The “Rhodes Scholar” Thing Isn’t Just a Dumb Gaffe

It’s an example of how narcissists weaponize language

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Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

The world salad and “parroting”

Many of us struggle to find the right words to properly express ourselves. But my ex — and it took me forever to figure this out — didn’t really have a self, or identity. He was entirely motivated and fueled by reactions from other people, in a very surface, call-and-response kind of pattern. There was no depth. No self-reflection, no analysis. He saw the world as constantly assailing him, firing shots that he must instantaneously deflect. There was no absorption.

The vacuousness and spitballing

There’s a sense of emptiness when speaking with a narcissist. I rarely saw my ex struggle to make himself understood. His rhetorical strategy was not to dig deep, it was to fire things off as quickly as possible to see if something would “stick” or fetch him the reaction he wanted. It was like hearing a robot eject a randomly-selected list of catchphrases that roughly fit criteria for the current moment. For example, “angry,” “accusation,” and “being late” were three of the inputs he might have used for a given phrase-selection algorithm. Then it was a trial-and-error process of testing model fit: Which of the pre-loaded, ready-to-go phrases will be most effective in this case? Which one would surely land under my skin?

The inattentiveness

My ex never really followed the thread of what I was saying. There was too much emotional complexity that was just straight-up inaccessible to him. I imagine it was like hearing someone speak a foreign language.

The inability to listen

My ex was not curious about feelings or thoughts I’d try to describe. He never asked me for clarification on something — unless it was a trap. I rarely heard him trying to logically analyze something, like “Okay, so I’m hearing you say [X]. Does that mean that you also [Y]?” These deep, contextual connections seemed to be too costly an energy expenditure. He never asked, “Can you explain that in more detail? Do you know why you [do that]/[feel that way]?” Very low inquisitiveness. Sad.

No ability to understand — only win

My ex viewed compromise as failure. Because his survival, as he saw it, was contingent on controlling others, he spent all his energy on learning those shallow, surface, input-output relationships, and predicting which words were most capable of destabilizing my position. Going deeper was unnecessary and too difficult for him to justify spending energy on. He just didn’t have the time or the bandwidth for it.

I’m a PhD student studying neuroscience and statistics, with penchants for futurism, socialism, and Taoism. Am ruled by a tiny dictator.

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