Strategies for Interacting With a Narcissist

Caye Caulker boats at sunset

(Credit: Dr. Candace V. Love)

If you choose to stay with a narcissist or have no choice but to interact with one, you may find these communication strategies helpful.

1. Don’t take the bait. The narcissist knows you well and what your soft spots are. He may say things to get a rise out of you. Ignore him and leave the room or house.

2. Don’t get defensive. If you can’t avoid an interaction with the narcissist, try not to be defensive. When you’re defensive, it only gives him something to push against. Try to remain calm and focused, and remember to breathe. When dealing with a narcissist, less is more, so be succinct in your response and you won’t give him additional fodder. Also, try to let him know you heard him. Narcissists are very insecure, so staying calm and letting him know you heard his concern may help to lessen his defenses. This is called “active listening,” where you listen to what the person said and then repeat it to them to be sure you heard it correctly. Examples:

Narcissist: You’re always out with your girlfriends!
You: It upsets you when I get together with my girlfriends and I’m not here for you.

Narcissist: What the hell are you wearing? I told you I hate that dress, you look stupid in it.
You: I forgot you don’t like this dress.

Remember, you’re not trying to win the argument. You just want to defuse the immediate situation.

3. Don’t counterattack. Counterattacking will only escalate the situation. Remember that narcissists are masters at conflict — you will almost never win the argument. But even if you do, you’ll pay for it later: Narcissists hold grudges and will plot their revenge. Even if they initially say they are sorry, act remorseful, or even shed tears — beware. You may have won the argument, but by winning you’ve made the narcissist feel the vulnerable part of himself that he desperately tries to avoid. He won’t thank you for that. Instead, once he has time to think about what has happened, he will become angry and vindictive. Watch out.

4. Don’t get stuck. Sometimes it’s useful to buy yourself some time before committing to a response. If you need more time to collect yourself or gather your words, say something like, “I understand what you said, but I need more time to think about it.” or, “Let me get back to you on that.” Hopefully he’ll forget, but if he doesn’t, you’ll have time to craft a response.

5. Make it his idea. Lastly, it you want something, always let it be the narcissist’s idea. In a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding (see below), the women maneuvered one of their husbands into thinking it was his idea for something they wanted. This is the same technique to use with your narcissist: Show how something you want actually benefits him. Remember: It’s all about them, so make it about them. For example, if you want to get away for a weekend with the girls, tell him you’ve been worried about how stressed he’s been lately and you think he needs a break, so you’re going to send the kids to the grandparents and you will give him his space so he can get the rest he deserves.

Need more tips? My next post will cover self-care for those coping with a narcissist.

You can find these tips and more in Michelle Skeen’s book, The Critical Partner: How to End the Cycle of Criticism and Get the Love You Want.

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