Published On: September 28, 2023
Reviewed On: September 28, 2023
Updated On: September 28, 2023
Dealing with people who have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be challenging on multiple levels. About 6% of the population has NPD, a complex personality disorder that causes an intense need for admiration and a general inability to empathize. The condition also causes extreme patterns of grandiose behavior, like narcissistic rage, that make relationships difficult.
Learning how to respond to a narcissist means understanding more about the disorder so you don’t get caught up in toxic behaviors. Keep reading to learn the best way to respond to a narcissist while protecting your self-worth and integrity. You’ll learn how to live with a narcissist by knowing when and how to engage with their narcissistic personality traits, phrases to disarm a narcissist, and when it might be best to walk away.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that people with NPD thrive on drama and manipulation. A narcissistic person uses attention-seeking behavior to get what they want, and has zero qualms about using the people in their lives.
Learning how to respond to a narcissist’s text, phone call, face-to-face situation, or any other interaction is essential if you’re in a relationship with someone with NPD. To learn how to disarm a narcissist, you should become aware of the common tactics they tend to use. For example, it’s common for someone with NPD to use forms of:
Here are some tips on managing interactions with somebody who has NPD.
Maintaining your composure is critical when dealing with someone with narcissistic personality disorder. The more composed you are, the less likely you are to be manipulated by drama and conflict-seeking behavior. Be careful to control your emotions so you’re less likely to be sucked into manipulative tactics.
Boundaries are essential when dealing with somebody with NPD. When it comes to how to make a narcissist respect you, knowing how to set healthy boundaries is key. Be resolute in expressing your limits when dealing with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder tendencies.
Tips: Communicate and establish your boundaries and make sure that consequences are explicitly defined. Then, most importantly, follow through if your boundaries are not respected.
Expert Insight“Don't justify explain or defend yourself, leave when it doesn't feel safe, decide what you will tolerate and what you will not, learn to deflect negative comments or put-downs, Try to sign up for yourself as much as possible, and remind yourself that gas lighting exists especially if you feel that you are right, but your point is not being listened to or understood.”
While it can be tempting, resist the urge to engage in the games some people with NPD try to play. They’ll use manipulation tactics, like gaslighting or guilt-tripping, to get their way. Rather than feed into this cycle, stay focused on facts and don’t let your emotions get the best of you.
Tips: Use facts, resist emotionally-loaded language, and stay calm when things get heated.
It’s important to understand that people with NPD rarely change their behavior. In fact, they may not even be incapable of doing so without intensive therapy and help. Don’t waste time trying. Focus on managing how you respond to their behavior and actions instead of attempting the impossible and feudal task of making them be “better” people.
Tips: You can practice how to disarm a narcissist in realistic, healthy ways by scripting your reactions so you’ll have appropriate and effective ways to respond.
Expert Insight“A narcissist's power is making you believe they will change and throwing you off when they don't. Avoid trying to change them, change your behavior so that they cannot emotionally overwhelm you or disengage when you feel overwhelmed”
You must be able to separate facts from emotion when conversing with somebody who has NPD. Stick to strictly factual information, and don’t allow your personal feelings to come into play. As a result, you will be better equipped to have positive, effective interactions. Failure to do so will only lead you on an unproductive path that often leads to emotional turmoil and pain.
Remember, people with NPD are skilled at making you believe they are right and you are wrong. When you understand that their actions typically stem from their insecurities and anxieties, separating their behavior from your own sense of self-worth is easier. Keep in mind that they crave recognition and attention and will do anything to get them.
Tips: Try not to take their behavior personally by remembering that their behavior is more about them than you.
Using “I statements” can be much more effective than being accusatory when you’re in a conversation with somebody with narcissistic tendencies. The “I statement” approach can help prevent defensive reactions and keep situations from escalating.
Tips: I statements can include statements like “I feel disrespected when…,” or “I feel hurt when you…,” or “I feel like you’re not listening to me….”
Expert Insight“When arguing, use I statements ‘I feel that you are.. I feel that I cannot control myself when …, I need you to..,’ do not accuse a narcissist of doing anything, do not say that they are making you feel a certain way. Simply state how you are feeling and what you want to do and what you have done.”
Keep your interactions brief If you’re experiencing increasingly toxic interactions and behavior, limit your time with somebody with NPD. If you must be around or interact with them, keep conversations short and focused. Tips: Don’t be afraid to step away when you need to. If you feel like an interaction harms your self-worth, excuse yourself. Remember, you don’t need to explain either. Seek support Support can be crucial in maintaining a healthy relationship with somebody with NPD. Get help from family members or friends. Don’t rule out seeking advice and support from a mental health professional who’s experienced in narcissistic behavior. Tips: Join an online or in-person support group or seek individual counseling to help you learn how to navigate a narcissistic relationship.
As you learn how to respond to a narcissistic personality, keeping specific phrases ready to use can be a great tool. Remember that these phrases are less about winning or changing someone’s behavior than they are tools to protect your mental health and boundaries.
The following can help you disarm toxic behavior while you protect your mental health.
Sometimes you need to be willing to accept that a conversation isn’t going to lead to anything healthy or productive. Knowing how to respond to a narcissist means understanding that some people with NPD will control the narrative and dominate the conversation to the point that nothing you say or do will change the outcome. When you experience this, you need to be willing to walk away.
Some signs that you should disengaging might include:
Expert Insight“As previously stated, if you start to feel overwhelmed, unsafe or that the situation is becoming unhealthy, leave the situation. Do not stay and try to convince the person that you are right or they are wrong, just leave.”
If you’re experiencing any of the above or feel like you’re suffering from narcissistic abuse, it might be time to step away. Sometimes, steering away from destructive relationships can be the best option for your own mental health. If you need help navigating the best way to respond to a narcissist or leave an unhealthy relationship, Talkspace is here for you.
We offer convenient, affordable, accessible online therapy with experienced mental health professionals who understand the best ways to deal with people who have NPD. Reach out today to learn more about how to get the help you need to create the best relationships you can.
Stinson FS, Dawson DA, Golstein RB, et al. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2008;69(7):1033-1045. doi:10.4088/jcp.v69n0701. Accessed April 18, 2023.
Dr. Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW is a Therapist and Peer Consultant at Talkspace. She is a California born - Florida based Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Central Florida. Her areas of research, teaching and practice include the intersection of race, gender and ability, intimate partner violence and trauma recovery, and access to culturally responsive mental health treatment for Black women and Deaf women.