If you want to successfully handle an argument with a narcissist, you have to understand a few things.
First of all, you need to be able to determine that you are indeed dealing with a narcissist or any other sort of manipulative person that uses covert aggressive techniques to demean you.
All it takes to determine those signs are a few communication exchanges. You don’t even need to know that person.
In this article, I will show you, how to spot those signs in a real life example.
I will also show you how to correctly respond to the narcissist’s attacks and tell you what are the biggest mistakes that will make you lose.
But first of all:
Do you understand your reactivity?
Do you understand your weak spots?
Are you subconsciously seeking validation and approval from the narcissist?
If you have problems in any of the areas above or haven’t spent any time trying to figure out your triggers, I strongly recommend you first do that before going out there to battle narcissists in real life.
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All right, so now you understand yourself! Congratulations!
People like us are rare. Flying monkeys don’t understand themselves and neither do narcissists. Now you have the triumphs in your hand.
I will show you an actual example of my interaction with someone who I seriously suspect to be a narcissist. I will show you the signs that should immediately alert you to the fact that you are dealing with a toxic person. I will also show you my responses and we will analyse them together to see where I went wrong, what mistakes I made and what I could have done better.
I know that the most common advice when dealing with narcissists is ‘don’t engage with them’, but I think that actually winning in arguments over them and letting them show to everyone with their own behaviour who they really are is even more rewarding.
Just remember this – in an argument with a narcissist, you are not expecting to arrive at any sort of common understanding. There is no possibility of that.
This interaction took place on an online forum following my response to a question why does everyone use the word narcissist to describe everyone they cannot get along with.
I am sure that fellow online narc-busters already know. Yes. The question in itself is a covert aggressive attack on people who discuss narcissists online. It is designed to undermine these people’s confidence and make them doubt themselves. Please note the double use of the word everyone in the question.
If that was a legitimate question – it would be phrased like this: Why do some people use the word narcissist to describe those that they don’t get along with.
Do you get the difference? Yes, there might be some people who use the word narcissist just to blame someone for their own inability to resolve conflict. In fact, since narcissists tend to create reverse realities and try to paint their ex partners, enemies and all sorts of scapegoats as the narcissists and themselves as victims, we can assume that there must be quite a large proportion of such incorrect uses of the word narcissist.
I have myself seen several posts on online forums, where I immediately got the feeling that the person talking about their narcissistic ex was actually the narcissist (if they are very jovial about the fact that they have had had multiple narcissistic exes, that’s a reason to question the validity of their account. You want to look for genuine emotions – does the person look like they had been through the horrible shocking experience of discovering that their loved one was a monster?)
Anyway – the question indicates that everyone using the word narcissist is a wrong and faulty person. That’s a covert attack. The person asking is not actually asking a question. They are not interested in your opinion, they want to stir a fight. They attack everyone who has ever used the word narcissist to describe someone.
So let’s have a look at how it developed further.
I gave a very brief and in my opinion factual response:
Me: Narcissists behave in very different ways in conflict. If you use some conflict resolution techniques with them that work with normal people, you won’t get anywhere. They deliberately manufacture conflict, they don’t want to resolve it but it takes a lot of time for people who get enmeshed with them to see it.
I am not sure who is the ‘everyone’ you are referring to. I have to say that most accounts I have read online seem legit. People describe very specific behaviours, very specific problems typical for narcissists.
Generally, you can resolve a conflict with a non-narcissistic person, you can’t resolve a conflict with a narcissist because in their eyes, there is no problem, you are the problem….
You may notice that I pointed to that person’s use of the word everyone – the first indicator that the question in fact is an attack.
Let’s have a look at how it unfolded further. This is the first of the narcissist’s reactions. I am sure you will see what’s going on there:
Narc: But what are your mental health credentials? You are a significant contributor to the problem.
(Already the first sentence gives him away. You can see that instead of responding to what I have said, to my argument, he attacks me. That’s a very typical behaviour in narcissists. They don’t win arguments by beating you with better arguments. They try to throw you off balance by attacking your confidence, your qualification, your ability, you as a person. He is telling me that I, in fact, should not have answered his question in the first place. Do you see the trap? He asks a question and if you answer, he slams you. Your narc detector should be screaming loud.)
Narc continues: The most dangerous part of this trend is bloggers. I have yet to see a blog entry or site about narcissism written by a licensed clinical professional. Your site does not indicate you have any medical nor mental health credentials. In fact it’s just yet another rubbish blogger site for alt medicine, bagging mainstream medicine.
(Here you can see he continues his attack on me as a person. He does not discuss what I have said. He just wants to slam me. He knows that I am a blogger, so he tells me that bloggers are the biggest problem, he calls my blog rubbish. It’s one personal attack after the other.)
Narc: A licensed clinical mental health professional won’t even diagnose another human as having any mental health disorder without seeing them as a patient. And they would not disclose that to anyone else after diagnosis – HIPAA, PHI violations.
(This is just a little addition by which he is trying to show me his intellectual superiority.)
What is he trying to do?
So what is my friend trying to achieve? He is trying to control the conversation. He is not interested in anything that I have said. He is not interested in anyone’s opinion on his question. He just wants to slam me, devalue me, dismiss my credentials and quite simply – bully me into submission. He is pushing me into the defensive, making me feel wrong. He wants everyone who reads this exchange to think that I am wrong. That I am some sort of an idiot who should shut up and disappear from the world’s surface.
What not to do!
The biggest mistake that beginner narc busters tend to do is that they indeed allow the narc to push them into the defensive. They start explaining themselves, they indeed start feeling inadequate and doubt and question themselves. Beware of that. If you let the narc push in into the defensive, he or she won; they are now controlling the direction of the discussion. You are just playing catch-up.
The second mistake is that you snap and counter-attack. That’s the worst you can do – now you have given the narc ammunition to tell everyone what a horrible abusive person you are. My sister used to excel at this. She would passive aggressively attack me. Tell me in all sorts of ways what a horrible person I was. At some point I would snap and call her a cow. She would run and tell the entire family how terribly I treat her.
If you want to win over a narc you have to be clever. You have to have your reactivity in check (I will write a separate post about this later). I will demonstrate several slip-ups in my responses.
So how did I continue this lovely discussion?
Me: Wow you are being really rude and offensive. (That’s me essentially describing his behaviour without buying into all the crap that he spouts. That is a good bit.)
Guess what? Several qualified therapists endorsed my efforts. (This is a little bit defensive. It wasn’t perhaps necessary to brag like this but at that moment I felt like I needed to give myself some strength).
Narcissists yourself? Gives that impression. (This could be interpreted as a counter-attack and as you will see later, he used this bit against me. They always choose those little bits they can use against you. That’s why you have to pay attention to detail when fighting a narc. Be totally dispassionate).
Thanks for reading my blog though. Traffic is traffic. Doesn’t matter what you think. (I am quite happy about this bit. I have shown him that he is doing me a favour by reading my blog. Google doesn’t know what he thinks about it, right?)
And I am not sure whether you remember but there was a whole bunch of experts publicly diagnosing Donald Trump without having met him so your statement is clearly wrong.
(I think that this bit is good. It essentially shows him that I have my own ammunition and won’t let him intimidate me too easily. I am pointing to a hole in his argument).
Let’s try to perfect it. I admit that I felt slightly triggered by this discussion. So what could I have done better?
I could have more diligently implemented non-violent communication by simply reflecting to him what he was telling me. Non-violent communication is a great technique for resolving conflict with normal people, who are perhaps confused, triggered or even might have some narcissistic traits. By reflecting to them what they are saying, you make them feel heard and you also help them get their point better across.
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If you implement this technique with a narcissist, you will essentially just trigger him further. By reflecting his words to him instead of allowing yourself to be pushed into the defensive or triggered to a counter-attack, you retain control over the conversation. They don’t like it.
So here is an alternative response to our friend’s comment:
OK, so you are saying I should not be expressing my opinions about narcissists. I should not talk about my experience with a narcissistic boyfriend. In fact, you are saying that my ex probably is not a narcissist at all. You are saying that I am some sort of a vindictive resentful woman, who can’t handle conflict with people and calls them narcissists instead.
You are telling me that my blog is rubbish and that I am a big problem. OK, well, I guess that’s your opinion. I am not going to argue with you about it. Fortunately there are other people who have a different opinion. Thanks for the chat.
What do you think? Which answer do you like better? Do you have other ideas how I could have gone about this conversation? You can share your ideas in the comment sections.
Of course the discussion with the narc hasn’t ended here. As I said, I made some mistakes in my first response. So here is what followed:
Narc: So, just as I thought, you have no credentials. I also font see these endorsements. And as I said earlier, bloggers are one of the worst parts of this issue.
He essentially repeats his attack from the first comment. Because I said that people with proper backround endorsed my efforts, he obviously has to shoot down this statement. I am either lying, or alternatively, the people who endorsed me are rubbish.
Then he adds something totally hilarious.
You just flew your true colours – your goal is monetary gain.
(Do you want me to tell you how much I am making from my blog? Absolutely nothing! Not that I don’t want to but as all of you who blog yourself know, it’s actually not that easy to monetise a blog. That’s him trying to attack me on a different level – now I am not only an idiotic diletant writing about things I have no clue about but also a greedy person that is only doing what she is doing for financial gain. Well, he is making himself look like a total idiot unfortunately.)
Narc continues: The individuals who were trying to publically diagnose Trump were also publicly criticized by their colleagues for breaking the “Goldwater Rule”.
This again is his response to my referring to experts who did something he says no real expert does. So he has to shoot these people down. They are not relevant.
I chose to continue the discussion:
Me: What would be your solution to the NPD problem if I may ask?
(I am not responding to any of his attacks. I want to hear his opinion on the problem at hand)
Me again: These people cause serious psychological problems to others – their children, those who get into relationships with them, those they target in the workplace.
They rarely end up in therapy and because of the deceptive nature of their disorder very frequently fly under the radar.
I am not saying they should be exterminated but I firmly believe there needs to be discussion and education about this issue.
As a former victim of several narcissists, I have a personal interest in spreading this awareness. It’s my personal mission, in which I firmly believe.
(I am providing some background for why I am doing what I am doing. This stuff never gets you anywhere with a narcissist but we will have more fun later, reading his response).
Me again: You can spit out your toxic stuff. It’s a very narcy behaviour that you are displaying. (This bit was not necessary. It’s my counter-attack, he can use it against me, which he will)
You can start a blog fighting for protection of narcissists if it pains you so much. (Of course he can but he won’t because he just wants to pick fights).
I am fighting for the empowerment and healing of victims. (I am stating my cause, which really is no point doing in a discussion with a narc)
I am not sure whether there is any point continuing this discussion but I have a hunch you will want to spit out more venom in your attempt to invalidate me and undermine my confidence – how typical of narcissists.
(The first bit is fine, he is trying to invalidate and undermine me. Me hinting at him being a narcissist can be used against me. It’s better to stick to describing the behaviour than giving a diagnosis)
I am just curious which parts of my comment will you choose. I always learn a lot from interactions with narcissists. (Alright, that’s me provoking him big time and you will see in his response that I really did trigger his narcissistic injury).
Anyway, maybe I will get that degree. Just to shut up people like you.
(I really want to get that degree and the only reason for that really is so that I can write about narcs as much as I please without anyone devaluing me. Anyway, I am obviously provoking him.)
I got carried away here. I could have just implemented non-violent communication and simply reflect his stuff back to him.
But let’s have a look at his response since that’s the most vicious of his attacks:
Narc: Everything about your reply shows lack of reason, a definite lack of maturity.
(He is again not addressing anything that I have said. He is just attacking my personality… He ignores every point that I have made.)
Narc continues: Again, anyone who spends all their time calling everyone else a narcissist, is probably the narcissist.
(He is indicating that I am spending all my time calling everyone else a narcissist – hmmm interesting. He clearly knows how I am spending all my time. Who is the everyone else he is referring to? My ex? Himself? Well, we all know why he hates people talking about narcissism. Deep down he knows very well that he is one.)
Narc continues: You don’t demonstrate emotional objectivity to make a good therapist. Getting a degree is something even a trained monkey can do. But a productive clinician has to have an ability. Again, that’s him attacking my abilities.
(I said that I will get the degree just to shut him up and he has to invalidate that – you see? He is shifting the goal posts. That’s again a very typical behaviour of narcissists. You respond positively to one of their requirements but in the next instance it’s not enough. His initial line of attack was that I don’t have qualifications. When I say that I will get the qualification, he has to attack me on another level. Even if I had that PhD in psychology, he would still consider me a rubbish blogger. Essentially, everyone who disagrees with him is a rubbish blogger.
Narc again: Diagnosing people with clinical dirsorders because you disagree with them on Internet forums, an excellent way to prove you lack the ability
(Allright. I have diagnosed him based on his behaviour – using personal attacks instead of arguments, using even more personal attacks when presented with arguments, never answering a single constructive question and instead using more personal attacks. We have seen evidence of gaslighting – I am the problem. He won’t consider any of my points because I am a rubbish blogger. There is no space for a discussion with this man.
However, he really thinks that I have diagnosed him because we disagree – that is evidence of his lack of self-awareness and kind of delusional thinking.)
I should have ended the discussion here and simply report him to the website’s admin for harassment but I wasn’t really ready for that yet. I felt that I was winning and it felt good. I was getting a bit cocky.
Me: Honey, I have been told by people in the field that I would make an excellent therapist, no kidding. But I would not work with narcissists. Waste if time. (This is me bragging and counter-attacking. This was not necessary. It’s me being arrogant and trying to cut him down. He could and would use it against me. We have to be very careful with these battles – someone who doesn’t understand narcissists might not see that he was the one attacking me and that I was just fighting back. I could lose points here.)
Me again: Do you want me to tell you what you are demonstrating to anyone with half of a brain reading your comments? You probably know what that is. You are employing the typical techniques used by narcissists to invalidate and undermine others, you know that right? You are essentially trying to bully me.
(All I needed to say is that he was trying to bully me. Full stop. No more explanation needed. Less is more with narcs.)
Me again: Could you answer my original question? What would be your solution to the narcissist problem?
(This bit is good. It’s me bringing the conversation back to the original topic. I think that’s always the best thing to do with a narcissist. He is deliberately steering it away. I am essentially showing that he refuses to have a discussion about the topic that he himself raised and is only seeking fights)
Me again: If you want to continue this discussion, you will have to start using arguments and abstain from personal insults.
(This is the holly grail of dealing with narcissists – you either stop attacking me or we don’t continue this discussion. This is when they stop talking to you altogether because all they want is to attack you)
Narc: So the random blogger being condescending and calling everyone else a narcissist, is complaining about “personal insults”. Well that’s quite humorous.
(That’s him using the ammunition that I have given him against me. He won a few points because I indeed was condescending. But note again his use of the word everyone.)
Narc continues: There is a perfectly good reason I don’t have a blog, it’s the height of narcissism. If someone needs information or advice, I tell them to go see a professional. Not read my crappy blog so I can get ad revenue.
(There are two funny bits about this final statement. He again thinks that I am making money from my blog. Anyone who blogs knows that to make money from ads is pretty much impossible – a few bucks a month if you are lucky. He is trying to show me his moral superiority by telling me that he doesn’t blog but rather sends people to experts. It is funny for him to say that – this is a person that answers several questions on a day on a large online forum all sorts of topics. Contradictions between words and actions are again quite typical for narcissists.
Me: Who is the everyone you are referring to? (Here I am finally nailing it, no more explanations, no more showing him that I am better than him. Just asking for explanations of his distorted statements.)
Me again: And thank you for inspiring me to write my next blog post. (A bit of cockiness at the end)
by the way, do you know how much one makes from ads?
(you obviously don’t have a clue what you are talking about mate, that’s my final message). As soon as I stopped giving him lines, which he could use to attack me, he stopped responding. The conversation ended here. My final comment was finally the one that caused what correct communication with a narc always causes – the narc runs away. He can’t bait you into a fight anymore. He knows that you see through his nonsense. And afterwards I reported his offensive comments to the admin. I have no clue whether they did anything. I am aware of the fact that me being cocky could have blurred what has been going on. I was, in fact, a bit defensive in some ways and the narc was of course trying to use it against me. Once I stopped and stuck to questions and reflecting his words back, he left.
Anyway. Let me know what do you think – what have you learned from interactions with narcs?