As you seek the wisest ways to respond to a narcissist, it’s necessary to recognize their starting point with.  Especially when there is conflict, the narcissist’s default mindset is: “I know, you don’t know.  I’m enlightened, you’re a dullard.”  Such thinking, of course, sets up chronic criticism and accusations.  And making matters worse, truth is…well, expedient.  They can blame and accuse even when the facts do not line up.

How often have you heard comments like:

  • You’re just like your mother.
  • You can’t do anything right.
  • We wouldn’t have our problems if not for you being so impossible.
  • I don’t know why anyone would listen to you.
  • Yesterday you said one thing, today it’s something else.  What gives?
  • You are the most argumentative person I know.
  • No, you can’t do it that way.  I can’t count on you.

And so on.

Narcissists are in a constant defensive posture, and one of their favorite tactics is to keep the focus off their flaws by putting it onto you. “Truth” becomes whatever suits their narrative in the moment.  Being entitled, narcissists cannot be objective since subjectivity drives their attitudes.  Also, they choose not to remember their own faults or shortcomings because of their hidden shame.  Instead, they take it upon themselves to explain your motives to you as if they have the ultimate insight.  And even though they are the ones perpetuating strain, they become convinced they are the victim when you do not respond as they wish.

It’s important to understand that when narcissists criticize and point the finger of accusation toward you, they are acting out their own inner instability and pain.  Being aversive to vulnerable self-reflection, they unload that pain onto you.

In the meantime, as you experience the pathology pushing the narcissist’s accusations, it will wear you down psychologically.  It’s easy to become reflexively defensive when accused, and you can nurse incredulous thoughts like “I can’t believe I’m having to put up with this nonsense.”  Likewise, you can respond with anger, which leaves you vulnerable to participating in circular arguments.  Over time, you can struggle with feelings of resentment and contempt.  Often you can appease the narcissist, or perhaps you will isolate.

Over time, your feelings of weariness can prompt you to say, “Enough!  I can do better; I need to respond better.”   That understood, let’s focus on multiple steps that can prompt a rational response to the irrational, accusing narcissist.  It begins with getting your head in the right place.

  1. Remind yourself that each time you respond with agitation, it plays into the narcissist’s hands.  They think adversarially, as evidenced by their efforts to overwhelm you and verbally whip you into submission.  This is not someone who should set your emotional pace.  Remind yourself that you are in the presence of a disturbed person, not a leader or a positive role model.
  1. Ground yourself in reality, even when it is ugly.  It is a fact (a sad fact) that narcissists need you to feel inferior in order to build their brand of self-esteem.  Narcissists are constantly compensating at your expense for their own psychological incompetence.
  1. Don’t defend.  You might explain yourself once, but no more.  Your efforts to rationalize and justify will fall flat every time.  Inevitably, your defense will draw more offensive comments.
  1. Determine separately your defining traits.  Away from the chaos, take time to write down 12-15 top characteristics you want to prioritize.  Be specific about what it means to become a healthy person.
  1. Identify in advance 5 or 6 of the most common episodes with the narcissist that trigger you.  Then, taking the list of top characteristics, rehearse mentally how you could utilize those traits in such scenarios.
  1. Commit to being a person of calm confidence.  The narcissist wants you to be unhinged, but don’t go there.  With patience, remind yourself that you will need to be the healthy person in the room.  Trust yourself and hold onto the belief that your worth remains intact despite the narcissist’s proclivity to accuse.
  1. Move forward with assertive decisiveness.  You do not need permission from the narcissist to follow through with your priorities, nor do you need their agreement as you hold firmly to your opinions and preferences.  Put your relationship boundaries into action by acting upon your best judgments.  

Remember, when narcissists unload one accusation after another onto you, this is not a healthy person.  Furthermore, this is not a person who wants to introspect…which explains the tendency to look outwardly toward you.  Also, be aware that a narcissist’s accusations are commonly a projection of their own unfinished internal problems.  And keep in mind that hoping the narcissist will change is not a good strategy.  You may never succeed in changing that person, but you can change the ways you respond. 

Remind yourself: “Being me is quite adequate.”  And when the accusing narcissist declares otherwise, remind yourself: “Nonetheless, being me is still quite adequate.”

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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