Here's how to stop an argument with a narcissist from spinning out of control

  • Narcissists struggle with having positive feelings about someone while they are mad at them.
  • This means they get incredibly fierce and cruel during arguments.
  • For many people, the best thing to do is to leave a narcissist and cut them out of their life.
  • If this isn’t possible there are some tactics you can use to stop the argument escalating.
  • But it won’t be easy.

Narcissists tend to be incapable of something called “object constancy.” This means they struggle to have positive feelings at the same time as negative ones.

For example, once they are fired up for a fight, they can be incredibly cruel, because all they can comprehend in the moment are feelings of resentment and anger.

As a result, an argument about the smallest of issues can escalate quickly and fiercely. Something you may have thought of as unimportant, or even irrelevant, has been blown into a relationship-ending level row. They have spent your entire relationship working out how to push your buttons, and they will use everything in their power to make you feel insignificant and small.

If the narcissist is physically abusive, the tiniest inconvenience can cause them to throw things or even strike their partner.

Narcissists can be very delicate, depending on what sub-type they are. They can easily become offended, often accusing their partner of being “disrespectful” or “selfish” if they dare to do something for themselves. The world should revolve around them in their eyes, so focusing on anything else is taken as a direct attack.

This isn’t necessarily a conscious act, and it’s hard to understand whether narcissists really mean to cause the harm they do or not.

Expect the fight of your life

Elinor Greenberg, a therapist who wrote the book “Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration, and Safety,” told Business Insider that fighting with a narcissist is a completely different experience to regular relationship quarrels.

They are wired to be abusive because they’re so hypersensitive and completely lack empathy, so they are primed to take offence and misunderstand someone else’s needs and points of view.

“It’s a lot of work for a therapist,” she said. “I get screamed at, I’ve had people run from my room over the UPS man ringing my doorbell… I do 45 minute sessions, but the person who lives with them has it 24/7. So if they’re going to yell at me over the UPS man, you can see just how hard it is for them to have a relationship without getting nasty.”

Narcissistic rage ranges from direct confrontation with name-calling and hurtful slurs, to calculated, closed down reactions like giving their partner the silent treatment for hours at a time.

“They give you the cold shoulder, or they walk out and they find another woman,” Greenberg said. “But it’s all done silently and coolly and coldly – you know what you did.”

In a blog post for Psychology Today, Greenberg highlighted a set of ways you can de-escalate an argument with a narcissist if you find yourself in that position.

For most people, breaking things off with a narcissist and being free from them is the only option. They will never change, and your energy is better off being used elsewhere.

But there may be some instances where narcissists are unavoidable, like if you have a toxic colleague or member of the family.

Here are the steps you should take:

1. Don’t argue about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’

There’s no point trying to figure out who is “to blame” for something, as narcissists will never admit fault. They want to blame you for any negative emotions they are feeling, because they utterly rely on the image they are portraying as being faultless.

2. Instead, try to empathise with their feelings

If you are with a narcissist in the first place, you probably already have a lot of empathy. But even the most caring people struggle to see the sense of having it for someone who is hurling insult after insult at them.

However, if you find yourself backed into a corner, one way to sooth a narcissist’s rage is to empathise with their feelings, and say something like: “You must have felt very hurt by what I did, I can understand why you are feeling that way.”

3. Use ‘we’ language

By saying “we” rather than “I” or “you,” you include yourself in the behaviour. The narcissist is probably so angry at you because you dared to defend yourself, so to try and stop the argument escalating further you can try and remind them you’re in this together, and it will be better off for everyone to stop.

4. Don’t expect an apology

There’s no chance of the narcissist admitting to any wrongdoing or apologising. This includes asking them to process what really happened. According to Greenberg, a narcissist will not be comfortable with the idea that they started an argument over something trivial, so it’s best to just move on.

5. Ask about a topic that interests them

Narcissists love talking about themselves, or expressing just how much more they know about something than you do. So, in a similar way you might distract a baby with a set of keys, you can dangle a new topic in front of their face to veer the conversation away from conflict. This might not be that effective in the midst of a fierce row, but if you do it after some time has passed, the narcissist will probably take the bait.

Another similar solution is to ask for advice. This may look like a slightly less transparent way of changing the subject, because it will make the narcissist feel like they are the only person you can go to, and make them feel superior.

6. Don’t take the bait yourself

As the narcissist believes you have hurt them severely by whatever they think you did, they will want to do the same to you. This means they will proverbially throw everything at you, from that one time you misbehaved a year ago, to how you’re acting selfishly right now.

Essentially, they are trying to get the maximum response out of you they can. Greenberg says that by ignoring the insult, you can often avoid the pointless fight. If you rise to the bait, things are likely to escalate, and you’re effectively giving the narcissist exactly what they want – your pain.

7. Remember to put yourself first

Most experts believe being in a romantic relationship with a narcissist is an emotionally draining, damaging process. Ultimately, it’s up to you if you think the tedious ego stroking and hard work is worth it or not.

In all likelihood, you’ll probably realise it isn’t, and you’ll one day be able to move on with your life without the narcissist holding you back. But in the meantime, using these methods to de-escalate a narcissist who is on a roll can help get you out of upsetting, and potentially dangerous, situations.

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