Learn how to communicate with narcissistic tendencies and when you may want to consider setting boundaries.
We all want to feel heard, understood, connected, and supported in our conversations. But that’s not always the case when you’re talking with someone with narcissistic tendencies.
Whether this person lives with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or has narcissistic tendencies, knowing what to say (and what notto say) can help you communicate more effectively.
It’s essential to note that just because someone has characteristics of a narcissistic personality doesn’t always mean they live with NPD.
Experts suggest that only 0% to 5.3% of the population in the United States have NPD, with a higher prevalence among males. But the shared traits between people with NPD and those with narcissistic tendencies are similar.
According to Katie Ziskind, a holistic licensed marriage and family therapist in Connecticut, people with narcissistic tendencies might:
- tell you that you’re too sensitive or emotional
- blame others for their mistakes
- refuse to take ownership or responsibility for their actions
Conversations may also be:
- one-sided (predominantly about themselves)
- focused on material things or superficial topics
- like they’re talking at you and not with you
Keep in mind that people who live with NPD have a mental health condition that negatively affects their daily lives and relationships. NPD may cause distress to both the individual and everyone around them.
It’s not always easy to tell whether someone may be experiencing symptoms of narcissism.
If you suspect that someone in your life is displaying narcissistic characteristics, there are ways to speak with them that can be healthy for you both. While anyone can benefit from healthy communication strategies, remember that not all individuals with narcissistic tendencies may respond the same way.
Consider these 10 tips the next time you have a conversation with them.
Stay calm and respectful
“When talking to someone who has narcissistic personality disorder, you want to use respect and a calm tone of voice,” says Ziskind.
She suggests avoiding:
- talking down to them
- belittling them
- giving them a taste of their own medicine
“Don’t try to counter them, correct them, or embarrass them,” adds Christine M. Kuperman, a marriage, family, and trauma therapist in California.
These tactics could backfire and possibly lead to arguments or further pushback.
Use ‘I’ statements
Some phrases will be more effective at getting through to them than others. This includes “I” statements that highlight your needs, thoughts, and feelings within the relationship.
“Stay focused on sharing how you feel versus pointing out their flaws,” says Ziskind.
For instance, statements like “I feel that you didn’t hear what I said before” instead of “You never listen to me!” can start a more productive, empathetic dialogue.
She says that people with narcissistic tendencies tend to respond well to the following conversation starters:
- “I feel…”
- “I hear…”
- “I want…”
- “I wish…”
“These are all statements that show self-ownership and self-accountability,” she adds.
Advocate for yourself
“When speaking with a [person with narcissistic traits], we often feel that speaking our mind will come across as aggressive because we don’t like to upset others,” says Kuperman.
But it’s also important to speak up and assert yourself.
To advocate for yourself, Kuperman suggests knowing your boundaries, repeating your points, and staying strong in your position, even if they attempt to shame, blame, or gaslight you.
“Regardless of how you plan to move forward, your first steps in any relationship should have well-established boundaries and limits that you create to protect you,” Kuperman says.
She notes that setting boundaries may look like:
- “I will no longer allow you to speak to me this way.”
- “I refuse to engage in this behavior any longer while you’re yelling. Let’s talk, and I’ll stay.”
You could also try phrases like, “I won’t be continuing this conversation if you continue to insult me or belittle my feelings.”
Maintaining your boundaries along with a respectful tone can help keep the discussion healthy and productive.
Avoid certain phrases
The language you use matters when speaking with people with narcissistic tendencies. Some phrases might immediately shut them down and stop them from listening.
Consider avoiding “you always…” and “you never…” statements as well. These phrases may cause those with narcissistic traits to become defensive or argumentative.
Remember you’re not at fault
People with narcissistic tendencies tend to avoid taking responsibility for their own mistakes. As a result, they might try to pass off the blame to you, even if it’s unwarranted.
Try your best to stand up for yourself and avoid taking the heat for something that’s not your fault.
Know that you can’t change them
Ultimately, you can’t change the person living with NPD or narcissistic tendencies. So you may not want to spend your time and energy trying to change them or believing that maybe one day you can. This is who they are.
Rely on a support system
Speaking to people with narcissistic tendencies can be challenging. If the narcissistic person is your partner, it may be especially upsetting to feel like you’re not getting through to them.
Remember to lean on and surround yourself with trusted friends, family members, and loved ones for support.
“Fill your time with healthier people that help you feel uplifted and calm,” says Ziskind.
Find professional help
Getting help from a therapist can help, too.
A mental health professional can offer coping tips and more personalized suggestions on how to navigate your unique relationship with the person in your life who has characteristics of narcissistic personality.
Know when to step away
“Use your coping tools to let the person know that you’re getting triggered and need to take a break so that you can hear their important feelings,” Ziskind says. You can always come back to the conversation at a later point once you’ve both calmed down.
You might also consider cutting ties if this becomes a pattern that negatively affects your mental health and well-being.
It’s not always easy to end a relationship with someone who you care about, especially if they’re a long-term partner, spouse, or loved one.
Still, it may be time to walk away from someone with narcissistic tendencies if you feel:
- emotionally, verbally, or mentally abused
- repeatedly disrespected
- the conversations are consistently escalating or becoming heated
It’s possible to have successful conversations with the people in your life who have narcissistic tendencies or a personality disorder like NPD.
Although it may be challenging at times, consider keeping these tips in mind the next time you speak with them:
- stay calm and respectful
- share how they make you feel with “I” statements
- stand up for yourself and your position
- maintain boundaries, but try to be empathetic
- rely on a support system
If you need more help navigating your relationship or you’d like to learn better communication or coping skills, consider reaching out to a therapist for help.