Notes From Kristen

When Narcissists Compliment You, It’s All About Them

“Why are you so beautiful?”

I never knew quite what to do with it when he said that to me. How do you answer a question like that? It wasn’t something he asked me a couple of times.  It was one of his favorite compliments.  I mean, I guess it was a compliment.

I remember the first few times he asked, I would laugh and shake my head in amusement. It was a silly thing to say, really. A silly thing to ask.

I always had the impression though that he was waiting for me to say something in response. When I was younger, I probably would have said something like, “I’m not,” or told him to stop asking such things.  Now, I don’t really think it’s a good idea for women to denigrate themselves like that and so I try not to engage in that kind of self-deprecation, even if I find it hard to take a compliment so I suppressed the urge negate his question.

But I just found the whole thing awkward.  He’d ask and stare at me.  A beat would pass.  Then another.  It was as if he enjoyed the fact that I was speechless and didn’t have any way of answering the question.

So one day, I answered, “I don’t know… I guess because… I was born that way?”

He scowled and pulled away from me.  I didn’t get it.  What was the right answer?

What I didn’t understand was that my discomfort was the right answer.  One of them anyway.

He didn’t stop asking, and after that, it just seemed like a test. Sometimes I’d say nothing and sometimes I’d respond the same way just to see if he would still get upset.

But then one day, I changed the answer:

“Because you love me?”

His eyes lit up. “Yes, that’s right.”

I didn’t understand why that was the right answer, but I had finally solved the riddle.  I knew how to make him happy and make my own discomfort go away.

And yet it all makes sense now.

My response was the “ultimate response” to a narcissist.   My response turned his own compliment back around and made it all about him, and it gave him total control to determine the value of some arbitrary characteristic about me.  Merely by deeming me loveable in his eyes, something about me was hence worthy.

And if that love ever disappeared, well then…

What kind of person would want someone to believe that anything about them revolves around his or her love for them?

One guess.

Kristen Milstead

Instagram: fairytaleshadows

7 thoughts on “When Narcissists Compliment You, It’s All About Them

  1. Thanks Kristen. Amazing insight into the fact that absolutely everything they say or do is ultimately all about them.

    My ex used to say to me, “You’re beautifully flawed.”
    What do you make of that one?
    Cynthia

  2. Hello Cynthia and thank you. Well, from my experience and from what I’ve read, it isn’t uncommon for manipulative people to say ambiguous things and you aren’t sure if they are complimenting or insulting you, and they do it on purpose. Sometimes they are called “back-handed compliments,” or I’ve also heard it referred to as “negging.” But then if you speak up and ask about it or call them on it, they say you’re too sensitive or reading something into it. It’s a really toxic behavior similar to gaslighting: they mistreat you then try to make you doubt your own perception that you were mistreated! It’s just one more method of controlling you. Anyway, I can never know what your ex was really thinking, but this is a common tactic to try to lower someone’s self-esteem.

  3. I can never know either (after a 4+ year relationship with a narc – still being barraged with comments on line which I ignore). But from everything I have read, we had “low self-esteem when we entered the relationship. So I’m trying to work out all the ins-and-outs that prompted me to enter the relationship and stay in it for so long. Kristen, I am thankful I found your blog. It has helped immensley.

    1. Hello. I’m so glad you’re here and thank you for your comments tonight. From what I understand, the factors that determine why people are victimized are very complicated. There seems to be no clear pattern as to what the pasts of victims are like, and it may be an oversimplification to say that all of them had self-esteem issues before the relationships began. One way I have heard it described that seems to make sense is that whatever weaknesses or insecurities that a person had, a narcissist will figure out how to exploit. For some it could be self-esteem issues due to previous victimization or other experiences, but for others it might be something else such as a need a person has that the narcissist meets. The reason why I like this way of conceptualizing it is because it keeps the focus on the narcissist’s negative behavior, while also being general enough to explain what happens in the relationship without stereotyping victims into a category that may not fit. Since everyone has weaknesses and insecurities, taking time to understand how they were exploited can ensure it doesn’t happen again. I bring this up because I don’t want to see you or others blame themselves for being taken advantage of by someone else. It is not your fault. Thank you again for reading my blog.

      1. I agree with everything you have said. It IS complicated. And very individual. I do take the time to understand not just how, but why I allowed myself to get into that 4+ year relationship that nearly destroyed me. I DO blame myself (maybe it’s that Catholic “guilt” thing!). What I really appreciate about you, Kristen, is your willingness to share your experience and knowledge to help others. I guess I just have to “get over it”. You know how difficult that can be. Every time you post, I read. You have valuable insight for me. Many thanks.

  4. I like your reorganization plan.

    In addition, I am still awestruck by the fact that for people who’ve never had a relationship with a narc, our stories seem alien; yet for those who have, it’s all too familiar. This article is a great example. I’m male, and was never complimented about beauty. But I can cross out that one word, and fill in the blank with what she used instead, and this article instantly becomes my own story. Just that easily.

    1. Thank you! Yes, it is striking how similar all of our stories are. That’s why I think there is so much power in our sharing them with each other.

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