It's Complicated

Do You Argue Like A Narcissist? We Asked A Neuropsychologist How You Can Tell

It's me, hi. I'm the problem, it's me... Or am I?

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A man and woman argue in the kitchen.
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While terms like "gaslighting," "triggered," and "narcissist" trending on social media can help you feel seen and heard, you might start diagnosing yourself or those around you all based on what a TikTok therapist is telling their followers. Case in point: When a recent video about arguing with a narcissist racked up more than five million views, it prompted thousands of comments from users who believe they are, in fact, dealing with a narcissist… or are even narcissists themselves.

The clip, shared by Dr. Annie Zimmerman (aka @your_pocket_therapist), features Zimmerman sharing five signs that show why it's impossible to argue with a narcissist. The reasons include denial, deflection, playing the victim, gaslighting, and/or attacking/aggression — all traits that resonated with commenters, many of whom were left believing that they are narcissistic without even realizing it.

While Zimmerman is a credible source, it’s worth pointing out that — unless you're *directly* speaking to a trained professional — TikTok is not your therapist. Still, the unfortunate reality is that for most people, actual therapy is pretty inaccessible for many reasons. So, it makes sense that free, easy advice from TikTok pros feels like a safe alternative to costly and time-consuming IRL therapy sessions.

But before diagnosing yourself or a loved one as a narcissist, it's helpful to define what it actually is and why it's not a term to be thrown around willy-nilly without a one-on-one convo with a trained pro.

Narcissism 101

"A narcissist is someone who has a personality disorder known as a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)," explains Miami-based neuropsychologist Dr. Aldrich Chan. "People with this disorder are characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others."

According to Chan, some common traits and behaviors associated with narcissistic personality disorder include:

  • Grandiosity: "Narcissists often have an exaggerated sense of self-importance. They may exaggerate their achievements and talents and expect to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements." This can include "unrealistic fantasies about their success, power, intelligence, or appearance," he says, adding, "Narcissists often believe that they can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions."
  • Need for Excessive Admiration: "They have a constant need for excessive admiration and attention. They may fish for compliments or seek attention in ways that are inappropriate."
  • Sense of Entitlement: "Narcissists often have a sense of entitlement and believe that others should cater to their needs and desires. They may exploit others to achieve their goals."
  • Lack of Empathy: "A lack of empathy is a common characteristic of narcissistic personality disorder. They may be unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others."
  • Envy: "Narcissists may be envious of others or believe that others are envious of them. This can lead to feelings of resentment and hostility."
  • Arrogance: "They may display arrogant attitudes or behaviors, and they may come across as condescending or patronizing."

The Diagnosis Distinction

Chan notes that "everyone may exhibit narcissistic traits from time to time," which is likely why TikTok videos about narcissism resonate with so many users. That doesn't mean you can self-diagnose as a narcissist, no matter how closely you relate to the traits listed on TikTok. "It's important to note that narcissistic personality disorder is a complex mental health condition that requires professional evaluation and diagnosis," he says.

"The term 'narcissist' is indeed commonly used in social media and everyday language to describe a range of behaviors, from self-centeredness to more extreme cases of narcissistic personality traits," says Chan. "Using the term loosely to describe someone who exhibits self-centered behavior or displays arrogance in social situations may oversimplify a complex clinical condition."

As for the whole "arguing with/like a narcissist," Chan reiterates that these argument styles alone do not necessarily indicate an NPD diagnosis, which will be pervasive, consistent behaviors that cause "significant distress or impairment in functioning," he says.

Am I the problem?

Noticing troubling patterns within yourself is a good starting point for thoughtful self-reflection, says Chan. "Start by paying attention to your interactions with others — observe if you consistently seek admiration or attention and how you handle criticism. Seeking honest feedback from friends, family, or trusted individuals can provide valuable insights into your behavior."

He suggests you should open yourself up to constructive criticism and reflect on recurring patterns in the feedback.

"Assess the quality of your relationships and consider whether you may be exploiting others for personal gain. Reflect on your ability to empathize with others and whether you prioritize your needs over theirs. Examine past situations where narcissistic tendencies may have surfaced and explore potential root causes, such as early life experiences. Setting goals for personal growth, developing healthier communication and relationship skills, and practicing empathy can be constructive steps toward addressing and managing any narcissistic tendencies."

Of course, you should always seek the guidance of a mental health professional if you need additional support and insight, emphasizes Chan.

Fighting Fire with Fire

And while long-term personal growth is always a positive, what steps can you take in the heat of an actual argument to ensure you're fighting fairly?

"Instead of getting caught up in negative and coercive exchanges, prioritize problem-solving during arguments,” he says. “It is important to stay focused on the issue at hand and avoid bringing up unrelated past events or grievances. This helps to keep the argument productive and prevents it from veering off track."

To that end, Chan recommends "addressing issues as they arise instead of storing them and bringing them all up simultaneously. This prevents arguments from becoming overwhelming and unmanageable."

Perhaps the hardest step? The good doctor recommends approaching arguments with "curiosity" and "a willingness to understand the other person's perspective." You know, the whole "put yourself in someone else's shoes" approach. "It is crucial to maintain respect and treat each other with kindness, even during arguments. Avoid using derogatory language, name-calling, or ridiculing the other person."

On that note, "Instead of blaming or accusing the other person, express your feelings and thoughts using 'I' statements," suggests Chan. "This helps to avoid defensiveness and promotes open communication."

When all else fails, it's probably time to pump the brakes. "If the argument becomes heated or emotions are running high, it can be helpful to take a break and revisit the discussion when both parties are calmer," he says. "This allows for a more rational and productive conversation."

And yes, that includes social media. Sometimes, it's best to throw in the towel and remember that just because you feel like you've learned a lot from TikTok therapy doesn't mean it's rooted in reality. It's OK to step away from the phone and reconnect with yourself and your loved ones away from the digital ethers.

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