Character Development,  Craft

Five Alliterative Responses From Your Emotionally Abusive Antagonist

It is a sad, but true fact that I used to know a narcissist intimately. In the course of this relationship, I noticed a pattern in the way that they would respond to me and I called it the “Four Is”. Yes, the title of this piece says five, but the fifth one is not really a response.

After I finally identified these abusers, documented the pattern, and sought therapy,  I can use this horrible experience to make my antagonists more emotionally and verbally abusive. 

Think about how you can make your antagonist respond in any of these four (or five) ways. 

An emotionally abusive antagonist will: 

1. Interrupt. If you want your antagonist to be hated by your reader have them interrupt the main character often. Now, it’s one thing if they are impulsive and poorly mannered, it’s quite another when the interrupter does this deliberately. Your antagonist is indicating that whatever the speaker says is unimportant and worthless. A habit of this minimizes the people around them. This is a subtle, manipulative and highly successful power move. Your antagonist needs to do this often. 

2. Insult. At their core, a malignant narcissist utterly hates themselves. To puff themselves up and make themselves feel better, they often mock and insult what is said from others. “Look who knows so much?” “Like you know what you’re talking about.” “Where did you get that information, egghead?” They do this by name-calling, smirking, throwing shade, and questioning the speaker’s intelligence, appearance, or upbringing. 

3. Insinuate. This is another strategy your emotionally abusive antagonist would use to tear down others. They will read into conversations things that aren’t there. They will accuse the speaker of all kinds of untruths, twisting each word around to put them on the defensive. They might even attach inappropriate meanings to the most innocent of words. Of all the things on this list, this tactic is my least favorite, because it often renders the original speaker powerless. Insinuations often elevate the frustration level of the speaker and can often result in them losing their temper. Unfortunately, it’s this reaction that the antagonist wants, especially in public. 

4. Interrogate. A narcissistic antagonist will be suspicious and jealous of things that the speaker has to say. They will question every little detail looking for inconsistency or fault. They won’t give the speaker the benefit of the doubt but will belittle them and battle them until they want to give up. Let’s say the speaker says something like, “I saw Susie at play rehearsal. We went for a Coke after.” The emotionally abusive antagonist will want to know where you got the money to go for a Coke, who saw you there, what time did you get there, what time did you leave, or did you speak to anyone else but Susie?

5. And they will ignore. This is the fifth response on the list because it’s not a response at all. And sadly, it’s the most painful. An emotionally abusive antagonist may use the silent treatment for whatever crimes, real or imagined, that the speaker has committed. And sadly, if the victim here dares ask what they did wrong to deserve to be ignored, they may get a “if you don’t know, I’m certainly not going to tell you,” kind of response. This is brutal. And it’s a pretty common tactic. 

All of these responses are awful, no question about that. If you include them, include also the real damage that they can cause their victims. If their relationship is a long one, this continued abuse could develop into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. Emotional abuse is considered more damaging than physical abuse. Responses like these make for truly evil, believable antagonists.

While I am sorry that I had to suffer in a long, long relationship with this specific baddie and their five Is, I’m grateful that I can make my antagonists more believable. 

And boy, am I grateful for therapy. 

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.