The Narcissist’s Playbook: How to Deal with a Narcissist to Manage Conflict (Part 4)

The term ‘Narcissist’ is heavily overused in the world these days.  However, they do exist, and they can be extremely toxic people in marital relationships. Understanding how to spot one and how to deal with one when they are being difficult is really important. And even more important, is how to recover from Narcissistic Abuse. This article series is going to be broken up into different segments: Identifying a Narcissist; Possible Causation of Narcissistic Personality Disorder; Spotting Narcissist Tactics and Habits;  Dealing with a Narcissist; Overcoming Narcissistic Abuse and Defusing the Narcissist; Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as well ‘de-bunking’ theories of Narcissism.  Society has gotten far too comfortable calling people narcissists without being properly informed. Therefore, to better explain who a narcissist is, how they operate, and how you can handle a narcissist, follow along this series of articles for a 101 on Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Part 4: How to Deal with a Narcissist to Manage Conflict

Below are two lists, one is how to deal with ongoing conflict with a person with narcissistic personality disorder, and the second is a quick ‘cheat sheet’ guide to handling an argument with a narcissist. Both can be useful in addressing conflict with narcissists.

  1. Understand the Narcissist’s Motive of Operation

To be able to have any level of break through with any conflict with a narcissist, you need to understand where they are going from. A great example to understand the motive behind a narcissist is as follows:

Two men are at a crosswalk with an elderly woman.  One young man bashfully flirts with her because he knows that she will get a laugh out of his ability to be endearing. The other young man will bashfully flirt with her to get the same laugh out of her, but only to impress the younger attractive girl staring at him from across the street.

What does this illustration show? Narcissists’ motives are self-serving, always.  Even if short term the benefit is for someone else, it is because the long-term plan is for their own benefit. By explaining to the narcissist how decision they make are negatively impacting them, you can help them make better decisions for the both of you. Give credit where credit is due and show him or her how they can make a positive impact by making certain decisions.

  1. All Behavior is Rational, You Just Need to Find the Rationale

People suffering from NPD despise rational thinking. They will gaslight you until you feel like you’re going to snap in order for you to doubt your own mental thinking process. Being calm and rational in times of conflict, and sticking to the topic at hand will drive a person with NPD crazy. Although it won’t defuse them, they will be less likely to argue with someone who is able to make sense of and shut down their self-serving and flawed thought process. People suffering from NPD are in it for the reactions. Stay calm, stay rational.

  1. Next, Write Everything Down

Keep track in a journal of inconsistencies of your partner.  Narcissists are known for bending the rules to benefit themselves, or evading rules all together. Notice when they are not following the rules and keep that handy for when they start to point the finger in your direction. In addition, they are often used to flipping the rules around on someone else.

It is very typical of a person with NPD to never follow the rules and come up with reasons for why the rules shouldn’t apply to them, or why they can’t. That may even be true. However, do not expect this flexibility to be allotted to yourself, and do not expect a narcissist to hold up to their word. Keep record of these inconsistencies.

  1. Remember, They Feed Off Being in Control

If you are dealing with a higher performing narcissist, studies have shown that they operate better off positive reinforcement than negative. Negative reinforcement only fuels the fire in many cases, as many narcissists have an underlying feeling of shame and insecurity.  Allow this rationale to shape some of the decisions that are made as you try to navigate the relationship.  Positive reinforcement makes them feel like they still have some level of control and are benefiting from their actions.

Avoid a narcissist making you feel like you are in the wrong or crazy. They cannot help that it is how their brain operates. Do not attempt to fight fire with fire. Narcissists can remain calm, and it is important to avoid fueling a fire. Do not anticipate a narcissist accepting accountability, and because of that, do not attempt to push them do to so. Any attempts at having a narcissist accept accountability will likely just result in them feeling attacked, and then lashing out to gain control.

  1. Be Positive and Use Humor

Narcissists can go to a negative place very quickly. They often perceive neutral emotions as more negative than positive.  For this reason, it is important to stay positive. When you notice that they are beginning to go to a negative place, or engage in abusive behaviors, attempt to meet their combative behaviors with a joke, or humor to lighten the mood.  However, make the joke lighthearted, and do not make jokes about the narcissist. Making a joke about the narcissist is only going to fuel the fire.

  1. It is Not You, it is Them- Do Not Their Hurtful Words Impact You

Do your best to not take things personal.  The insults, the name-calling, the belittling, are all a reflection of what is going on internally with the narcissist and not a reflection of you.  Although gaslighting has the effect of causing one to doubt their own thought process, remember that you got yourself this far in life, and you are smart and capable and the harmful words that have been said to you, were said by someone who has an actual impaired ability to regulate emotions and process empathy. Do not give too much merit into a narcissist’s assessment of your personality or self-worth.

If this seems hard to do, take a step back and remember where they are coming from with their hurtful actions. They are coming to you from a place of deep-rooted shame, insecurity, feeling of not belonging where they are.  They are coming from a place of not truly feeling understood or loved. Understand that their hurtful behavior is on them.  Most importantly, accept that they are not going to see things from your perspective, no matter how hard you try. Without professional help, they won’t have the ability to put themselves in your shoes.

  1. Set Boundaries and Do Not Let Your Guard Down- Period.

If you are dealing with a narcissist, especially one who has not sought treatment or acknowledged his or her impairment, boundaries are going to be lifesavers, and above all you cannot let your guard down. This can be difficult because narcissists do not do well respecting boundaries of others, and they are masters at manipulation.

People with NPD use self-deprecation and a false sense of humility to make others feel like they can relate to them, and thus, lower their guard. Once this happens, the abuse cycle is going to happen again.   If your partner is not willing to seek treatment for their personality disorder, you need to cut ties, and be done or accept that you will have a spouse who will never put their needs above yours, when push comes to shove. For partners who do seek help, it is increasingly important to rely on their actions, and not their words, and most times, these two things are not compatible.

  1. Get a Dog, Not Kidding

Being in a relationship with a narcissist is emotionally draining. Dogs are known to help to lower stress and increase happiness in people.  In addition, there are many days where a person who is in a relationship with someone who has NPD will feel a lack of love and support, or their efforts to be loving and supporting will be shut down.  Studies have shown that people will pets show less signs of depression, and are able to feel a sense of loyalty and companionship, which can be often missing from the life of someone who is living with a person with NPD. A pet, especially a dog is a really great way to create balance in the home.

  1. Look to Families and Close Friends for Support, You Are Going to Need it

Narcissists have the ability to say really horrible things about people and destroy people’s lives when they do not get what they want. They are not able to appreciate the damage and consequences of the harm they cause for others.  If you are about to stand up to a narcissist or leave a relationship with a narcissist, you need to probably warn some of your closest friends and family members, in case there are any repercussions.  You may also want to inform your boss or colleagues. In addition to warning those close to you, you are likely going to need to use these people as a support system as you begin to work through one of the most emotionally challenging times you will ever experience.

  1. Get Professional Help for Yourself Too.

If you can break through some of the disbelief around NPD and get help for your partner, that is amazing. But, if you have been in, or are in a relationship with a narcissist, there is a high likelihood that you are in the need of professional help too, as the emotional damage that is done while in a relationship with a narcissist can be extremely draining for a person. There are studies that show that people who have been subjected to severe narcissistic abuse can suffer actual damage to their brain.  In addition, you may leave the relationship with a lot of questions and confusion, and self-doubt.  It is important to talk through these issues with a professional.

Final Note on Dealing With Conflict With a Narcissist

All of this being said, avoid becoming co-dependent. (One large aspect of co-dependency can be described as changing and shaping your own behavior in fear of how another person will react). This may sound extremely contrary to the advice given, but trust this.  You do not want to live in fear of how the narcissist will behave– you want to anticipate it and help shape the conversation for both parties’ benefit.  You have accepted how their thought process works, and the goal should not be to avoid any negative repercussions, but simply to strive for reaching the maximum conflict-resolution possible. These tips are not intended to shape a relationship, but they are anticipated to help people work though conflict within their relationship.

Tips For When You Find Yourself Arguing With Your Narcissistic Partner

(these tips are great to keep on hand to prevent an argument from escalating)


1.     Focus on Feelings Not Facts: Narcissists will not admit they are wrong, but you can attempt to express to them how you feel, and how they made you feel based upon their actions.

2.     Lead by Example: Take ownership where you were wrong, and how your actions played a role in the dispute. Also, show empathy when working through conflict, and acknowledge the narcissists feelings.  Although treating NPD cannot be done alone, there is evidence to support that constant displays of empathy can help teach others how to be empathetic.

3.     “We” Language: Make your narcissistic spouse feel that you two are on a team together. This will help lessen the feeling that they are being attacked, and also not allocating blame to one person or the other. Allow him or her to feel that you both are making the decision to move on because you both care. Narcissists like to take credit for the good in relationships, so this will also help them feel like they are partly responsible for the cure to the fight.

4.     Ask For Their Advice or Perspective: Narcissists want to feel heard, and feel like the deserve to be heard. Plus, it is important in any argument for both sides to be heard. However, asking for a narcissist’s advice will lower their guard and remind them that you value their opinion.

5.     Take an Energy Break and Discuss Something Positive: Break the negative energy by asking a question or complimenting the narcissist about something they are interested in. This can shift their mindset to a better place by sparking a sense of positivity and associating that positivity with you. This can work for anyone, but can be uniquely helpful with persons suffering from NPD.

6.     Do Not Fall For Manipulative Tricks: This is easier said than done, but don’t do it. They will try to throw you off topic, or control the conversation.  They will deflect attention away from the bigger issues and point blame for smaller ones on you. Stay on track, and ignore any distractors that may be thrown your way.