What are the most effective ways to talk to and shut down a narcissist?
We asked experts to shed some light to this question.
Relationship Coach | Author, MAGIC Words: How To Get What You Want From a Narcissist
When dealing with a narcissist, every encounter must be thought of as a business deal. You always have to be two steps ahead of his thinking. You must be proactive, not reactive. You must make a plan and have a strategy.
Should you emotionally engage with your narcissist, it is game over. You will be sucked into their Narcissistic Vortex: the chaotic abyss of hell, with the intent of confusing you enough that you’ll back down. To shut down a narcissist, you must perform the MAGIC, a formulaic approach disengages the power struggle:
MAGIC is to…
- M- Map their Persona
- A – Assess their fears and insecurities
- G – Goal Set
- I – Identify your words
- C – Communicate
“I hear you”
A narcissist’s top agenda is always to be heard or seen. Being heard is a drug to him – he can never get enough, and should his supply run low, he will do anything to get his next fix. So when you see your narcissist displaying child-like behavior such as a temper tantrum, incessant texting, or trying to get his way, try responding with, “I hear you,” and then repeat back to him exactly what you heard (or read).
I hear you. You are concerned that if I take half of your 401K, I am not deserving of it because I didn’t work and chose to stay home with the children. I see how this upsets you. Let me think about that and get back to you.
I hear you. You are concerned that if my mother watches the children instead of having them in aftercare, you won’t have access to them on your days. I can see why this might be perceived as a problem. Let me talk with my mother about your concerns and get back to you.
A narcissist loves a good argument. The more he engages with you, the more opportunities he has to break you down, insult you, and get his way. Of course, when his words are hurtful or blatantly wrong, you likely respond by telling him how wrong he is, hoping that you will change his mind.
Once again, you get sucked into the Narcissistic Vortex. Reminder: you will never change his mind because he doesn’t value anything you say. So stop trying.
When he has made his point, and you’ve made yours, and no agreement has been reached, stop engaging with him. For instance, after you tried the “I hear you” approach and told him you need to think about it, he might not be satisfied with your response. So, he might go to Defcon 2 and up the ante by name-calling or insulting. This is where you walk away and say nothing.
“I trust that”
Narcissists are notorious for being pathological liars. The more they lie, the more they believe their lie as a truth. Lying protects their fraudulent truth, which gives them supply when someone falls for it.
In the past, you may have called your narcissist a liar out of frustration or anger. Naturally, this approach didn’t work because calling him a liar only threatens his false sense of self. If you want something from him, you must appear to be playing along with his fictional narrative.
I trust that we will co-parent through this.
I trust that your agreeing with me on this will show our son how much you support him.
I trust that you’ll drop the kids off on time because I know how punctual you like to be. Thank you.
“Everything is going to be okay”
When narcissists don’t feel as if they’re in control, they get anxious, panicky, or hyper-focused on the issue at large. You might have once made the false assumption that you both will logically and rationally discuss the issue, only to find yourself back in his vortex.
Should a problem or concern arise, take a step back and observe his behavior. If the issue requires mutual problem-solving, the worst thing you can say is, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” You’re just setting him up for another temper tantrum.
See him as a child and use the phrase, “Everything is going to be okay,” and then explain why all is under control. This isn’t a patronizing voice but one that is truly sincere. Remember, if your narcissist lacked mothering in his childhood, he might subconsciously find reassurance and calm with this approach. Always add in other reassurances that might neutralize his fears or insecurities.
Everything is going to be okay. I realize you can’t attend our child’s doctor’s appointment, but I will take notes and text
them to you the moment the appointment is finished.
Everything is going to be okay. We already agreed to 50/50 custody, so my taking the kids on a trip this weekend only means that you will gain a weekend another time.
Clinical Psychologist | Inspirational Speaker |
Author, But It’s Your Family: Cutting Ties with Toxic Family Members and Loving Yourself in the Aftermath
The best way to shut down a narcissist is to not engage with them at all and to go no contact
People that are narcissistic want things from you – they want your attention and your emotional reaction. They don’t care if that attention from you comes in the form of loving them or if it comes in the form of buying into their flagrant abusive behavior.
As long as all of your thoughts and emotions are geared toward them – they are happy – even it’s negative. For this reason, if you want to shut a narcissist down, you need to go no contact and give them zero attention and zero of your emotional reaction.
Clinical Psychologist | Author, #IsHeHereYet: Being the Person You Want to Be With
Some say the psychoanalytic roots of Narcissism is a lack of maternal empathy. While this may be true, it’s hard to be empathetic with a narcissist. However, here are some tricks to feign empathy and possibly shut them down or at the very least, turn them down a few notches:
Validate their greatness
Not in the overt way of saying how great they are. When they are discussing an event in which they feel wronged or they were accused of something, simply verify that they are better than that. I was working with a narcissistic client and he was all upset about how this receptionist treated him.
I took this approach the following: “Well, let’s take a look at how smart you are.” Sometimes, you just have to play the game and yes people. The thing is, you are just saying yes to get what you want and not because you are necessarily agreeing with them. Therefore, you will have the upper hand in the situation and they won’t even know it and no arguments will ensue.”
When offering a suggestion to a narcissist, make them think it is their idea somehow
For example, you can say something like, “would you consider trying this….” If you know this narcissist well enough, tie it back to something you know they love like. A narcissist will never take a suggestion from someone else. They need to take the credit for this idea. Give them that opportunity by offering a suggestion instead of giving it to them or telling them to do something.
This all may sound manipulative but you have to consider that narcissists believe they are infallible. Therefore, you have to meet them at their level. You are not overtly manipulating but trying to have some semblance of a stable conversation with them before their egos expand to engulf the room you may be in.
Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, LMFT, ATR
Licensed Psychotherapist | Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Create Your Life Studio
Narcissists cannot love you fully because they are people already in a love-hate relationship. They are people who are in love, and also in hate, with themselves! Someone who has narcissistic personality disorder has a strong need for attention, validation, praise, admiration, and affirmation.
Not only is this black hole of needs unhealthy and dangerous to themselves, but it is also super-toxic to anyone in a relationship with them. “When it comes to love, being nice is not a protective factor with narcissists, it is a risk factor.” When trying to examine the behavior of someone around you that you feel may be a narcissist, Scott-Hudson says to look for two distinct styles of speech.
First of all, remember that NPD sufferers want all of the recognition of being seen as superior without any of the necessary hard work, efforts, and achievements that go along with it.
So, if you see someone constantly bragging that they are the best, Kanye and Dj Khaled style, without any back-up or proof of their efforts, hard work, or achievements, they may have a classic symptom of narcissism.
Secondly, when they are not achieving success, narcissists always find a way to blame everybody else, never themselves.
“A hallmark symptom of narcissism is blaming others for their lack of success.” Writer Johnathan Franzen once said, “Nice people don’t necessarily fall in love with nice people.” Pay attention to people who are overly braggadocious and blaming, they may be on the narcissistic spectrum.
Narcissists do not fight fairly, they become consumed with discrediting you and smearing your good name.
If you are going through a divorce or a break-up with a narcissist, you can most certainly be traumatized by the experience. They actually become energized by the supply of the drama, it is exciting to them. They can dedicate themselves to your downfall in ways that are unimaginable to the rest of us. They like to get into the mud and win.
Change your definition of winning
Instead of merely focusing on equity, which you may not get, focus on your definition of winning to include unhooking from the narcissist. Those of you with PTSD from childhood are particularly vulnerable to being further retraumatized in divorcing a narcissist.
You may be wounded from a childhood abuser’s lack of accountability or remorse, and the narcissist’s own lack of accountability or remorse can be extremely triggering during the divorce process. Divorcing a narcissist becomes “Same circus, different clowns.” from your earlier abusers.
Find a psychotherapist who is well-versed in Narcissistic Personality Disorder
You will need a healthy support system to remind you that you are not crazy and to help you detach from this toxic dynamic. Thankfully, it gets easier once you go No Contact if you are able to make a clean break, or Low- Contact, if you are still co-parenting with your ex.
Start focusing on your own thoughts, needs, and feelings, which you have likely suppressed for far too long.
Mary Joye, MA, PA
Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Winter Haven Counseling
The three supreme ways to shut down a narcissist are:
Make calm, peaceful statements and then the crazy-making behavior and gaslighting on their side will stop. When someone that’s narcissistic talks over you, you talk over them to prove a point, both of your voices will escalate in volume and rapidity. This is created anxiety by the nurse assessed. They love to use your own anger against you.
Keep talking calmly and then they can’t say why are you yelling? You’re so crazy? No one can target you if you step off the battlefield. Don’t argue. It’s pointless to try to prove your point. They’re baiting you and beating you if you fall in this trap.
Related: How to Talk to a Narcissist
Use diplomacy and make statements when you have to speak with them
Never ask a question such as, “Why are you doing this to me or why are you being so mean?” The answer will always be some version of “It’s your fault”. Again, they are baiting you. Make statements such as, “When you stop being cruel, I will speak with you.” Calmness and diplomacy is the narcissist’s enemy.
If the above survival tactics fail, and going no contact is impossible, which it usually is, then limit your time with them to expand on the time you spend on yourself enjoying your life. I use this equation for my clients in Narcissistic abuse: “Less exposure = More composure. “
Dave Popple, Ph.D.
President, Psynet Group
Have some empathy
The true narcissist is covering up for some very deep issues around self-worth. Their behavior is so extreme because it is not based in reality.
Ask for behavioral-based evidence supporting their claims
Because their behavior is not based in reality, the solution is to constantly question their claims, asking for behavioral-based evidence that they are true. If the narcissist claims to be the greatest in something, ask them how they know this to be true. Follow that question up by asking for examples that show they are the greatest.
For the stories that are highly unlikely, remark that they don’t sound true. Additional questions include: “Who could I ask to verify that?” or “Where could I look that up?”.
The questions themselves will begin to bring the self-doubt to the surface even if he or she provides a response. The more questions, the more the distortion either come unraveled or grows to the point where it is untenable and even foolish.
When this happens, you can expect all the pain and anger associated with the self-loathing to come to the surface, which will lead to behavior that will further expose them. Sometimes this leads to violence against themselves or others so be prepared.
Therefore, the best solution to a narcissist is to separate yourself or your company from them. Shutting them down in the manner I described should only be done as a last resort.
Maryellen Dance, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor | Owner, QL Therapy & Wellness
Unfortunately, there is no good or straightforward solution. People who struggle with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are incredibly manipulative and most often have higher than average IQ. This makes it difficult for anyone to engage in a productive conversation with someone who is narcissistic.
Do not engage
I like to think of conversations like Carousels, you know, the spinning rides in malls with all of the horses? A conversation with someone who is narcissistic is like being on a never-ending Carousel ride. It goes in constant circles, passing by the same landmarks, driving anyone a bit mad!
If we (as the non-narcissistic person) choose to stay off of the Carousel and just wave from afar at the person on the Carousel, we will be happier and more at peace. People who are narcissistic are stubborn, want to fight, they want to go around and around on the never-ending Carousel, they “win” when whoever they are fighting with feels like the “crazy” person on the Carousel all night long.
If we do not engage, stay detached, and keep a safe distance from that Carousel, then the narcissistic person will give up and go on to other prey.
Certified Mental Health Expert | Family Care Professional, Maple Holistics
Ignore their bait
As with any bully, narcissists are looking for a response from you. Turning the other cheek can protect you from unwarranted attacks both now and in the future. Manipulation is a two-person game, so if you take a step back, there’s only one player – not such a fun game after all. When you respond calmly without taking the bait, it takes the wind out of the narcissist’s sails.
Set your boundaries
Due to the fact that narcissists like to be in control, it can be difficult to communicate effectively with them. Set clear boundaries and don’t compromise on them. When it comes to sticking to the boundaries that you have created, it’s more about you than it is about the narcissist.
They will inevitably cross boundaries, and solidifying the boundaries in your mind, or even in writing, is the only way to ensure that they stay in place.
Having insight into a narcissist’s psyche and mindset puts you in a position of strength. Understanding their weaknesses is almost as good as having a peek at their playbook in affording you the ability to predict their behavior.
To that end, here are the things assholes hate the most, and how best to shut them down:
Cut off their supply
That means no contact with you. “Going no contact” is the term used to describe distancing yourself from a narcissist. Narcissists need continuous “supply” and to feed off the attention of others.
When they don’t have the attention they crave, they are starved for the very thing that sustains them. When you reject them and they are alone, they will very quickly move on to find a supply in someone new.
Make fun of them
Narcissists are extremely sensitive and have no sense of humor when the humor is directed at them. Making fun of them is not something they will participate in. They only have a sense of humor at the expense of other people.
Ignore the narcissist
This really gets under their skin because they view themselves as all-important. They would rather be hated than ignored. In fact, they get off on pushing your buttons, i.e. making you sad, or insecure, or angry. They love to trigger emotions in us. Their worst fear is being completely irrelevant.
When we ignore them and refuse to react and don’t care anymore, they are deflated. Responding to their button-pushing in a calm manner will throw them off-center and annoy them.
Call them out on their bad behavior
However, a note of caution is in order. This is very dangerous territory. They will become very angry when their bad behavior is exposed to others. However, if your objective is to end a relationship with a narcissist, consider this approach. Just have a fast horse, if you know what I mean.