How to Talk to a Narcissist, According to 6 Experts

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Interacting with a narcissistic person can be very difficult. You might feel a mixture of emotions that you’re not particularly fond of.

So, what are things you should do and things you should avoid when talking to a narcissist?

We asked experts to share their insights.

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.

Laurie Hollman

Adult Psychotherapist

If you give the narcissist a sense that you find him or her special, you will find an attentive listener

When talking with someone with features of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it’s appreciated by this person if you listen carefully to him or her and admire and appreciate all that is said focusing on his or her accomplishments and ideas.

The narcissist is looking for this recognition while having trouble empathizing with your thoughts and ideas at the same time.

You may discover the narcissists go on rather endlessly because they are concerned with you hearing attentively all they have to say. You may notice a sense of self-importance that needs to be affirmed.

Behind the potential overestimation of his or her abilities and accomplishments may lie a deep feeling of inferiority which is surprising given what is spoken of. Many narcissists are indeed quite successful and accomplished which is very important to them. Your commenting specifically on their endeavors is thus of great value to their self-esteem.

If you don’t feel that your responses are reacted to in kind, this may be because you are talking more about yourself than the narcissist is interested in. Or, the narcissist may be envious of your accomplishments and not want to expand upon them with you.

It’s important not to take this as a personal rejection of you, it is more indicative of what the narcissist needs for him or herself. If indeed, as you speak, you give the narcissist a sense that you find him or her special, you will find an attentive listener. This is what’s wanted by the narcissist.

If you are in a group setting, you will find the narcissist wants to be the center of attention.

If you want to be in his or her favor, you may choose to go along with this need and focus principally on him or her rather than other members of the group. If it is a special occasion for the narcissist, like his or her birthday, it will be expected that you make a concerted effort to keep the narcissist in the limelight.

In fact, the narcissist will most likely be quite charming and light up the room drawing the needed attention that is sought.

Related: What Is Narcissistic Abuse?

Dr. Sherrie Campbell

Sherrie Campbell

Clinical Psychologist | Inspirational Speaker | 
Author, But It’s Your Family: Cutting Ties with Toxic Family Members and Loving Yourself in the Aftermath

Silence is the key

There really is no talking to a narcissist unless you’re going to please them and let them have their way. If you have any difference of opinion, taste or interest from them there will be conflict.

This is why I say silence in your superpower with narcissists. Silence cannot be misquoted. With a narcissist anything say can and will be held against you.

Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, LMFT, ATR

Christine Scott-Hudson

Licensed Psychotherapist | Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Create Your Life Studio

Less talk

Do not share anything personal, ever, no matter how nice they may seem in the moment. Narcissists don’t tend to change. Never offer up anything vulnerable to a narcissist. As Dr. Brené Brown says, “Only share your story with people who have earned the right to hear it. “

Keep your interaction short

Do more listening than talking. Ask them about neutral subjects like tv shows, or the weather. Do not reveal anything about yourself at all. Keep a half-smile and listen.

If you have to spend time with them, try to watch sports on tv, or a television show, or a movie. Keep your focus on what you are watching.

Keep your words to an absolute minimum

Get up to get a drink of water, or use the bathroom. Give yourself space and distance. Try to sit as far away from them as possible, no matter where you are. Keep out of their line of vision. Sit behind them or several people down from them. Protect yourself.

Rebecca Ogle, LCSW

Rebecca Ogle

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Don’t encourage their bragging

Narcissists often spend time bragging about their accomplishments, status, and money. It gets old, fast. They’re hoping for you to fawn over them. Be minimum polite – “Good for you” – but don’t act overly impressed or ask follow-up questions. That way you aren’t reinforcing the behavior of bragging.

Don’t give them special treatment

Narcissists often have a sense of entitlement. If they’re pushing you to give them special treatment or go beyond your boundaries for them, don’t. Stick to your guns. Be polite but firm. Put it back on them.

“If you want me to do (x), these are my terms. It’s your choice whether or not you accept them.” Just keep repeating that as many times as needed.

Avoid arguments

Narcissists whose egos have been wounded may lash out or try to cut you down. Don’t feed into it by defending yourself or arguing. Simply say, “Well, I can’t control how you see me.”

If they yell or become verbally abusive, hang up the phone, block their texts, or leave the room. This sends a clear message: I will not allow you to be verbally abusive to me.

Additional thoughts

  • Narcissists have difficulty empathizing with others. It is probably a waste of your time to try to explain how they make you feel. Instead, explain how doing (x) will benefit THEM or make them look good..
  • Remember that there is nothing you can say to a narcissist to change their nature. They are who they are. So just stay focused on living by your values and maintaining your boundaries.

Mary Joye, LMHC

Mary Joye

Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Winter Haven Counseling

Don’t argue with a narcissist

Do calmly confront and hold your position diplomatically. They set you up to get you upset, which is crazy-making behavior, and you will fall into their trap if you are you with them. They love to use your anger against you so they can look superior.

For example. They will talk over you and then you raise your voice and then they confront you for yelling and call you crazy.

Don’t ask a narcissist questions or for advice.

Do make statements instead. For example. Narcissists truly believe they are always right. If you listen to their advice and they don’t take it they will become very angry.

If you ask them questions such as “Why are you being so mean? “ the answer will probably be some version of, “It’s your fault.”

I am often asked as a therapist if a narcissist knows what they’re doing. The answer sadly, most of the time, is yes. They don’t know why they are doing it or why they are hurting you but they feel better when you feel bad. They are downloading their own self-loathing onto you. Don’t be a willing participant by arguing with them or asking questions.

Don’t cut off a narcissist

Do limit exposure. I know this goes against the grain of almost everything you read about narcissistic personality disorder. If someone is abusive to you absolutely you can cut them off. However, many of these people are mothers, fathers, bosses, or customers.

I tell people not to burn the bridge but to stand on the other side and wait for that person to meet them in the middle. Don’t expect an apology as narcissists never apologize.

They will say things like, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” but that is a veiled apology. It is blame-shifting. It’s your feelings that are making you feel that way.

Less exposure is more composure!

Shirin Peykar, LMFT

Shirin-Peykar

Psychotherapist | Founder, Let’s Talk Divorce

The most effective way to express an issue with a narcissist is to compliment, confront, and end with another compliment

Narcissists need admiration and praise like it’s their air and water. When speaking to a narcissist, the use of positive statements about them (i.e. complimenting their looks, how great they are, how grateful you are to have them in your life, etc.) provides them with narcissistic supply, which temporarily soothes their lack of self-esteem.

Because of their insecurities, narcissists are sensitive to criticism, which makes communication with them feel like you are walking on eggshells most of the time.

Being mindful that it is their fear and insecurity that drives them to say and do such inconsiderate things may help you in avoid becoming defensive. Rather, offer a few words of praise and avoid topics that might be triggering for you both.