Interacting with a narcissist can feel like a losing battle. When someone is thoroughly convinced that they’re always the victim and blames you for everything — while maintaining that they’re smarter than everyone else — it’s hard to know how to respond to their accusations and other lies. The situation’s complexity is especially salient since a narcissist can and will hold anything you say against you, making it critical to proceed with caution. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a handful of phrases to disarm a narcissist in your back pocket the next time you can’t avoid a run-in with this toxic type?
When figuring out how to deal with a narcissist, it’s also crucial to remember that they’re masters of manipulation. If you have buttons, they’re going to know what they are and how to find (and push) them. In many cases, it’s best not to engage with a narcissist and their toxic behavior at all, opting instead to walk away from the situation.
But that’s not always possible, and a response is necessary. To help you get through those situations, here are some key things to keep in mind when dealing with these personalities — including phrases to disarm a narcissist.
How to Handle Confrontations With a Narcissist
Scary Mommy reached out to licensed mental health counselor Mary Joye, M.A., P.A., LMHC, for expert insight, and Joye acknowledged that it’s important to know “how to navigate a narcissist when you can’t go no-contact, and there are many times when you can’t.” The secret, she told us, is “in benign statements.”
Essentially, you don’t want to ask them questions. Why? “When you ask a narcissist questions, it may lead to some version of it being your fault. For example, ‘Why are you so mean?’ to a narcissist could come back to you as ‘because you make me mean,'” Joye explained, adding, “It’s better to make statements such as ‘You’re being very difficult, and I can’t tolerate it.’ No matter what the narcissist says, walk away and don’t engage much in conversation. It gives them too much ammunition.”
A narcissist wants you to react. “If you don’t take offense, you can’t give any defense — and narcissists love it when you go into a defensive mode,” Joye said. “You avoid this, again, by making benign statements with phrases such as:
- ‘I see your point.’
- ‘You’ve given me a lot to think about.’
- ‘I understand.’
- ‘Your perspective is interesting.’
- ‘I can see where you’re coming from.’
- ‘You have a unique perspective.’
All of the above phrases don’t mean you agree with a narcissist; it’s just benign phrases they can’t argue with easily. And if all else fails and they end up being really cruel to you, you can stop them in their tracks by saying, ‘I expected you to say that.'”
Granted, even that phrase could potentially provoke a narcissist. “You don’t expect a narcissist to be nice or rational, so saying ‘I expected that answer from you’ may get you in a little bit of trouble,” cautioned Joye. “But when say it calmly with a smile, they will know that your boundary is set.”
What to Say to Disarm a Narcissist
When dealing with a narcissist, it can clearly be difficult to know what to say to shut them down. With that in mind (along with the phrases from Joye above), here are a few things you can say when a narcissist tries to bait you into confrontation.
- “I don’t agree with you, but you have a right to have your opinion. I also have a right to mine.”
- “You are certainly entitled to your opinion. I know it seems right to you, and I know that you wholeheartedly believe it.”
- “We can agree to disagree.”
- “We will work on this together.”
- “Let me ask your advice on this. How would you handle this particular situation?”
- “I hear what you’re saying.”
- “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
- “I just want you to know how I feel.”
- “I have no right to control how you see me.”
- “I see that you are [insert emotion].”
- “Everything is OK.”
- “This has nothing to do with the matter at hand.”
- “Your recollection of events differs greatly from mine.”
- “Your response is noted.”
- “Thanks for letting me know your thoughts; I’ll consider them.”
- “Thank you for sharing your opinion.”
- “I’m willing to work this out, but I am not willing to be insulted or yelled at.”
- “I’d like to maintain a respectful working relationship.”
- “I’m happy to consider your wishes and preferences, and I would like the same from you.”
- “I understand that you’re upset and disappointed, and I’m willing to listen to your thoughts and feelings.”
- “I know you are used to taking charge and making things go your way, and you take pride in that. It’s great to have that kind of savvy in certain situations. But it’s not OK for you to dismiss my opinion or my feelings. I know you may be too upset to talk about this right now. I suggest we postpone our conversation until you’ve had a chance to calm down.”
- “I can accept your faulty perception of me.”
- “I accept that this is how you feel.”
- “Your anger is not my responsibility.”
- “It seems like you have given this a lot of thought.”
- “I trust that we’ll handle this situation.”
A Few Final Notes on Dealing With a Narcissist
Again, while walking away (momentarily or for good) is the ideal way to respond to a narcissist, that can be easier said than done — especially when complicated family dynamics are involved, or the narcissist is someone in your workplace. If you must engage with a narcissist, keep the following considerations in mind.
- A narcissist isn’t going to accept blame or culpability for creating tension. That’s just not the way they’re wired. Their ego won’t allow it. So, the end goal here shouldn’t be to get them to apologize or admit blame; it should be to diffuse the situation at hand.
- A narcissist is going to do everything they can to bait you into arguing with them — not so you can see each other’s perspectives, but so they can try to manipulate you into agreeing with theirs. As hard as it can be, try not to let them suck you into talking in circles with them.
- A narcissist may fly into a narcissistic rage from the slightest provocation if their ego gets bruised. Inward signs of narcissistic rage include passive aggression, resentment, entitlement, and biting sarcasm. Outward signs may include screaming, personal attacks, blame-shifting, and other cruel and harmful behavior such as physical abuse. If you ever feel as though you’re in the presence of a person in narcissistic rage who is a threat to you, themselves, or anyone else, call 911 or your local emergency number.