It can be difficult to deal with someone who is narcissistic, especially if they are in a position of power or influence.
Narcissists can be incredibly manipulative and destructive, so it’s important to know how to confront them and protect yourself.
Mary Joye, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Winter Haven Counseling
You can alarm them instead of disarming them
Though you cannot actually disarm a narcissist, you can alarm them.
This works by accessing their subconscious fear of abandonment. They are terrified you will detach and no longer be a source of narcissistic supply.
These tactics will keep you detached from their machinations to keep you in that physiological hook of a trauma bond cycle; when they are nice, you feel good about yourself, and when they are not, you feel confused and badly about yourself.
Do not allow their opinion of you to change your opinion of you.
All the ways below will require self-confidence and awareness you are not trying to change the narcissist (that is nearly impossible as they are disordered) but to change your response to them.
Related: Can Narcissists Change if They Want To?
What to say is just as important as how to say it, and every statement below should be:
- collected, and
Your confidence scares them. Remember that and practice it until it works.
Related: How to Make a Narcissist Fear You
They will not like any of these things, but you need to get your power back, and these seemingly benign statements will send them reeling from confusion.
“I expected that”
Say, “I expected that” when they are cruel or excessively kind. Narcissists have a pattern of idealizing you and devaluing you when you least expect it. If you do expect it, you will not be caught off guard.
They will put you on guard when you finally let them know you are on to them by saying, “I expected that.” Don’t say much of anything else.
“I refuse to argue with you”
Be emphatic but don’t be dramatic. No matter how they try to engage you in an argument, do not fall into the trap. When you fight with a narcissist or try to defend yourself or offend them, they see it as if you are still attached to them.
If you detach, their fear of abandonment kicks in, and you retain your peace and power.
“Your apologies are meaningless to me”
In the love bomb cycle, narcissists will apologize, and in the future fake telling, they will change. They will not, and if you have gone through these cycles, you have a pattern that needs to be broken.
If you announce their apologies no longer work because of their track record, you can get back on track with your authentic life.
Again, all of these statements will require great poise and posturing with vocal sincerity.
You have to stand your ground with these statements and not fall back into arguing, over-explaining, or attempting to get them to see the error of their ways.
Whether you think so or not, they are completely aware of what they are doing and have no intention of changing themselves, but it will change you if you do not quietly confront them. Be you and know they are terrified you will not tolerate their abuse.
Related: How Dating a Narcissist Changes You
“I will no longer tolerate your abuse or behavior”
If all else fails, announce, “I will no longer tolerate your abuse or behavior.” Then do not.
Going no contact is best, but if you cannot detach in your mind and realize you cannot and must not engage in a battle with a narcissist. They have set you up for lose/lose situations.
Your only defense is to discard them in any way that you can. It is the one weapon they fear the most and your secret one.
Do not let them know you have read things like this or that you know about their fear of abandonment. Be stealthy and healthy.
Related: How Does a Narcissist Handle Rejection and No Contact
Courtenay Baber, MS, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor, Gray Horse Counseling
Be calm and maintain boundaries
Narcissists are people who see the world from a particular point of view. Theirs.
They tend not to be able to see the world from any other point of view, as the name would suggest coming from Greek mythology about a hunter who only showed love for himself.
According to mythology, Narcissus was very beautiful and loved by many when he rejected a specific nymph’s attempt at affection; she ran off into the woods, never to be seen again.
This action angered the gods, so he was led to a pool and fell in love with his reflection there. Once he realized his love was a reflection, he either fell into the pool and drowned or committed suicide.
A slightly different version of the story reads that Narcissus was sitting on the water’s edge, grieving his twin sister’s death. It is presented that Narissisus was attempting to remember her face.
Narcissus grieves and dies and becomes a flower growing on the banks of the lake, and the bloom is facing the lake as if it were looking into it.
Of note in these different telling of the same story are the interpretation of his actions and the intent of his action. Greek superstition at the time stated it was unlucky to see one’s reflection.
The discussion of the meaning of Narcissus and the interpretation of his behavior continues in history and the discussion of the modern narcissist.
Modern narcissism now has many different names, from overt and covert narcissism to narcissistic personality disorder or just narcissistic traits.
Also interesting to note is that it is diagnosed most often in men. Fear not, ladies; we are catching up so we too can have equal opportunities to act this way, think this way, or both.
Personality Disorder is a persistent and pervasive way of interacting with the world that interferes with one’s ability to function.
A narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by:
- exaggerated self-centeredness,
- exaggerated self-image,
- a lack of empathy for others, and
- frailty in the sense of self
Up for discussion appears to be how the lack of empathy came to be. That is for a different conversation, but it can play into how to treat, think and handle narcissists.
At the first meeting, narcissists appear:
- charismatic, and
This is because they need to be the center of attention. They need to be correct, and they need to have their ego and personality stroked.
One way to think about this is to think about it similarly to addictions. So, the drug of choice is attention. When it is not given and received appropriately, similar behavior to those seen in addicts going through withdrawal or attempting to get a drug are exhibited.
So, they need to gain the attention of people and lots of them.
They also need to be in control of things or at least the appearance of power. They want to believe they can control everything and that they are perfect.
Related: How to Take Control Away From a Narcissist (40+ Ways)
This is also true for achievements. The appearance of achievement is as important to them as the achievement. They will appear to be interested people if it suits their needs and the person is interested in them or can help them gain attention, power, or achievement.
This changes when they are no longer the center of attention, and they must yield the floor to someone else, or someone challenges their position. They become angry quickly and start looking for a way to throw you.
So, if you ride this bronco, you will need to know how to hang on for 8 seconds.
Ways to disarm or stay on for your 8-second ride:
Stay calm; don’t let your emotions get the best of you
Do not let your emotions get the best of you. Narcissists pick fights for fun and want to see your reaction, so if you remain calm, you have just beat them at the game.
This is so much harder than it may sound, as they will be saying almost anything to get you to give them one of the three things you are craving: attention, control, and power over you.
If you remain calm, you will not be giving them anything they want. This will likely fuel them for a bit.
If you can be consistently calm with them, they will learn that you will not react, and it will no longer be fun or a challenge.
Set a boundary and don’t let anyone cross it
Be fair, firm, and consistent with your limit; know it is one you can keep. Please do not set the one unless you know you can keep it. Let there be a consequence for the behavior that you do not want.
Make sure that it is something that you are willing to do.
Do not say that you will leave, will not make dinner, or will not answer the phone if you know you will.
Start small with something you will do and will do consistently. Being inconsistent will make the behaviors worse if that is possible. The boundary can even be remaining calm… then work up from that.
This can be some work but helpful because you do not get sucked into what they say.
Related: How to Deal With Someone Who Doesn’t Respect Boundaries
Do not take responsibility for their actions
No matter how much they assert you are responsible or that someone else is accountable for their actions. They will not accept responsibility for their behaviors, so someone else must.
That will not be you. The boundary thing, remember.
This also goes back to wanting power and the perception of achievement or achievement.
If you are working with one, they will likely attempt to get credit for the work done by everyone else and demand that they did everything, or if things went badly, they would probably say they tried to steer things in a different direction.
So again, being firm in your assertion of what you know and yourself is essential for this one.
They will be persuasive to others about what they did and make many attempts to persuade them of what they did. If possible, use boundaries and calm to help hang on because responsibility is not something a narcissist will accept willingly.
Do not give attention, even negative attention
No attention is the worst. It means you do not care.
Negative attention is just as good as attention when you need attention. Depending on the situation, this may be the hardest thing on the list.
This means you must give them the same attention, no more or less than anyone else. I think there is a theme here about boundaries and being calm, but it is essential.
If you can be calm and not play into whatever they are attempting for you to play into, then the chances of being able to manage your well-being increase dramatically.
Engaging in a conversation and maintaining the boundary
“I will come back and talk to you when you can respond more appropriately,” We can agree to disagree on this. Remember, both opinions are important.
Remember, challenging people is a sport. They do it for fun. They change the story to fit their needs and their needs to match their story, so it is constantly changing, sometimes called gaslighting.
Related: How to Respond to Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a term that comes from a play in which the main character was attempting to convince his wife she was going insane by changing things in the house.
One of the things was the gas lamps in the house. It is a manipulation that changes the story at every turn, so it is often impossible to know what is true.
The victim of this loses the ability to trust in self and must rely on the narcissist, and viola, attention power, and control are achieved. Ride over.
In short, if you are going to disarm a narcissist, you will need to be very calm, you will need to maintain boundaries, and you will need to take care of yourself. Taking care of self will need to include more than just a hot bath at the end of the day or a glass of wine with friends.
It will be truly taking the time to listen to yourself and be able to process the time spent with a narcissist as they will drain the energy from you. You will need to know what gives you positive energy back and secure your sense of self.
Narcissists do not have a good sense of self.
It has been hypothesized that all the antics they do respond to fear that their sense of self will be damaged or seen as damaged.
If you can be secure in your sense of self and be calm, then disarming the narcissist will be tolerable and doable.
Founder and Lead Counsellor, Hope Therapy and Counselling Services
Attempt not to go into a defensive mode
It can be difficult and complex to communicate with a narcissist. A narcissist may attempt to blame and manipulate you whilst painting themselves as the victim. They will also hold what you say against you, which can make conversing with them extremely stressful and even traumatizing.
So what can we say to disarm a narcissist?
Firstly, let’s take a look at what a narcissist is.
Narcissism can be defined as severe self-involvement that makes that person ignore the needs and emotions of those around them. A narcissist will frequently disregard the feelings of others, deeming them to be unimportant and of little or no value.
Narcissism is a trait in itself, but it can also be part of a larger personality disorder called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Whilst, not every narcissist will be classified as having NPD, those at the more extreme end of the spectrum will be.
So what are the traits of narcissism?
- They may appear charming and charismatic, particularly during the start of a new relationship.
- They may not show any negative behaviors straight away. They may start to appear unempathetic, entitled, superior, snobby, and emotionally detached.
- They will engage in manipulative behavior.
- They may seek admiration, validation, and praise from others.
- They may also present as very arrogant.
Because the traits of narcissism and NPD won’t necessarily fit with the image that person has of themselves, it is often unlikely that they will change their behavior or even agree to change it, as they believe their behavior is not the problem.
A Narcissist may soon begin to become hostile, critical, and antagonizing towards you.
At first, this may have seemed like gentle teasing but then may have quickly taken a darker turn. They may put you down, tease you, play on your insecurities or past traumas and even call you names.
When you attempt to stand up for yourself or call out their behavior, they can then start to gaslight you, which means they will lie, try to distort your reality, or accuse you of misremembering something, for example.
This is a form of emotional abuse which will chip away at your self-confidence and sense of worth, making it very hard for you to protect yourself from their behavior and see what it is for what it is.
So what can we say to disarm a narcissist?
A narcissist wants you to react to what they are saying and how they are behaving. One of the ways to prevent their enjoyment is to attempt not to go into a defensive mode.
You can use phrases like:
- “I see your opinion.”
- “You are entitled to your opinion.”
- “You have given me something to think about. You have an interesting perspective.”
- “I understand that you are upset and angry, and I am willing to hear what you have to say.”
- “I realize this is a difficult situation for you.”
- “We both deserve a chance to have our opinions heard.”
- “I understand where you are coming from, but I would like to share my thoughts too.”
- “I am ready to hear you out, but we can only have a conversation if neither of us is shouting.”
- “Let’s discuss how we can handle this better.”
- “I am willing to consider your thoughts and wishes.”
By using some of these key phrases when conversing with a narcissist, you will be using flattery to try and turn the attention away from you, and you will be appearing to emphasize with them in an attempt to calm them.
You will be making them feel as though you are prepared to listen to them and you will be establishing clear boundaries whilst asserting yourself efficiently.
Psychological Therapist | Sexologist and Sex Coach
Remove yourself from your dependency on this person
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is incredibly difficult to diagnose in general.
For starters, you need to have a willing participant who will accept the assessment process to quantify if someone is truly narcissistic in nature.
If you’d like to test for yourself, there is a most commonly used psychometric test for diagnosing NPD. You might be surprised by what comes up in the results section.
I have included mine below, which I myself found to be interesting. I was particularly interested in taking the time to see if the questions really fit with me, as there were many that took longer to see which fit for me now in comparison to if it was my younger self answering the questions.
I find that I work with more and more women who find themselves in a situation where they get into bed with someone who has absolutely no respect for them and their autonomy and freedom.
Instead, the person that lies in their bed is someone who constantly degrades, belittles, and undermines any attempt to reach a sense of freedom in their mind and body.
So this person slowly but surely begins to disarm any self of personal control and creates a situation where their well-being is completely reliant on the judgment of the other.
How this situation comes about is usually through sex, ironically.
The narcissistic individual usually has an uncanny ability to showcase what great sex feels like, and this becomes almost a constant during the relationship.
When we receive amazing lovemaking, we naturally become addicted to this process, and especially if this is provided over a long period of time, we naturally get conditioned into thinking this is a baseline.
So our reliance moves away from the loving of our own body towards one where we focus purely on the sexual act and the gratification that we get from the other.
In a roundabout fashion, this is where a different type of co-dependency develops.
Related: How to Break Codependency Habits
This is why a continual sexual relationship with oneself is vital and needs to be used as a baseline for your own sexual and mental equilibrium.
I believe that we entrust our sex into the space of the other, or we allow the other to enter our sacred space of sexuality, but this doesn’t mean that they have control over the sense of autonomy I feel in that space.
It is a shared space where two or more conscious minds and bodies come together to share a space to reach a complete sense of freedom and bliss. It is about ‘sharedness’ and being with one another. This is why I always point out that sex is a real responsibility not only to oneself but also to the other.
There is no joking matter about sex, even though it can be incredibly joyous and must be immensely joyous.
Once we have been conditioned into believing that we know what we have in the other, and we have been coerced into completely surrendering ourselves to the other, this is where there is often the textbook dismantling of your trust with yourself.
This is where the narcissist will make you reflect on your life and introduce feelings of shame and guilt even though there is really nothing to feel ashamed or guilty about.
Once this has been established, there will be a consistent chipping away at your core (which is the trust you have in yourself and your voice) and instill their values and beliefs and warped perspective on life.
This will continue to such a degree that eventually, you will be the person that has adopted the narrative willingly that was ever so gently imposed onto you.
There is something I call the narcissistic hook.
This is something that occurs with all narcissistic relationships, regardless if they are familial in nature or a romantic partner. They all use the same tactic. This is bating you in with the completely abstract and nonsensical way that they see the world.
It is at this point that they have penetrated the core of your belief system and can implant anything into your psyche, constantly pushing you over the edge.
This is where you go against yourself.
You get stuck in the narrative, and this narrative becomes the primary focus of yourself because you are still trying to make sense of it instead of packing your nags and placing your running shoes on and run.
You have fundamentally been bated into the narcissistic trap, and it will only get better when you realize that you have lost total respect for yourself and total trust in yourself to make the best decisions for yourself.
What happens at this point is that you yourself begin to turn on yourself.
You quite literally point out your neediness and regressive behavior to the point where you start associating with flippant remarks like you are bipolar, you need therapy, etc.
These are additional tactics used to push you further away from having control over your own autonomy. When you truly look at yourself, you will acknowledge that you are just the shell of your former self, but this doesn’t mean that all hope is lost.
If you have at least arrived this far in the article, this means you’re looking for an answer. I have many, but for the time being, you need to ensure that you make connections with people that love you.
If you have no one, start making new friends. Start building your network of people that are not associated with your partner, so you are rebuilding some kind of safe space with others who relate normally.
Related: How to Build a Personal and Family Support System
It is here that you will allow yourself to reintegrate with others who can start seeing your value, and this is the starting block to building your confidence and finding your voice again.
The key purpose is to create some type of separation from the dependency you have created on this individual.
You will recognize that there is a definite dependency in some way, shape, or form on them. You need to dismantle this and recognize that the only way this will change is by introducing new experiences that have a greater emotional magnitude than what you’re experiencing.
This is what I call experiential deletion and is something I teach in my Dharmaplicity programs.
In essence, I am not suggesting you leave this individual because most if not all people you encounter will tell you this and because you have built in your mind an absolute terror of being abandoned by this person, it is more important for me to instill a sense of empowerment in you.
By this, I mean having more control over your own decisions and how you’re choosing to live life.
What you will inevitably notice is that when you start implementing these strategies, the narcissist will be triggered and either become more dismissive or more aggressive.
There is always a consequence to empowering yourself, so be mindful of seeing the behavior of the narcissist.
Another point that I have to make is this: Most, if not all, the people stuck in this cycle of violence want the love from the narcissist, so if you see some warmth and change from them when you begin to make the changes in yourself, do not be fooled by their readjustment.
This is only to soften you once again and then start gaslighting you.
The worst thing you can do is suffer alone, and the moment you start shedding light on your situation, you will recognize that there are a lot of other people struggling with the same situation.
So you are not alone.
Dr. Ann Krajewski, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist | Founder, Dynamic Healing Psychotherapy
Do not engage in their power dynamic
In general, a narcissist is working from a place of internal shame. They use narcissistic defenses to try and defend against this shame.
One of the ways they try and avoid this is to feel better than others — or to idealize themselves and devalue others.
In relationships, this can take the shape of a power struggle. They try to gain power or disempower you in some way during arguments or in normal conversations. So oftentimes, people try to argue back or defend themselves, or they could also take that on and feel powerless.
When someone tries to argue or fight back, they are engaging the narcissist in a power struggle.
The thing about getting in a power struggle with a narcissist is that you are not dealing with someone who is connected to reality — you are arguing with someone who is distorting their reality in order to avoid intense feelings of shame.
This means that they won’t reason with you in the same way someone else might. They will probably do whatever it takes to stay in the position of power, even if it isn’t logical or reasonable.
The fight will probably escalate, or the narcissist will gaslight you, invalidate, and not accept that they did something wrong — because that would let the shame in.
They must maintain a sense of power. They must make you feel inferior so they can feel superior.
Related: How Does a Narcissist React When They Can’t Control You
So the best thing you can do when dealing with a narcissist is to not engage in the power dynamic — they might try to attack you, poke at you, or pull you into the power dynamic in any way because they need you to feel inferior to them.
They need you to help them feel powerful.
So to disarm them is to try your best not to get pulled in the first place. Walk away from the struggle. Set a boundary and not explain it.
For example, if a narcissist attacks you, your first instinct might be to fight it and tell them it hurts and get them to apologize. Instead, you could just not engage them.
Or you could set a boundary — like “I don’t appreciate being treated like that. I ask you not to do that again; otherwise, I will no longer speak with you.” (or whatever consequence of the boundary works best for you).
When the narcissist then tries to argue that boundary because they probably will feel not in control or powerful when you set a boundary — the best approach is to not justify or rationalize it with them.
Instead, say, “I don’t need to justify this boundary. I ask you to respect it. I do not need to explain myself.” Or something like that.
A lot of times, people want to get even with a narcissist, but it will only get you hurt more.
Walk away from the power dynamic and realize them attacking you has nothing to do with you, and more has to do with their intense feelings of shame. They want you to feel the shame, so they don’t have to.
John F. Tholen, PhD
Retired Psychologist | Author, “Focused Positivity: The Path to Success and Peace of Mind“
Two approaches may put a narcissist at ease:
Agree with the narcissist’s perspective and illusions
Narcissists display a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy.
They believe that they are vastly superior to—and far more important than—others and that their ideas represent a divine perspective.
To them, other people are merely objects to either:
- Be manipulated and taken advantage of.
- Admire and revere the narcissist’s superiority.
Although their esteem for the gratifier may not be greatly increased, the narcissist would most likely be pleased and put at ease by confirmation of their distorted perspective.
Attempt to join the narcissist’s ‘club’ of superiority
By belittling the abilities of others and aggrandizing your own, it may be possible to signal that the two of you belong to the same “club” of paragons of the species.
Of possible interest is the fact that nearly 70 years ago, Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking, used a similar approach to build a large Christian following in Manhattan. By equating success with godliness and uncertainty with a lack of faith, Peale and his admirers helped redefine religious Americans as socially superior winners (“better people,” as he referred to them).
In contrast to Peale’s teachings, the mainstream of every major religion, from Christianity to Islam to Judaism to Hinduism to Buddhism to secular humanism, has called for mutual understanding, respect, and compassion.
Ideas such as those preached by Peale separate us from one another and are counterproductive for humankind in general. On the other hand, those that highlight our commonalities and connections can improve the world.
Amy Rollo, PhD, LSSP, LPA, LPC-S
Triple Licensed Psychotherapist and Founder, Heights Family Counseling
Validate them and respond with empathy
It’s hard to have a lot of sympathy for a narcissist, especially when you are their current victim.
However, it is important to note that narcissism, and other personality disorders, are likely rooted in childhood attachment wounds and/or trauma.
Narcissism starts as a way to protect oneself, almost like a defense mechanism. A narcissist can be extremely fragile. Their opinion of themself swings from low to high, and there is often no middle ground.
That is why a narcissist is so quick to react when they are threatened; they are merely trying to save their ego from crashing.
Simply put, people are either with them or against them; they are either good or bad. You need to understand this if you want to disarm a narcissist.
The best thing you can do is not trigger their fragility. Validation and empathy can be secret recipes. Validation doesn’t mean a person is right; it means you can see things from their perspective.
An example of validation is, “It makes sense you are angry with me because you counted on me to stick up for you. When I didn’t, you felt betrayed and abandoned.”
Responding with empathy can really help, too. “I bet you felt like you couldn’t trust me anymore and that I really let you down.”
At this point, the narcissist’s fragility, the inner person they try to protect, is being comforted. Their biggest fear is they are unlovable, so they quickly try to remove anyone that feels like they aren’t completely supportive.
Don’t be defensive, don’t try to share a different reality, but also don’t let yourself lose your own boundaries.
Just because a narcissist is hurt doesn’t mean you have to hold all the blame.
Remember, validation doesn’t mean you are agreeing with them. You can tell them you don’t want to minimize their experience or pain and that you understand their experience.
Let the narcissist come out of their fight or flight mode by giving space while also reassuring.
The more you communicate while their nervous system is heightened, the less productive the conversation is.
Something like, “I am so sorry you are hurting and know you have a right to feel this way. I’m going to give you space to heal and am happy to listen and talk more when I get back.”
Remember, you will never convince a narcissist or change their mind while they are in a negative swirl.
They are in protective mode, and you will simply be another one of their victims.
If you can stop it from escalating with validation, empathy, and reassuring space, you’ll like to help the narcissist trust you. Also, it’s okay to walk away from a relationship with a narcissist; it can be a lot of emotional work and exhausting.
Sara Sloan, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Austin Concierge Therapy
Use a technique known as grey rocking
To disarm a narcissist, I would recommend a technique known as grey rocking.
Grey rocking means that you give very little response and very little emotion to whatever they’re trying to engage you in.
So, if a narcissist were to try to pick a fight over you being five minutes late, rather than trying to justify your lateness or the fact that it was only five minutes, I wouldn’t argue with them about it.
Instead, I would simply agree with them and say, “yes, I was five minutes late.”
The best thing you can do is stick to the actual facts and not engage in their attempts to label your actions or to emotionally provoke and trigger you because gaining your emotional investment in the conversation, whether positive or negative, is often their goal.
For instance, if a narcissist were to send you a wall of text complaining about something that happened recently or in the past, I would send either a thumbs-up emoji or a simple acknowledgment such as “okay” or “thanks for letting me know.”
If it feels like what the narcissist said requires more of a response, I would consider something like, “I don’t remember it that way,” or “just because you say it doesn’t make it true.”
You never want to argue about details or engage in an emotional debate with a narcissist because then they win, so less is always more.
By grey rocking, this lets the narcissist know that you aren’t easily manipulated anymore and that you’re not a good supply, which will cause them to eventually leave you alone and look for someone willing to fight with them.
Another subtle form of grey rocking involves avoiding intentionally putting yourself in a one-down position at their behest.
For instance, if you’re running late and the narcissist begins to shame you for it, rather than apologizing and validating them, instead thank them for waiting for you.
Narcissists feed off your negative emotions, such as your fear, pain, sadness, and shame.
Your suffering makes them feel powerful and validated; it gives them control over you because it allows them to define the situation and redefine you and your reality.
Narcissists need to be in control of the narrative, so they can continue to build themselves up by breaking you down; they cause you to doubt yourself by causing you to doubt your own reality.
By sticking to the facts and grey rocking, these techniques are the best defense to help you escape the narcissist.
Laurie Hollman, PhD
Psychoanalyst, Choosing Therapy | Author, “Are You Living with a Narcissist?“
If you don’t want to engage, remove yourself from the situation
Disarming a narcissist is difficult because this person will sidestep your comments, lie, evade, and change the subject.
This will be most frustrating, but if this happens repeatedly, then tell them so and don’t wait for a defense. Then indicate you will no longer pursue conversations with this person.
If you begin to fear their response, if it is rageful, separate yourself quietly from this person, so you are not treated this way.
This narcissist may also choose to remove themselves from the conversation or give you the silent treatment, which may last for hours. Depending on how important and long-term this connection is will help you decide what options to take.
The word disarm also has many meanings, so be clear on your intent and goals.
If you just want to discontinue a brief and casual conversation, simply say so and remove yourself from the situation. It is more likely that the connection is a longer term, or disarming this person would not be so important to you.
Remember, the narcissist is not capable of empathy if they have a full-blown personality disorder, so the evasions are due to this inability to listen and respond.
You are not to blame, and it is important you do not judge yourself negatively.
The word disarm implies there may be a feeling of hostility on your part or feelings of suspicion toward the narcissist. If you have those feelings, do not show them or act on them. This will not be productive.
Also, do not try to charm the narcissist in some way which is also tried by a disarmer. The narcissist will outcharm most anyone.
In conclusion, if you feel mistreated, discontinue the meeting or conversation politely but immediately.
Jason Polk, LCSW, LAC
Relationship Counselor | Coach | Owner, Colorado Relationship Recovery
Being the grown-up will give you the best chance to disarm them
When we act like an adult and are in a centered place, we’re able to have a protective listening boundary. A protective listening boundary means I only take in what’s true, and I’m able to put what’s not true in context.
For example, we say to ourselves, “That’s not true. That’s more about you and not me. I’m not going to let that in.”
A narcissist will often find a way to get under your skin and then blame you for the reason why they acted the way they did.
They’re often allergic to accountability and will sometimes position themselves as a victim, thus giving themselves a free pass for their bad behavior.
Then the next thing you know, you’re getting blamed for everything, and in the beginning, you may believe that everything’s your fault. So, if you’re around a narcissist often, a protective listening boundary will need to be a practice for you.
But good thing, if you stick with this practice, it gets easier, and your sense of self will grow. You may begin to regain your confidence. Then you may be able to set verbal boundaries.
For example, “What you’re saying is rude. I’m not going to engage if you’re being like this.”
The thing with this, however, is that they will most likely push against this boundary and try to get you to react.
They may mock you, dismiss your boundary as therapy B.S., or say something they know will get you upset. But remember, what they’re saying is not about you; it’s about them.
Being a grown-up will give you the best chance to disarm a narcissist.
Author and therapist Pia Mellody has a saying, “There are no traffic jams on the high road.” You’re going to have to take the high road here and if they don’t get it, get different friends or a new partner.
Kara Nassour, LPC, NCC
Licensed Professional Counselor, Shaded Bough Counseling
Focus on minimizing the narcissist’s ability to harm you
If you’re dealing with a narcissist — as in, a person with diagnosable, clinical narcissism, not just a person who is being selfish or callous — trying to disarm them or beat them in a conversation usually doesn’t work.
The problem is that narcissists don’t live in the same reality you do: they see themselves as always in the right, and any evidence to the contrary is either disregarded or reimagined to fit the narrative they have in their heads.
If you do manage to make a narcissist feel embarrassed or admit defeat, they will see it as a sign that you were being unfair and persecuting them, not as a sign that they were actually wrong. Or they will deny it ever happened or claim they let you win.
Narcissism is a chronic personality disorder that involves the inability to acknowledge and take responsibility for one’s misbehavior or to put other people’s feelings before one’s own.
If you’re dealing with a true narcissist — not just a selfish or inconsiderate person — you won’t be able to fix that by finding the right combination of words.
Instead, focus on minimizing the narcissist’s ability to harm you.
Use the grey rock or medium chill methods to make yourself uninteresting to the narcissist.
- Don’t start a conversation, and respond to their questions or remarks with short, bland answers: “Huh.” “That’s nice.” “I’ll think about it.”
- Avoid showing emotion, even if the narcissist baits you.
- Avoid discussing personal details, and make your life look as boring as possible.
The idea is to deny the narcissist any “narcissistic supply” — the attention and emotional energy they want to get from social interactions.
Let them put all the work into the conversation, and give them no energy in return, positive or negative. Eventually, they will get tired of this and go bother someone else.
CEO and Lead Therapist, Naya Clinics
“Thank you for expressing your view”
There’s a reason why narcissists enjoy speaking their minds off, and it’s because they like hearing themselves talk. That doesn’t compare, however, to having their sentiments acknowledged by others, too.
There’s very little you can do to get your argument across, no matter how rational it is, if the one you’re dealing with has narcissistic traits.
It’ll be counterproductive to dispute their statements as they’re incapable of seeing any fault in them. Instead of draining your energy trying to argue, you can just block their argument with this phrase.
It’ll give them the satisfaction of knowing you got their point without explicitly agreeing.
“Let’s agree to disagree”
Saying this line means you’re done with the interaction.
It implies you’re no longer accepting any further points, and they’ll just waste their breaths because you’ve already closed your mind. It’ll then take their pleasure of hearing you say they’re right, causing them to stop at their failed attempt to make you submit to what they want.
Say nothing at all
Refusing to indulge them in an argument or even a simple discussion that glorifies their narcissistic ego will stop them in their tracks. Your reluctance to entertain them is a clear indication that they’ll waste their time on you as you’ve established that you’re not interested in dealing with them.
Narcissists thrive in getting others triggered by them, so being unresponsive will give no power over you.
Dr. Paul DePompo, Psy.D., ABPP
Board Certified Behavioral and Cognitive Psychologist | Director, CBTI of Southern California | Author, “The Other Woman’s Affair“
Agree a bit and defend against a narcissist
As long as you agree and are boosting up the narcissist with compliments, they will be disarmed.
The problem is that when you disagree or assert a boundary, you will be belittled, minimized, or dismissed. So, the best strategy is to stand kind and confident in the face of their shenanigans.
No placating them (you will be eaten alive) and no matching their arrogance (they’ll see this as a sign of war).
But, If we put these two pieces together, we get one of the best disarming tools:
When confronted with any put downs of defensiveness of the narcissist, start by:
- Agreeing with just a bit of what they are saying (this shows confidence on your part).
- Defend against their grandiose statement (this shows another layer of confidence as well).
When put together, the narcissist has no meaningful counter to you. This gives you the best chance to disarm while not at the expense of your self-esteem.
Narcissist: “You have trust issues.”
You: “I am having issues trusting what you are saying. But I do not have trust issues.”
Narcissist: “You are so insecure.”
You: “I am definitely uncomfortable with your relationship with your ex. And, that does not make me insecure.”
Coach and Speaker | Author, “Girl, You Deserve More“
Speak to them as if they are respectable
A narcissist has a fragile ego and can get offended very quickly and easily.
If you are in an equal or subordinate position, you never know when they may unleash on you. Especially if they see you as a challenge or as someone who dislikes them.
This can have detrimental effects on your career or reputation.
Some of them may unleash on you to make you look bad or hurt your career or reputation, even if it’s to their own detriment.
How to deal with a narcissist once they’re upset?
The trick to dealing with a narcissist is the same tools you’d use with a child.
When you want to encourage a child, you may call them a “big girl” or “big boy.” While you wouldn’t call a narcissist these exact words, you can apply the same concept.
Give them grace
Speak to them as if they are respectable, and you expect them to be an upstanding person.
Oftentimes, if you act like you don’t notice they are trying to hurt you, you’ll get better results. It allows them to recover better as if nothing happened. Because if you don’t react to their bad behavior, you are less likely to trigger their ego.
So instead of ramping up their responses, they are more likely to go along with the energy you put out. You’ll get better results if your energy is non-threatening and you treat them like a regular person.
Do not react emotionally
The key is to stay calm.
They may send out barbs to see if they can make you angry. If you react to this, you’ll look like the crazy one. In this case, it won’t matter who is right or wrong.
Narcissists love messing with people to who they can get a reaction from. It means the person is easy to control. They will have a blast predicting your reactions and making you look like a fool.
Don’t go directly against them
You can’t go directly against them; otherwise, you’ll just add more fuel to the fire. This means do not argue.
If you can agree with them on some things or say something positive, this is good. You are taking fuel out of the fire. Plus, you look cooperative. It’s hard to be aggressive towards a cooperative person. They will look like the idiot if they keep arguing, and they know it.
The best option is not to upset them. This means don’t trigger them. Don’t make them feel bad.
Treat them as if you see them as a capable and good person. Treat them like a person you like. If you treat them as the best version of themselves, they’ll want to act like the best version of themselves.
This will almost guarantee you’ll never see their bad side if you’re just a casual acquaintance.
Note: If you feel intimidated, nervous, or fearful, they can smell this. It’s hard to fake confidence. Do not show any weakness. Self-control is your greatest asset when dealing with a narcissist.
The tone of voice and composure is important
All your visual and verbal cues must point to everything being fine. Speak with a strong, confident tone of voice. Do not shrink back. Look them in the eye.
It’s extremely important to keep your tone of voice even and calm even if they raise their voice.
Sometimes they’ll use the element of surprise to say something upsetting. They may hope you lose your cool and yell. Which will make you look like a hot-headed fool.
Keeping your composure will show you are hard to mess with. Eventually, they will give up and find someone easier to get a reaction from.
You can make them laugh or laugh at them. But how you do this will depend a lot on who is around and the state of your relationship.
Say something shocking or embarrassing for them. This may not work with more skilled narcissists. Especially if you could’ve disarmed them using one of the easier-to-use methods above.
It’s harder to pull this off. So it’s not recommended unless you know what you’re doing.
Plus, if you humiliate them in front of others, they may make you pay for it for a long time.
If you have a history of being bullied by narcissists
There are more advanced techniques if this is an ongoing problem for you. You may need to use more assertive methods to get narcissists off your back permanently.
But since this article is about disarming them, I’ve only mentioned peaceful techniques.
If you regularly get picked on by narcissists, I recommend learning how to empower yourself so you won’t be a narcissist magnet anymore. This involves realizing you are not a victim, and you can absolutely change your circumstances.
A good place to start is reading about codependency and narcissist family systems. This will give you a good idea of why this is happening to you and how you can change your circumstances.
If you want a very thorough and speedy recovery, consider hiring a coach that specializes in dealing with narcissism and toxic people—having someone who’s able to pinpoint your blindspots can help immensely.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Words Not to Say to a Narcissist?
Interacting with a narcissist can be challenging, as they often take everything as a personal attack and can react with anger, resentment, or hurt feelings. To avoid conflicts, it’s essential to be mindful of the words you use.
Here are a few words and phrases to avoid when talking to a narcissist:
• “You’re wrong.” or “You’re mistaken.”
These phrases can trigger a narcissistic injury, which is the term used to describe the ego-bruising that occurs when a narcissist’s self-esteem is threatened. By suggesting that they’re wrong, you’re implying that they’re fallible and vulnerable, which is something that a narcissist can’t handle.
• “I told you so.” or “I knew it all along.”
Narcissists hate to be proven wrong, and these phrases will only add salt to the wound. It will also give them the feeling of being defeated, which a narcissistic person cannot handle.
• “You’re too sensitive.”
This phrase dismisses their emotions and makes them feel invalidated, likely triggering a defensive reaction.
• “Why are you always so…” (fill in the blank with something negative)
This type of statement is a personal attack and will only escalate the situation.
• “I don’t care.”
This phrase is a significant blow to a narcissist’s ego as they thrive on the attention and care of others. Saying this can cause them to feel rejected and unimportant.
• “That’s not important.”
Narcissists consider their opinions and thoughts to be of utmost importance, and to hear that what they think or feel is not important can trigger a narcissistic injury.
What to Do When a Narcissist Attacks You?
If you are being attacked by a narcissist, it’s important to remember that their behavior is a manifestation of their own insecurities and vulnerabilities. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself:
• Set boundaries: Clearly communicate your boundaries to the narcissist and stick to them. Be assertive but calm in your delivery.
• Stay calm: Try not to argue emotionally with the narcissist. Keep your cool and avoid responding with anger or frustration.
• Avoid their traps: Narcissists often try to manipulate others through their words and actions. Be aware of their tactics, and don’t fall for their tricks.
• Don’t engage in personal attacks: Refrain from attacking the narcissist’s character or personality. Stick to the facts and remain professional.
• Get support: Surround yourself with supportive friends and family who can help you through this difficult time. Consider talking to a therapist who can provide you with additional coping strategies.
• Document the abuse: Keep a record of any incidents of abuse or harassment. This documentation may come in handy if you need to take legal action.
• Seek legal help: If the abuse becomes physical or threatening, it’s important to seek legal help. Contact the police and consider obtaining a restraining order.
• Walk away: In some cases, the best way to handle a narcissistic attack is to walk away simply. Remove yourself from the situation and take time to regroup and heal.
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