Narcissists deal with conflict in odd ways.
Many narcissists proudly claim they are neutral in the situation even in extreme situations. If their adult child is going through a break up or divorce, for example, they stay on friendly terms with the ex even when there aren’t grandchildren involved or any other reason to stay in relationship with that person. Even if he beat his wife or she cheated on him, the narcissistic parents stay friendly with the ex, not caring that this hurts their child or the child’s new spouse. In fact, they may sing the praises of the ex to the new spouse. Been there with my late mother in-law & sisters in-law, in fact. The mother in-law told me not long after we got married how disappointed she was my husband married me instead of an old girlfriend. His sisters loved to mention this lady to me frequently & kept my husband current on what happened in her life for years after we were married. (I’m not sure if they still do that or not- after me getting mad about the last time (we’d been together for 12 years at that point, married for 10), my husband probably wouldn’t tell me if they did.).
If they are a witness to a conflict, many narcissists avoid getting involved. If someone is being hurt physically or mentally, it’s not their problem as far as they are concerned. That conflict is between those two people, period, so they ignore it. Many won’t even simply call 911 upon witnessing a crime. I heard a story once about a lady who was killed outside of her apartment building in the 1950s’s. 38 people claimed to have heard her screaming for help, some even saw the attack from their apartment windows, but only 2 called the police. Every other person said they didn’t want to get involved, even though they knew this lady was in danger.
Other narcissists are afraid if they get involved, someone will end up angry with them, so they stay out of the conflict. For example, my mother once told me of seeing the husband of a friend of hers & my father’s with another woman. I asked if she told the woman, & she said “Oh no! I couldn’t do that! They might get mad at me.” (Seriously?! If that was my husband, I’d want to know & would NOT be angry with the person who told me- my anger would be reserved for my husband at that point. Pretty sure this is how almost anyone would feel in this position!) She asked if I’d tell if I was in her position & I said absolutely I would. It’d be hard, but this lady has a right to know so she can figure out what to do about this. My mother looked at me like a deer in the headlights. She clearly had no concept of what I was saying.
Sometimes narcissists will get involved, trying to rescue the victim, in a limited capacity, if they think it will make them look good. In junior high school, a girl threatened to beat me up. I’m not sure why. I was afraid, but after growing up with my mother, had learned that if you don’t stand up to a bully, they’ll run right over you. Backing down wasn’t an option in my mind. I told my mother about this girl. The next day, my mother went to the principle. During class, the girl yelled at me for telling on her, but at least she left me alone. (A good thing- she was a lot bigger than me!) To this day, my mother tells how she saved me from getting beaten up. According to her, I wanted to stay home to avoid that girl, but she wouldn’t let me. She made me face my fears & she talked to the principle, & if it wasn’t for her, I would’ve been beaten up. As usual, her version was very different than reality.
People who don’t have Narcissistic Personality Disorder but have some narcissistic tendencies also may behave this way. Perhaps they grew up with at least one narcissistic parent, so they learned that this is how you are supposed to act. My husband told me years ago that his mother & I not getting along was not his problem, it was all mine. I needed to deal with it & leave him out of it. Interestingly, his father’s mother never liked his wife, & his father never did anything about that. My husband learned by example of his narcissistic parents.
In any case, the narcissist responds in the passive/aggressive the way they do for one reason only- themselves. As with everything else, the situation comes back to them. They’re all that matters to themselves, period. Will they look good if they rescue someone? Can they get involved & people will still like them? Or, will they look better not getting involved? After all, what if someone got mad at them? GASP!! The horrors!!
Being aware of this behavior in narcissists will help you not to expect help from them in the way a normal, healthy person would give it. Also you’ll know they may completely ignore your crisis entirely. When that happens, you can chalk it up to typical narcissistic behavior.