All of us either know or have had experience with a narcissist at some point in our lives. Some of us have even been in a romantic relationship with a narcissist.
Whether the narcissist is someone you work with, a person in your social circle, or even your spouse, knowing the best techniques for arguing with a narcissist will be helpful when a conflict arises.
You should know from the start that arguing with a narcissist is likely to be a pointless endeavor. By definition, narcissists always think they are right and will never come around to your point of view (or even listen to it!).
What is a narcissist?
Let’s start by defining what a narcissist is. Contrary to what many people think, it is not a diagnosed personality disorder.
It’s a series of traits that occur on a continuum, the most pronounced of this being self-centeredness.
If you remember your Greek mythology, Narcissus was a boy who was so handsome he fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water.
From that myth comes the term Narcissist, a person whose most important priority is themselves.
Other traits that make up the narcissistic personality include:
No empathy for others’ feelings
Manipulates and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends
Convinced they are always right, and everyone else is wrong
Feels mentally superior to all around them
A belief they are special and this specialness is misunderstood by everyone
Grandiosity, a sense of superiority, exaggerates achievements and talents (often lying about them)
Moody, irritable, mood swings
Sense of entitlement
Excessive need for admiration
Lack of remorse when hurting others
Violence towards animals and people
No concern about consequences
Disdain for authority; thinks they are above the law
Reckless, risky behavior with no concern for others’ safety
A pattern of deceit, including the exploitation of others
All of these characteristics make it difficult to come to any sort of meaningful resolution when arguing with a narcissist.
It is important, therefore, to learn some tips for arguing with a narcissist. Using these tips, you will turn to argue with a narcissist from an exercise in futile frustration to (at least) a way for you to keep the discussion on track and focused.
You may not get the end result you hoped for because a narcissist cannot participate in a civil discussion whose aim is to find common ground, but you will hone some very useful skills as you learn things to say to a narcissist.
While you may not win against a narcissist, these tips will help move the conversation along with as little emotional upset as possible.
1. Do not mention the words “right” or “wrong”
If you want to smooth things over when arguing with a narcissist, do not expect to defeat a narcissist by trying to make them realize who is to blame.
Narcissists never admit that they are wrong because they employ grandiosity—the unrealistic sense of being perfect–to prop up their fragile sense of self, for you to point out to them that they are wrong and explain why it would be useless. They would rather blame you!
2. Do not take the bait
When arguing with a narcissist, expect them to say provocative and nasty things. They are wired to be abusive.
They want to get a response from you. It’s another way they can get attention, even if it is negative. (Does this remind you of a toddler you know? It’s the same reasoning!)
Don’t fall for it and sink to their level. The best way to hurt a narcissist (and avoid a huge fight) is to ignore the bait they are dangling in front of you.
If you ignore their insult and do not rise to the bait, you can often avoid a pointless dispute.
3. Winning with a narcissist may necessitate empathizing with their feelings
Because narcissists thrive on attention, employing empathy when arguing with a narcissist can be a helpful strategy. Tell them that you understand and empathize with how they feel.
This can often deescalate the argument because narcissists can be calmed down by your expression of understanding. “You must have felt very angry. I can understand your feeling that way.”
4. Instead of using “You” or “I,” use “We”
Narcissist blame shifting is common, but they may react well if you use “we” language when arguing with a narcissist.
For example, imagine that you are arguing with a narcissistic husband.
You defend yourself, and now the two of you are caught up in an escalating conflict over something that has nothing to do with the original topic (because deflection in the argument is common for narcissists). Stop the argument by saying something positive that incorporates the “we”:
“I love you, and you love me. The last thing I want to do is hurt you or argue with you. I think we both got derailed. Let’s kiss and make up.”
5. To win back a narcissist
The best tactic to beat a narcissist is to remain in complete control of your emotions. This requires patience, deep breathing, and some detachment because narcissists are greatly skilled at provoking you.
When you keep your emotions and language in check, you disarm the narcissist, and he is left to his own devices.
He will be confused as he relies on you to feed the flames of his anger. The best way to respond to a narcissist is not to emotionally respond.
Should you find yourself being provoked into an argument with a narcissist, using these tips will help you stay out of a long, unwinnable conversation.
Meet their provocation with neutrality, boredom, or ambivalence. By doing so, you will avoid pouring fuel on their fire and spare your own mental well-being from another of the narcissists’ attempts to bolster their weak self-esteem.
While you will never “win” an argument with a narcissist, you can engage with them all while preserving your own integrity. And that is a win in itself!
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Sylvia Smith loves to share insights on how couples can revitalize their love lives in and out of the bedroom. As a writer at Marriage.com, she is a big believer in living consciously and encourages couples to adopt this principle in their lives too. Sylvia believes that every couple can transform their relationship into a happier, healthier one by taking purposeful and wholehearted action.