(Read time: 1-2 mins.)
Word salad is a psychiatric term used to describe words expressed in a random, incoherent order, resulting from a neurological disorder. The words may be grammatically correct, but semantically confused, making it impossible to extract any meaning from them.
The term is also used in the narcissistic abuse community to describe a common gaslighting tactic the narcissist uses to frustrate, confuse, and subjugate his partner, such as in the examples below. The narcissist will employ these tactics when he feels he is losing control of his partner, or sometimes out of sheer boredom.
“Do you want ranch with your salad?” “Sure, I love ranch dressing.” He brings the salad; with blue cheese dressing. “Oh, it’s blue cheese. Could you please bring me the ranch dressing?” “Why are you talking about ranch dressing!? I don’t have ranch dressing!” “You asked me if I would like ranch dressing…” “No I didn’t. You are so selfish and demanding. Most women would appreciate it if someone made a salad for them, but you’re never satisfied.” “But…you said…” “No I didn’t! You’re losing it – you can’t even remember a conversation you had ten minutes ago!” “But you…” “But what?! I’ve had enough of this! There’s always something with you, nothing I do is good enough for you!”
At this point the partner has forgotten about the salad dressing. In fact, she doesn’t even know what just happened, except she feels attacked, emotionally bruised, dazed and defensive because she’s just been accused of being demanding, selfish, unappreciative, and crazy – just for wanting something that was offered to her.
The word salad tactic is particularly effective, because the narcissist will often engage in word salad during more mundane, everyday types of conversations, or when the partner is distracted with something else. This makes it more difficult for the partner to remember for certain exactly what was said.
A conversation about a groceries is a good illustration. On the way out the door, the partner might mention the items she plans to buy at the grocery store. When she returns with the groceries, the narcissist will accuse her of forgetting something, bread, for instance. She says that she didn’t plan to buy bread, that she didn’t mention bread. The narcissist will go on the offense, and insist she did. She disagrees. He challenges her, and keeps tossing the word salad until she capitulates to keep the peace, and the narcissist increases his control.
Another word salad tactic is the salad spinner – circular conversations – that the narcissist keeps spinning until the partner becomes totally frustrated.
In circular conversations the partners typically have opposing views, dig in their heels, and the conversation – which typically becomes an argument – spins round and round without resolution.
It’s important to point out that just because circular conversations involve the partners’ intractable opposing views on an issue, it does not mean that the issue is deep and serious. The narcissist is an expert at creating conflict out of anything. He will see an opportunity to create discord, and pounce.
In healthy relationships between emotionally mature people, the partners will “agree to disagree”, quit spinning it around, and put it to rest. This does not happen with a narcissist, who has to win, and who has the emotional maturity of a child.
The narcissist will purposely provoke his partner by bringing up the same issue at various times and occasions; not because he is interested in finding a resolution. Because, even though a narcissist will often say that he doesn’t like conflict and drama – he lives and breathes on the conflict, drama, and tension that he creates in the relationship. And, one way to keep this going is to keep using the salad spinner.
It’s a control mechanism, and the narcissist uses it quite intentionally.
Don’t eat the salad
Word salad is exhausting, crazymaking, and debilitating. Don’t eat it. For partners who are still involved with a narcissist the following strategies may help:
1) Always know what you know, what you say, and what you said to the narcissist.
2) Correct, don’t capitulate: “I’m sorry you were under the impression I was going to buy bread. If you would like some I will get it next time I go out.” End of story.
3) State your position and leave it at that. Do not engage with the narcissist when he spins the salad. Let it fly out and fall on the floor.
4) Don’t put up with it. Walk away, and go do something else.
3 Key takeaways
1) Word salad is mental abuse. It is a gaslighting technique narcissists deliberately use to provoke and control the partner.
2) Word salad is a no-win situation for the partner. The narcissist is interested in conflict, not communication.
3) The best strategy to deal with word salad is, don’t. Don’t engage. State your position calmly and move on to something else.