Do you find yourself caught in arguments with someone who uses narcissistic tactics? It helps to know what they might say and how to respond effectively.
Arguing with someone who has narcissistic traits can leave you feeling hurt and confused.
People on the narcissism spectrum — from those with narcissistic traits to those with diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) — may have an intense desire to win arguments, as it helps keep their ego intact.
At times, it may seem as though they’ll accomplish this by any means necessary. As a result, there are many things people with narcissistic traits say in an argument to gain the upper hand.
Talking to someone with narcissism can be a challenge. This article looks at some narcissistic argument techniques, why people use them, and ways to protect yourself.
If you confront a narcissist about something hurtful, they may downplay what occurred or minimize the events that took place.
This could sound like:
- “Relax, this isn’t a big deal.”
- “I did that before and you didn’t care.”
- “I didn’t think you would be upset over something so petty.”
It can also sound like using softer language to make a behavior seem less hurtful. For example, stealing may become “borrowing your money without asking.”
Research shows that those who live with narcissism often carry an innate sense of victimhood, which is why they might shift the blame over to you, someone else, or another external factor they have little control over.
Shifting blame and defensiveness can sound like:
- “It’s not my fault, it’s because of you/money/stress/work.”
- “If you wouldn’t have done this, I wouldn’t have done that.”
- “You knew what you were getting into; this is just the way that I am.”
If you can’t spot what’s happening when someone plays the victim card, you may find yourself feeling bad and apologizing for a perceived slight.
As a result, they may outright deny that they said or did something hurtful, a strategy called gaslighting, even in the face of proof. This can leave you doubting your own sense of reality.
This can sound like:
- “I never said that.”
- “That never happened.”
- “Your evidence doesn’t prove anything.”
Gaslighting isn’t always outright or overt. It can also take the form of diversionary tactics that confuse the other person or make it very difficult to address the issue at hand.
Those who live with narcissism may find it difficult to hold positive and negative feelings for someone at the same time. As a result, things may get heated in an argument. You may experience insults, put-downs, and even mocking behaviors, like laughing as you express hurt.
Some examples include:
- “That’s stupid.”
- “You’re so crazy.”
- “There’s something wrong with you.”
When faced with indisputable proof (like receipts, photos, e-mails), someone with narcissistic traits may redirect attention back onto you as a distraction.
Deflection can include:
- Indirect or non-answers: bringing unrelated details into the mix.
- Prior arguments: bringing up old issues, particularly your prior “offenses.”
- Guilt-tripping: “After everything I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me?”
- Projection: accusing you of exactly what they are doing.
If you’re caught in an argument, there are ways to stay empowered.
It can help to approach the person outside of an argument, or when you’re not feeling emotionally aroused. This means you can think more clearly and find it easier to use the strategies discussed below.
Try to focus on the facts
With a limited capacity for empathy, a narcissist may not be able to truly understand how you feel. Instead, focus on the logical facts — the objective truth, rather than your subjective truth.
This sounds like:
- “In my e-mail, I listed the deadline as 5 p.m.”
- “In therapy, we agreed that kissing is cheating.”
- “On the lease, it says that no smoking is allowed.”
Focus on ’I’ statements
Phrasing your points in the form of “I” statements can help you get through to the person. For instance, you could say, “I feel as though you are not considering my needs in this,” instead of saying, “you are being selfish.”
Try to stay calm
You may find it helpful to consider the “grey rock” approach.
That is, try to become so boring that the other person doesn’t find it appealing to try and incite a reaction out of you, because you’ll give them nothing. If possible, maintain a neutral face, peaceful attitude, and limited emotional reactions (called a flat affect), especially in the face of anger.
You can also try:
- taking deep breaths
- pausing between sentences
- excusing yourself for a few minutes
Try to stay focused
If possible, do not allow yourself to get derailed by manipulation tactics. Try to concentrate on one subject at a time. If it helps, write down your talking points for easy reference.
Try to assert your boundaries with confidence
In order to hold your ground, set healthy boundaries and maintain direct eye contact.
This can sound like:
- “You just made the statement that I am crazy. I will not stand for you saying that again.”
- “If you continue to yell at me, I will leave.”
- “I need a 15-minute break, then we can resume this discussion.”
Try to release your expectations
Common ground may not be an achievable goal. Instead, try to show up for yourself. Look after yourself and don’t worry about their side — that’s on them.
And though you may possess empathy in spades, you may find it helpful to stop trying to understand the narcissist’s behaviors. Instead, focus on your own healing work and recharge with some self-care after an argument.
Consider imposing a time limit
If the argument is going nowhere and making you feel bad, try to end the interaction peacefully. For example, you might say, “I have an appointment at 2:00. I have to get going in 10 minutes.”
If you’re in danger, leave ASAP
In some cases, a relationship with a person who has NPD can turn toxic, abusive, or dangerous. If someone starts making threats against you in any way, it’s best to leave the argument as soon as possible.
Some threats may include:
- calling the police on you
- taking legal action against you
- filing complaints with human resources or higher-ups
- physical threats toward you, loved ones, or your pets
Narcissism is a complex pattern of behavior.
It can impact two-way communication, as you may be coming to the argument seeking to understand, while they may be trying to
It can help to stay focused, set healthy boundaries, and know when to walk away.
You may also find it helpful to learn more about the topic of narcissism. Some helpful books include:
- “Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare” by Shahida Arabi
- “Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist” by Dr. Ramani Durvasula
- “Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist” by Margalis Fjelstad
Find help for domestic abuse
If you think you may be experiencing domestic abuse, support is available:
- You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 for free, confidential, 24/7 care and support.
- You can contact loveisrespect.org by calling 866-331-9474 or texting LOVEIS to 22522 for support if you think you could be in an abusive relationship.
You can also visit The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), a domestic violence prevention advocacy group with a list of resources for relationship abuse help.