt with narcissists, the devil is in the context.

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19 thoughts on “With Narcissists, The Devil is not in the Details, It is in the Context

  1. It breaks my heart when a parent pits their children against the other parent or tells them to lie. On another note, this made me laugh: “My husband and I may not be the best parenting duo, but we certainly feel confident in our ability to recognize his children as they are across the street from us.”

  2. Thank you for this…it helps to have some kind of “pat” phrase to explain to people my situation, without getting into the details. I am very happy to have found your blog. Sometimes it is simply crazy making in itself trying to explain the crazy making induced by the n.

    • It so understand this. I feel all the time when I try to explain the behavior of the narcissist that people end up thinking I am overly sensitive or too wrapped up in the details. I am not. Narcissists are very, very good at manipulating things so they appear “normal”.

  3. Hi Kim, Just wanted to say that I linked this post on one of my own recent posts. It was such a good lesson and helped me reframe my own situation with my ex…I literally use this mantra when I face the details (I call them wtf narc induced moments) and it helps me stay focussed and clear…

  4. Pingback: Did That Really Just Happen? | Dealing With the Crazy

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