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Things Narcissists Say In An Argument (& What They Really Mean)

September 1, 2023

7 min.

Narcissists often say manipulative things in an argument to exert control, deflect blame, and undermine the victim. Keep reading to learn about common things narcissists say to people they abuse and what they really mean.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

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Table of Contents

What kinds of things do narcissists say to people they abuse?

Narcissists often use manipulative and controlling tactics in their interactions with others, especially in abusive relationships and during arguments. These tactics can include various forms of emotional, psychological, and verbal abuse—all of which are part of the cycle of narcissistic abuse. Abusive behavior, though, is not limited to these tactics, and the kinds of things narcissists say to people they abuse can vary widely depending on the narcissist’s personality and the dynamics of the relationship. Here are some common tactics narcissists use in arguments and abusive relationships, with examples of things they say to people they abuse: 

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Gaslighting

This manipulation tactic involves the abusive, narcissistic partner making the victim doubt their perception, memory, or sanity. When they are gaslighting someone, narcissists might say things like, “You’re imagining things,” or “You’re too sensitive.”

Blame-shifting

A narcissistic partner may often avoid taking responsibility for their actions by shifting the blame onto the victim—a control tactic commonly seen in abusive relationships. They might say, “You made me do this,” or “It’s your fault I’m like this.”

Invalidation

The narcissistic partner may dismiss the victim’s feelings and experiences during an argument. They might say, “You’re overreacting,” or “You’re being irrational.”

Criticism and insults

The narcissistic partner may often belittle and criticize the victim, attacking their self-esteem. They might say things like, “You’re worthless,” or “No one else would ever want you.”

Manipulative flattery

Narcissists sometimes use compliments and flattery to gain control or manipulate the victim. They might say, “You’re the only one I can rely on. I don’t know what I’d do without you,” to keep the victim feeling responsible and obligated toward them. 

Threats and intimidation

Narcissists may use threats or intimidation as a manipulative tactic to keep the victim under their control. They might say, “If you leave, I’ll ruin your life,” or “You’ll regret it if you ever cross me.”

Isolation

The narcissistic partner may often try to isolate the victim from friends and family to make them more dependent. They might say, “They don’t really care about you like I do,” or “I’m the only one who understands you.”

Withholding

The narcissistic partner might withhold affection, attention, or support to manipulate the victim. They might say, “I’ll only love you if you do what I want,” or “You have to earn my affection.”

Triangulation

Narcissists may involve a third party to create jealousy or insecurity in the victim. They might say, “So-and-so thinks I’m amazing,” or “Why can’t you be more like them?”

Minimization of abuse

Narcissists may downplay their abusive behavior or pretend it didn’t happen. They might say, “You’re blowing this out of proportion,” or “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Things narcissists say in an argument (and what they really mean)

As discussed, many narcissists use manipulative tactics during arguments to control and dominate the conversation, deflect blame, and undermine the victim’s confidence and sense of reality. Recognizing these tactics can be a crucial step in breaking free from an abusive dynamic. Here are some examples of things narcissists say in an argument, along with an explanation of what they really mean and how they’re using words manipulatively:

Gaslighting

  • Example: “I never said that. You must be remembering it wrong.”
  • Explanation: The narcissist denies their previous statements or actions to make the victim doubt their own memory and perceptions.

Blame-shifting

  • Example: “This is your fault. If you hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have reacted this way.”
  • Explanation: The narcissist shifts the blame onto the victim, making them feel responsible for the narcissist’s negative behavior.

Projecting

  • Example: “You’re always trying to control me. You’re the one who’s controlling.”
  • Explanation: The narcissist accuses the victim of behaviors that the narcissist is actually engaging in, deflecting attention away from their own actions.

Invalidation

  • Example: “You’re overreacting. It’s not a big deal.”
  • Explanation: The narcissist belittles the victim’s feelings and emotions, making them question the legitimacy of their concerns.

Deflecting

  • Example: “Let’s not talk about me. You’re the one who needs to work on yourself.”
  • Explanation: The narcissist avoids addressing the issue by redirecting the conversation toward the victim’s perceived flaws or issues.

Manipulative flattery

  • Example: “You’re the only one I can rely on. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
  • Explanation: The narcissist uses flattery to control the narcissistic abuse victim and create a sense of dependency.

Minimizing the problem

  • Example: “Why are you making such a big deal out of this? It’s not that important.”
  • Explanation: The narcissist downplays the significance of the issue to dismiss the victim’s concerns.

Threats and intimidation

  • Example: “If you leave me, you’ll regret it. I have ways of making your life miserable.”
  • Explanation: The narcissist uses threats to instill fear and maintain control over the narcissistic abuse victim.

Triangulation

  • Example: “So-and-so thinks I’m right. You should listen to them.”
  • Explanation: The narcissist involves a third party to create doubt or division between the victim and others, manipulating the victim’s perception of reality.

Defensive victimhood

  • Example: “You’re always attacking me. I can never do anything right.”
  • Explanation: The narcissist portrays themselves as the narcissistic abuse victim, deflecting from their own behavior and making the victim feel guilty.

Using personal information against you

  • Example: “Remember that time you told me your deepest secret? Maybe I should share it with everyone.”
  • Explanation: The narcissist exploits the victim’s vulnerabilities or secrets to gain control or silence them.

What is narcissistic abuse?

Narcissistic abuse is a form of emotional abuse at the hands of people with narcissistic traits or narcissistic personality disorder. It involves manipulation, emotional exploitation, and a lack of empathy, often occurring in close relationships with romantic partnerships, family members, friends, or co-workers. 

The primary objective of a narcissist engaging in narcissistic abuse is to exert control and power over their victim. Common control tactics in narcissistic abuse include manipulation, emotional exploitation, gaslighting, alternating between idealization and devaluation of the victim, isolating from support networks, blame-shifting, lack of empathy, and power dynamics.

The cycle of narcissistic abuse involves tension-building, abusive incidents, and periods of remorse. The victim experiences a repeating pattern of escalating abuse followed by temporary reconciliation attempts by the narcissistic abuser.

Narcissistic abuse can have severe emotional and psychological consequences, leading to low self-esteem, anxiety, and trauma. Seeking professional support and assistance is crucial for healing and narcissistic abuse recovery.

Do narcissistic abuse victims turn into narcissists themselves?

In short: no. Experiencing narcissistic abuse doesn’t inevitably lead victims to become full-blown narcissists. In fact, like any trauma response, survivors of narcissistic abuse often exhibit a range of responses. 

Some may develop self-protective mechanisms resembling narcissistic traits as a means of defense. Others use their experiences as a catalyst for healing and empowerment, becoming more empathetic and resilient individuals. Many survivors actively work to avoid perpetuating narcissistic patterns, focusing on fostering healthy relationships and respecting boundaries

Individual factors, including personality and support systems, influence each person’s response to narcissistic abuse. It’s crucial to recognize that surviving narcissistic abuse doesn’t equate to becoming a narcissist. Many people navigate a path of growth, healing, and rejecting the abusive patterns they endured. Seeking therapy and professional support can be instrumental in this process of recovery.

A woman in a yellow shirt and a man in a denim shirt sit on a couch during an argument. The man grasps his head trying to make sense of what the woman, who has narcissistic personality disorder, is saying.

How to tell if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist

Recognizing if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist can be challenging, as their behavior often involves manipulation, charm, and shifting dynamics. However, several signs can help you identify if you’re in such a relationship. 

One prominent indicator is a pattern of self-centeredness where the narcissist constantly seeks attention, validation, and admiration while showing little genuine interest in your feelings or needs. They might belittle or invalidate your emotions, using tactics like gaslighting to make you doubt your perceptions. 

Also, narcissists often exhibit a lack of empathy and exploit your vulnerabilities, with a tendency to manipulate situations for their benefit. You may find yourself constantly walking on eggshells, fearing their reactions or anger, and they might become angry or defensive if they don’t receive the attention they believe they deserve. 

Finally, narcissists may isolate you from your support network, exert control over decisions, and exhibit extreme jealousy or envy. Recognizing these signs and seeking support from friends, family, or professionals can be crucial in assessing and addressing a potential narcissistic relationship.

What to do if you think you’re in a relationship with a narcissist

If you think you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, prioritize your well-being. Educate yourself about narcissistic behavior, trust your instincts if something feels wrong, and seek support from trusted friends or family. Establish clear boundaries to protect yourself and consider seeking professional help, such as a therapist, for guidance. If the relationship is harmful, plan a safe exit strategy, focusing on self-care and limiting contact. In more extreme situations, legal assistance may be necessary. Surround yourself with a supportive network, rebuild your self-esteem, and remember that seeking professional mental health support is a sign of strength.

How to heal from narcissistic abuse at Charlie Health

Charlie Health can help you begin healing from narcissistic abuse.

We offer a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) specially designed to support young people with managing more severe mental health challenges, including recovering from trauma and narcissistic abuse. Charlie Health’s IOP is more structured and intensive than standard weekly therapy sessions, but because it’s totally virtual, it’s far more adaptable to your schedule than inpatient options.

Our clinicians specialize in caring for teens and young adults dealing with the aftereffects of abuse—including narcissistic abuse. Our expert team of providers will personalize a program for you, including individual therapy, family therapy, and supported groups across a range of treatment modalities.

Fill out this short form to get started today. 

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