35 Phrases To Disarm a Narcissist and Why They Do the Trick, According to Therapists
Here's exactly how to handle confrontations with a narcissist.
All of us deal with difficult people in our lives, no matter who we are or who we choose to keep in our circle. But sometimes, that difficulty can reach a whole new level, and there may be someone who continually puts you down, makes you feel small and batters your self-esteem.
These individuals are called narcissists. In fact, narcissism is a diagnosable condition. It’s called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and experts estimate that around 5% of people have this disorder.
“A narcissist is someone who has a very fragile sense of self and operates with a subconscious (but debilitating) fear of not being good enough,” says Alena Scigliano, licensed psychotherapist, author, speaker and clinical expert on narcissistic abuse.
This may come as a surprise since narcissists will act superior to those around them, but deep down, they don’t feel good about themselves. Scigliano explains that as a means of survival, narcissists will develop “defense mechanisms and offense tactics,” which are both part of narcissistic abuse.
That’s why it’s key to be ready with phrases to disarm a narcissist. Whether you’re in the throes of a heated confrontation, being barraged with insults yet again or simply want to respond to an underhanded comment said during an everyday conversation, these phrases will empower you and take the narcissist down a peg (or a whole lot more than just a peg).
What Are the Signs That Someone Is a Narcissist?
“There are many signs⎯what I call red flags⎯that someone is a narcissist,” says Scigliano. “However, the most important thing to know is that one flag does not mean someone is a narcissist. The key to determining that someone is a pathological narcissist is recognizing a pattern of multiple red flags.”
To determine if your partner, family member or friend is a narcissist, pay close attention to how this person treats those with whom they spend the most time. Do they tend to be narcissistically abusive toward one or more of those people?
Scigliano defines narcissistic abuse as a form of psychological abuse that uses dysfunctional manipulation, among other abusive tactics, to control others in order to elicit specific reactions or create circumstances that serve the needs of the narcissist—often to the detriment of others.
Jaime Mahler, LMHC, is a licensed clinical psychotherapist and shares these common traits seen among narcissists:
Low empathy or no empathy
Love is viewed as transactional (“What’s in it for me?”)
Relationships are viewed as tools to manipulate others
Fear of losing control over a situation, over a person or over people’s perceptions
Consistent lying/omission of truth
Seeking power positions within a family, workplace, in their religions or their businesses
Gaslighting (telling someone what they are experiencing or feeling isn’t happening/did not happen)
No respect for others’ boundaries
Lacking personal accountability
Related: Taylor Swift Might Have Embraced the Term, but What Exactly Is a 'Covert Narcissist'?
How Can a Narcissist Negatively Impact Your Life?
A narcissist can greatly impact your life, and typically not for the better. First of all, Scigliano says that being manipulated and controlled by another person engenders a constant sense of fear.
“Fear, at face value, is of course uncomfortable, but living with fear as a constant companion can have many detrimental effects on a person mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually,” she says.
Mahler says that those with the disorder can create situations in which the person they are interacting with is unaware of the manipulation that is occurring, which is why it’s so important to look for those aforementioned signs of narcissism.
“This occurs in covert narcissism,” Mahler says. “People with covert narcissistic traits can manipulate other people in your circle of friends, family or coworkers to get you to do what they want. They can make you feel as though you are going crazy for wanting to have basic needs met.”
These fundamental needs that should be a part of every healthy relationship include clear communication, kind interactions and mutual respect.
Narcissism can take a dangerous, overly controlling turn as well.
“People with NPD can impact people on a spectrum, so for some, they find the person with NPD is only controlling of their finances. For others, they can find themselves trapped in a relationship where their partner dictates what they can wear, what they can eat, who they can talk to and if they can have a job,” Mahler says.
Related: Is 'Breadcrumbing' Narcissistic? 15 Signs of This Toxic Relationship Style and How To Respond
How To Respond to a Narcissist
When speaking to a narcissist, they are likely trying to evoke emotional responses from you. Therefore, the best way to respond is to remain calm, cool and collected.
Instead of giving them the reaction they crave and thrive on (leading to a more dramatic exchange), it's important to remain in control of your words, facial expressions and tone.
35 Phrases To Confront and Disarm a Narcissist
If you’ve determined that you are indeed dealing with a narcissist in your life, it’s time to be ready with an arsenal of helpful and self-esteem-building phrases that can disarm a narcissist and create clear boundaries. According to Scigliano, all of the following phrases can be interchanged easily in a wide variety of situations with a narcissist.
1. “I need you to listen to me.”
This is a basic need you should have met during any conversation, even one with a narcissist. Since narcissists “tend to have little to no empathy for fellow humans,” as Mahler puts it, the narcissist likely won’t be turning a listening ear your way and could use some reminding.
2. “Please stop interrupting me.”
Scigliano says that trying to have a rational conversation with a narcissist or reasoning with them is unrealistic, so you can wholeheartedly expect interruptions throughout your conversation. You’ll need to ask them to stop interrupting you.
3. “I am not comfortable with how you’re speaking to me.”
While a narcissist will say demeaning things to you, it’s also all about how they’re delivering those words. If they raise their voice and start having an angry tone, you can say that you’re not comfortable with how they’re speaking to you.
4. “I need you to not yell.”
For this phrase, Scigliano says that you want to keep in mind that your goal needs to be de-escalating the narcissist rather than risking the narcissist becoming further enraged. Although it may be impossible, try to get the narcissist to calm down and lower their voice.
5. “I am on your side.”
This phrase edges toward kindness, but if you really are on the narcissist’s side and genuinely want good things for them, say it. At the very least, a hint of kindness will catch the narcissist off-guard.
6. “I need you to stop.”
When attempting to communicate with a narcissist, it’s best to keep phrases short and to the point. Scigliano says that instead of being more open, you need to be more emotionally closed off from the narcissist. “Instead of sharing their feelings, they need to focus only on objective facts,” she says. One of these objective phrases that may put an end to a heated conversation is, “I need you to stop.”
7. “If you don’t stop, I’m going to walk away.”
And do just that. Scigliano says that ultimately, establishing boundaries and sticking to them is the most effective way to handle confrontations in the moment as well as avoid future ones.
8. “We can talk again when you can speak kindly to me.”
Since narcissism can cause a great deal of dysfunction in relationships, kindness may not something you come across very often. But you can remind the person to find it in themselves to speak kindly to you, especially if you’re a spouse or close friend.
It’s as simple as that. “No” is a complete sentence, and it can immediately establish a clear boundary. It doesn’t go into detail. It doesn’t open you up for additional critical words. It’s the opposite of being vulnerable.
“Avoid making yourself emotionally vulnerable, because the narcissist will often take advantage of your vulnerability, now or sometime in the future,” Scigliano says.
10. “I hear what you’re saying.”
In a debate with a narcissist, all you have to do is acknowledge that you can hear their words. You don’t have to go out of your way to agree with them by any means.
11. “What is it you want me to know?”
This phrase can encourage some clear communication from the narcissist instead of shrouding it in insults and mean comments.
12. “What is it you want to hear from me?”
Again, this is a phrase that centers on communicating succinctly and clearly.
13. “You’re right.”
Before you gasp at this one, Scigliano says that you can say this without meaning that it’s true. If you say it calmly and evenly, it will absolutely disarm a narcissist, and they just might not know how to reply.
14. “What is really bothering you?”
Since narcissists go around with a viewpoint of “the world owes me,” as Mahler puts it, narcissists can often feel agitated and disgruntled with how they’re treated. Calmly, and genuinely, ask the person what is bothering them, and you may get to the bottom of things.
15. “I don’t deserve to be spoken to this way.”
This phrase is another one that establishes a defined boundary.
Related: 35 Common Gaslighting Phrases in Relationships and How To Respond, According to Therapists
16. “I am not able to discuss this right now.”
This phrase will quickly put an end to an unpleasant conversation, and it will mean even more if you walk away immediately after saying it. Additionally, Mahler says that it’s key to use “I” statements as often as possible, which will be viewed as assertive and prioritizing your own needs.
17. “I have explained my point of view, and I am no longer willing to continue this conversation.”
If you feel you have said your peace and gotten out every word you wanted to say, put an end to the conversation with this phrase.
18. “I will be removing myself from this conversation if this discussion starts to lack civility.”
This is an effective phrase to use if you see the conversation starting to go off the rails. If the narcissist begins raising their voice or using unkind language, break out this phrase and they may rethink what they’re saying.
19. “This is what I am discussing and I will not be discussing anything else.”
Cool. Calm. Straightforward. Getting emotional is the quickest way to make the narcissist feel as if they have the upper hand. Say this phrase and simply stick to the facts.
20. “I have five minutes to discuss this, and after that, I will be ending this conversation.”
Since narcissists continually seek validation from their external environment, they may try to drag out a heated debate longer than they need to just for the enjoyment of feeling superior. Put a hard stop to this by timing the conversation. You can even set a timer on your phone and walk away as soon as five minutes are up.
21. “I know how I feel.”
The narcissist will try to gaslight you into thinking that your thoughts and emotions aren’t valid. Instead, back up your side of the argument by saying, “I know how I feel.”
22. “People misunderstanding my boundaries is not my responsibility.”
Mahler says that a person with NPD may purposefully break boundaries to gain a sense of power over another person. Don’t allow them to do this. It’s not your fault that the narcissist misunderstands or even disrespects your boundaries, and you can remind them of that.
23. “I am okay with people misunderstanding me.”
The narcissist is trying to get a rise out of you. Instead, you can shrug your shoulders and plainly say, “I am okay with people misunderstanding me.” Let them know that you’re good with who you are and don’t put stock in others’ opinions, especially if they’re coming from a narcissist.
24. “I am convicted in my truth about the situation.”
Stick to your guns and stand by everything you’ve said during the conversation.
25. “I am aware that we don’t share the same opinion.”
Not everyone has to share the same opinion, but this is a hard truth for a narcissist to swallow. Since they have low self-worth and derive their sense of value from external sources, as Mahler says, they want everyone to think the same things as them. Remind the person that there’s no reason for you both to have to share the same opinion.
26. “I will not entertain this conversation.”
Scigliano says that narcissists will use tactics that enable them to push away anyone they perceive as a threat, and this threat can come out as nasty comments during an exchange. Let them know that they won’t have this power over you and say, “I will not entertain this conversation.”
27. “I know what happened. You are allowed to have a different understanding of the event.”
Again, you may not both agree, and that’s fine.
Mahler calls this approach the “Grey Rock Method,” which is not giving an emotional response at all or giving them as little a response as possible. Every time they say something, you could just say, “Okay.” They won’t know how to respond because they want to see you react.
Even just a sound or grunt under your breath is enough to disarm a narcissist, particularly since you’re not giving them a leg to stand on with a bunch of emotional words.
Sound disinterested even. During a heated conversation, you could interject an “uh-huh” here and there to appear as if you have better things to do, which will get under a narcissist’s skin.
31. “I can’t control how you feel about me.”
You can’t control others. You can only control yourself. This phrase reminds the narcissist of this universal truth, and you can remind yourself in the process.
32. “You are certainly entitled to your opinion.”
Mahler says that blame-shifting and deflection behaviors are rampant during confrontations with a narcissist, so remind the person that they can have their opinion, no matter how poorly it’s delivered.
33. “I am sorry you feel that way.”
Note: you are not apologizing for anything you’ve done, because you’ve done nothing wrong. You can say, “I am sorry you feel that way,” and walk away. The narcissist may even feel a pang of guilt after you say this.
34. “Thank you for your input.”
This is an emotion-free statement that doesn’t uphold anything the narcissist has said.
35. Say nothing at all.
Scigliano says, “From a safety perspective, consider the level of abuse that the narcissist is capable of inflicting. If they have ever indicated a propensity toward violence, you need to be extremely careful with what you say, and sometimes, saying nothing is safest.”
Next up, find out what to do if you keep falling for narcissists.
Alena Scigliano, licensed psychotherapist, author, speaker and clinical expert on narcissistic abuse.
Jaime Mahler, LMHC, a licensed clinical psychotherapist.
Cleveland Clinic: “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”