Narcissists say one thing but their tells show you another

16 Feb 2022

A client of mine is currently walking around in a daze saying, “I can’t unsee the truth. I can no longer unsee the person that my partner really is.” Now that the switch has been flipped, there is no going back for her. But until that final “Aha” moment arrived, she had managed not to see who he really was for nearly two decades.

What had happened to her, as happened to most of us, was that we bought into the Narcissist’s narrative.

Narcissists always have a great narrative. One way or another, they manage to present themselves as a Prince or Princess among men (and women) – even if they happen to be in a bit of a Cinderella phase.

The question has to be why did you buy into it?

That  takes me back to the time when my beautiful 18 year old daughter attracted the most attractive 20 something man on the airport – I say that with confidence, it was a small airport. The two of them had a marvellous time flirting together.

Confirmation bias in action

She came away from the encounter thinking that she had met someone who really shared her values – because they shared the same taste in music. (He didn’t.)

He came away thinking she might be obliging enough to send him some topless photos. (She wasn’t.)

What really happened there was that confirmation bias muddied the waters.

Confirmation bias leads a person to interpret evidence as confirmation of their existing beliefs and theories.

My daughter, open-hearted, empathic and trusting, naturally assumed that since they shared the same taste in music (allegedly) that had to prove he was a generous-hearted empathic, honourable individual.

He noted that she was trusting and eager to please, plus she was easier on the eye than his playlist so, past experience led him to assume that he could easily open up the kind of “photo-dialogue” he clearly relished. In any case, it was worth a punt.

Confirmation bias did not help either of them to arrive at the right answer. But, at least in this case, nobody got hurt.

Don’t just believe in the good in people

My daughter, like her mother before her, was someone who needed to believe in the good in people.

Much as you might want to stick steadfastly to your own convictions about a person’s goodness, you cannot afford to miss the evidence of their badness.

In most cases, you don’t have to be around them for very long for that evidence to start to accumulate.

Commendable as it is to see the good in people, it is essential not just to acknowledge the bad but to modify your opinion of the place they deserve in your life accordingly.

Plus, you may have to review how you define the good in people.

This week, one client began by telling me that she had a “good partner” . What that actually meant was that he was by no means as bad as his predecessor. He wasn’t physically violent. He wasn’t consistently verbally abusive. But nor was he emotionally available.

The tell hidden in plain sight

This “good partner” wasn’t even that physically available inasmuch as he lived a decidedly separate life – to the point that he would only ever make his side of the bed.

How is that for a tell?

For her, that was normal – at least in the context of the relationship. She experienced it as a small quirk.

For me, it felt emblematic.  He could hardly have made it clearer what mattered to him and what did not. The relationship offered him a series of convenient perks: he had an unpaid cook, housekeeper, social secretary, optional +1, second income stream etc. etc.  From where he stood, that made sound sense.

But the bed that he only ever made on his side was a clear statement of how he saw  the terms of their relationship “contract”.

Dare to exercise your judgement muscle

Chances are that, like me, you have overlooked, denied or just missed tells of your own because you have not always dared to exercise your own judgement muscle.

So, how about changing that.  Let me ask you:

1)  Do you think that he was a “good” man?

2)  Does he sound to you like a “good” partner?

3) How “good” do you think a life around him could be?

4) How narcissistic and objectionable do you think he was to be?

Narcissists say one thing and do another

Narcissists do things that remind you how little you matter to them all the time. They do that even when their narrative tells you something completely different.

They can tell you how much they love you even while they show you how untrue that is. Or else, they can tell you and show you how little they care but still leave you in magnificent, world-class denial searching for the goodness that you know is locked deep inside them.

Valentine’s Day was a favorite date in my wasband’s calendar. Every year, without fail, he used the occasion to show me how much he did NOT love me. Some years he bought the romantic card and booked the plush restaurant. Then he withheld the romantic card because “I didn’t deserve it”; he then staged a Silent Treatment that meant we consumed the excellent food in stony silence.

Other years, just to mix it up, he opened his grievance ahead of Valentine’s Day and settled for a different kind of satisfaction.

And every year, it surprised me.

Because I just was not picking up on the tells.

What blinds you to the tells

Because I was still pouring good intentions into the relationship, I assumed that he must be, too.

In reality, the tells were there and had been right from the start. I could have known when he decided that we would spend our wedding night in the bedroom of a dingy, scruffy pub in a nasty part of town. But I told myself that he just needed educating in the social and emotional niceties.

I could have known…

We all could have known, so many times over.  But we didn’t?


Because narcissists and emotional abusers are very quick to teach you not to think for yourself. They teach you that the only way for you to view your reality is through their eyes. Mr Makes Only One Side of the Bed  could have argued that he “did his bit” to help around the house.  My wasband would have argued that his intentions were good but I always had to go and spoil everything.

Both managed to get themselves believed by smart, competent women because they had effectively divested us women of our ability to see pick up on the tells. We let our abusers dictate to us our understanding of the reality.

Make your own independent judgements

A key part of the healing process after narcissistic abuse, is learning to make your own judgements. You have to be able to look at the tells and even listen to another person’s explanation of the tells  and say to yourself:

“No, I am not buying that. That is not okay by me. They can justify themselves as much as they like but this is not good enough. I am out.”

Much as you might like to believe in the good in people, you owe it to yourself to stop giving credence where no credence is due.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

6 thoughts on “Narcissists say one thing but their tells show you another”

  1. What if a third party convinced your adult child that we were against him/her and eventually manipulated that adult child to estrange from the family. Only that persons family and successful people were really valuable. That 3rd party won’t even marry but was going to have a wedding for show but never sign the license. Said it was for tax purposes. What if the adult child believes it all and is ok with the estrangement ? Now 2 yrs estranged . What if the adult child’s sibling reached out from her being estranged (their doing) when she found out recently she has breast cancer. The reply to her is: good luck with your diagnosis, and made it all about the partner!!! What if we can never see our adult child and grandkids again?

    Why is it so hard to find counsel on estrangement that the parents are not at fault, but the undercurrent is from the estranged narcissist partner!!!

    • Really hard. There is no easy answer.

      I think in those circumstances you have to find your own way to be at peace with the reality.


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