Do you have a narcissist in your life and you’re wondering if successfully communicating with a narcissist is even possible? Being in a relationship with a narcissistic person is quite challenging and draining. Some people will break up with their narcissistic partner if they don’t see any changes, but others might feel stuck in a relationship with a narcissist because it’s their family member who they live with.
Narcissism is a character flaw that can negatively impact relationships, often to an extreme or to a point where it’s clear the relationship cannot continue.
Communicating with a narcissist requires a certain level of skill and a unique approach if you want to get through to them. It might seem like you’ll never get through to them, but it is possible. Before we get into how to successfully communicate with a narcissistic person, let’s review what narcissism is.
What Are Narcissistic Traits?
If you think you’re dealing with a narcissist, you’re either dealing with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) — a diagnosed mental health condition — or you’re dealing with someone who has narcissistic traits.
Narcissistic traits include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Inflated ego or self-importance
- Lack of empathy and lack of remorse
- Inability to hear or receive criticism about themselves
- Constant need for approval or adoration
- Dominating conversations to make it all about them and failing to ask about you
- Noticeable sense of entitlement
- Seeking out special treatment that they feel they deserve
- Tendency to take advantage of others
- Demean or belittle others
- Failure to genuinely care for other people’s needs
- Tendency to be charming and manipulative
- Acting superior to others and genuinely believing they are superior
- Arrogant behavior patterns
The DSM-5 lists these traits as narcissistic, but at least 5 of these traits must be consistently present to qualify for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, among other criteria.
As you can see from the list of narcissistic traits above, communicating with a narcissist likely won’t be easy, unless you approach them in a very specific way.
Remember that narcissism is a character trait, while NDP (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is a personality disorder. Either way, it’s not easy communicating with a narcissist or with someone who has narcissistic traits.
Why Communicating With a Narcissist is So Difficult
One of the main reasons why communicating with a narcissist is so difficult is because you’re often trying to express something they have done that hurt you, bothered you, or made you angry. Unfortunately, narcissists tend to stop listening the moment they hear a hint of criticism about themselves. This is because their narcissistic self-image relies on constant adoration, admiration and praise.
Narcissists often distance themselves from people who have ‘caught on’ to their poor character and no longer adore them, to preserve their narcissistic self-image. They’ll find a new supply, someone who adores them and isn’t onto them yet.
Getting a narcissist to see when they’re being unreasonable or emotionally abusive can be a major challenge. When you try, they may gaslight you, saying you’re too emotional, denying their mistakes, or turning it around on you to say that it’s your fault. Someone with NPD might refuse to take any responsibility for their actions, and imply you or some other external factor caused them to behave that way.
5 Tips for Getting Through to a Narcissist
Does anything get through to a narcissist? How do you navigate a relationship with a narcissist and feel that they are hearing you? Depending how severe their narcissism is and their overall mental health, there are ways to connect with them. Knowing how to navigate NPD with a partner, family member or friend can help you set boundaries, navigate challenges, and succeed at having healthy communication with them more often. Below are five tips that might help you get through to a narcissist.
- Approach Them in a Gentle and Calm Manner
The expression, You’ll catch more bees with honey than vinegar perfectly describes how you should speak to a narcissistic person.
This may be tough, especially if their behavior has made you incredibly frustrated, hurt, or angry. You may want to scream at the person to ask them what’s wrong with them, or to get them to take accountability. Like with any mental health condition, the narcissistic person might not have the capacity to treat you the way you want to be treated. Being the calm, mature and gentle one in a conversation can help nudge them in the right direction.
Don’t feed into the belittling, gaslighting or ego trips if the conversation starts to go that way while communicating with a narcissist. If it seems like they’re trying to get under your skin, steer the conversation in a different direction, or express your thoughts reasonably and calmly.
If you need to, say you’ll exit the conversation for now, until you feel it can reconvene more healthily at a later time.
You won’t get very far if you blame them, criticize them, embarrass them, mimic them or engage in prolonged arguments. Doing so will likely make things worse. When you stay calm, you can deescalate a situation and potentially get them to see things differently.
- Avoid Being Overly Critical or “You Did This” Sentences
When you’re communicating with a narcissist and trying to get through to them, try to avoid placing blame on them. Even when they’re obviously to blame and there’s a lot to be critical about because they’ve done something wrong, they just won’t hear you.
Narcissistic people handle constructive criticism or negative feedback about themselves in a much different way than the rest of us. They simply can’t and won’t hear it.
Narcissists want to block out any and all negative feedback about themselves, so they’re rarely receptive to it.
For example, when you’re in an argument, a narcissistic person likely won’t hear anything after the word “You.”
“You did this”, “You can’t,” “You never” and “Why don’t you” are just some of the phrases that can make the narcissistic person feel threatened, defensive, angry, and no longer willing to listen. Try pulling them out of the situation to help them think more objectively. Instead of saying they did something, talk about how it is generally wrong, and how these types of behaviors make you feel, using “I feel” statements. This brings us to our next tip.
- Use “I Feel” or “We Need” Sentences
A great way to reframe “you” statements towards the person is to turn the conversation to how a situation impacts you. Instead of “You never care about my needs,” try “I feel like my needs go unnoticed, and I’m not sure if that’s your intention.” This gentler approach centers the problem on you without directly blaming the narcissist. This can help them be less defensive and more receptive to perhaps listen to what you have to say.
You can start sentences with “I wish”, or “I’d love it if” and see if they’re more receptive.
Similarly, saying something like “we need to care about each other’s needs more” is another way to approach a conversation with a narcissist that doesn’t sound like you’re criticizing them.
Someone with severe narcissism or diagnosed NPD might not have the empathy required to care about your feelings, which will likely be obvious depending on how they respond to your “I feel” statements and what they do differently (or what they don’t do) following the conversation.
- Sandwich Criticism with Compliments
If you feel like you have to play the narcissist’s game in order to get through to them, this might involve rubbing their ego a bit during your interactions with them.
When communicating with a narcissist, try sandwiching any criticism in between two compliments. This might sound something like this:
“I love that I can do nothing with you and still have fun, even when we’re just hanging out at home. Sometimes I wish you were a bit less of a homebody and acknowledged my feelings that I’d like to go out and do something fun in the city. You’re so gorgeous that I just want to show you off in public sometimes.”
Instead of criticizing them for being lazy or too much of a couch potato, you’re playing into their ego and cleverly hiding your criticism, which means they might actually listen.
- Set Clear Boundaries
Staying calm or being gentle when interacting with a narcissistic person doesn’t mean being complacent with emotional abuse. You can set boundaries around actions and conversations that they must respect if they want to stay in the relationship.
Common boundaries include walking away if they start to yell, or ending a conversation if they insult you. You can definitely get to a narcissist by ignoring them, and it can be a good way to communicate your boundaries.
Try to inform them of your limits before ultimately enforcing your boundaries by refusing to engage. They need to know what your rules and limits are. Speaking up when someone violates your boundaries can remind them that you deserve love, respect and understanding. It can teach them to respect you.
Getting Support When You’re Dealing With a Narcissist
The above tips on communicating with a narcissist can help you protect your mental and emotional health. However, it’s not going to fix their personality disorder if they have NDP.
Don’t spend all your time and energy trying to get them to a breakthrough. Trying to change a narcissist will only exhaust you. Oftentimes, this is simply how they operate, unfortunately, and you can’t fix them.
A relationship with a narcissist can be very emotionally draining and mentally taxing. There’s a lot of support out there because dealing with a narcissistic partner is one of the common relationship problems people face. Creating a healthy support system is important when coping with a narcissist’s mistreatment.
Isolation is a common stress response, but that’s when you often need your loved ones the most. Seek out love and support from those who truly care about you.
Tell trusted family members and friends about your experiences to get them off your chest — don’t bottle up your frustration or sadness. Leaning on others when your situation overwhelms you is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Consider finding a support group where you can meet others in your situation and get advice.
Speaking to a licensed therapist could also be an excellent way to help you cope.
Having a narcissist in your life is complex and finding ways to get through to them can provide relief. However, you should prioritize your mental health and well-being. It’s wise to walk away from a negative relationship that isn’t getting better. You might want to leave if you feel abused, threatened, controlled, disrespected or consistently mistreated. If you’re having trouble walking away, that’s when a licensed counselor can really help.