How to De-Escalate a Fight with a Narcissist

Everyone who spends time in the company of Narcissists quickly learns how easily they can become offended. As a therapist who generally enjoys working with my intelligent and high functioning Narcissistic clients, I have found that despite my good intentions—and the fact that my Narcissistic clients have chosen to come to therapy with me, pay me to intervene, and generally like me—I still manage to annoy and offend many of them.

When this happens, I immediately shift gears and try to get things back on track. Here are some things that have worked for me, reworded in a form more suitable to relationships with romantic partners, family members, or close friends .

By the way, I am using the term “Narcissist” here as shorthand for someone who qualifies for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. For more information on this topic, please see my blog post “The Truth about Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”

Do Not Argue about Fight or Wrong
There is absolutely no good that can come from trying to figure out who is to blame. If you want to smooth things over, do not expect to do so by proving that the Narcissist is wrong. This is not about fairness, this is about feelings.

Narcissists generally cannot admit that they are ever wrong because they rely on defensive grandiosity—the unrealistic sense of being perfect and special—to support their shaky self-esteem. If they admit that they were wrong and believe it, they are likely to turn their overly harshly and punitive internal “judge” on themselves and feel unbearable shame and sink into a self-hating depression. Naturally, they would rather blame you!

Empathize with Their Feelings
It is extremely soothing to Narcissists when you demonstrate that you understand and empathize with how they feel. But…do not insert anything about how the situation makes you feel, or anything about you at all unless it is an apology. They are not interested and may take it the wrong way.

I am not saying that this is fair, just that Narcissists usually find it soothing. And it can actually, eventually help them develop a greater capacity for empathy. I believe that: Empathy teaches empathy.

Do say: “You must have felt very disappointed (hurt, angry, etc. when I ….(fill in the blank). I can understand your feeling that way.”

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