Things Narcissists Say in an Argument (And How to Respond)

Arguing with a narcissist can be challenging, as they often employ manipulative tactics to maintain control and deflect responsibility.

Not only are narcissists highly sensitive and quick to anger, but they are also self-centered individuals who enjoy attention and stimulating a reaction out of others, even a negative one.

During an argument, they can be very aggressive. They might shout, insult, or use threatening language. They might distort the truth, dismissing everything you say and twisting things to suit their point of view. Other times, they might avoid talking entirely, giving you the cold shoulder and walking away mid-argument.

In any case, they will disregard your feelings in an attempt to undermine your self-esteem and maintain dominance in the argument. But, what specifically makes it so difficult to argue with narcissistic people?

Things Narcissists Say in an Argument With Examples

The following are manipulative and abusive tactics a covert or overt narcissist might use during an argument.

Devalue and Humiliate

Narcissists devalue others as a way to boost their own self-esteem and maintain a sense of superiority. They might use extreme language, point out your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, or laugh at you when share how you feel.

This behavior can be emotionally damaging. For example:

  1. “You’re useless. You can’t do anything right.”
    They might belittle someone’s skills or competence, making them feel inferior or worthless.
  2. “Nobody else would put up with you.”
    This is intended to make the person feel unlovable or undesirable.
  3. “You’re so naive/stupid.”
    Such statements serve to undermine a person’s confidence in their own intellect or judgment.
  4. “You’ll never amount to anything.”
    They aim to crush the person’s ambitions or hopes by predicting failure or disappointment.
  5. “I can’t believe I have to deal with someone like you.”
    This is a way to express disgust or disappointment, meant to make the person feel unwanted.
  6. “I’m the best thing that ever happened to you.”
    They aim to make the person feel dependent and less significant by positioning themselves as superior or indispensable.


Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic used to make someone question their own perception of reality, memory, or sanity in order to undermine them.

The goal of gaslighting is to make someone question their own perceptions, memories, or judgments, usually through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, or lying.

Here are examples of things a narcissistic person might say when using gaslighting:

  1. “You are too sensitive.”
    Narcissists may resort to personal insults or belittling remarks in an attempt to undermine your self-esteem, and divert attention from what they might have done.
  2. “You are crazy.”
    This implies you do not have the mental capacity or stability to understand or make proper judgments, leaving you to question yourself.
  3. “It never happened that way.” or “You’re imagining things.”
    This is another form of denial intended to make the victim question their perception of reality.
  4. “You’re lying about that – I would never do such a thing.”
    This can create self-doubt about the victim’s recollections and experiences.
  5. “You’re overreacting/ exaggerating/ making a big deal out of this.
    This tactic is used to invalidate the person’s emotions and reactions to the narcissist’s behavior.
  6. “That’s just how you remember it.”
    This more subtle form of gaslighting is used to make the person question the accuracy of their memory.


Triangulation is a manipulative tactic often used by narcissists to create conflict and control within relationships. It involves bringing another person (or people) into an argument to give their argument more validity and invalidate someone else’s opinion.

It involves using a third party to convey information, spread rumors, or create rivalries to manipulate a relationship or situation to their advantage.

Here are examples of things a narcissistic person might say when employing triangulation:

  1. “It’s not just me – everybody thinks you’re really needy.”
    This destabilizes you by making you question yourself. Being called “needy” invalidates your feelings and using the word “everyone” can cause you to feel isolated.
  2. “No wonder she doesn’t like you.”
    This implies that you are at fault and the argument or situation has been caused by your personality or because you are unlikeable.
  3. “I don’t understand why you can’t get along with [another person].”
    They may try instigating conflict or tension between you and others to deflect blame or create a distraction.
  4. “My friend thinks we’re the perfect couple.”
    This tactic can create a false narrative to maintain control over you and manipulate your perception of the relationship.
  5. “I was talking to [another person], and they also think you’re overreacting.”
    This is meant to invalidate your feelings by suggesting others share their viewpoint.


Narcissists often accuse others of the very behaviors they exhibit. They will not take responsibility, but rather will shift the blame onto you. For example:

  • “I’m angry because you always provoke me.”
  • “How is that my fault?”
  • “You always twist the facts.”
  • “You started this argument”
  • “I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t…”
  • “You never take my feelings into consideration.”

If you are letting someone know how you feel, it does not mean you started an argument – however, a narcissistic person may want to blame you to avoid taking responsibility themselves.

They might also say these things to confuse you and create self-doubt in your mind.


Projection is a psychological defense mechanism that narcissistic individuals might use to attribute their own thoughts, feelings, or characteristics to someone else.

It involves projecting one’s own undesirable or unacceptable qualities onto another person to avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions. For example:

  1. “You are so manipulative/ aggressive.”
    • This frees them of responsibility and leaves you questioning yourself.
  2. You’re always criticizing me.”
    • They may be overly critical of others but feel as if they are the ones being criticized.
  3. “You never think about anyone else but yourself.”
    • The accuser may be the one not considering others’ feelings or needs.
  4. “You think you’re always right.”
    • They may struggle with always needing to be right and project this onto others.
  5. “You’re manipulative.”
    • Narcissists often manipulate others but may accuse others of this behavior to shift focus.
  6. “You’re so vain.”
    • As individuals who often focus on their own image, narcissists might accuse others of vanity.

Playing the Victim

Narcissists often play the victim card to elicit sympathy and turn the focus away from their own behavior. For example:

  1. “You are always giving me a hard time.”
    This invalidates your feelings and deflects from what they may have done wrong.
  2. “I never get the recognition I deserve. It’s like I’m invisible to everyone.”
    By claiming a lack of recognition, this person presents themselves as the victim of others’ oversight or neglect, suggesting that they are unfairly invisible or underappreciated despite their perceived accomplishments.
  3. “I’m the one who’s always left picking up the pieces after other people’s mistakes.”
    This statement portrays the person as the constant rescuer or caretaker burdened with the responsibility of fixing others’ errors, positioning themselves as the victim of others’ incompetence or irresponsibility.
  4. “Nobody appreciates all the sacrifices I make for them.”
    This statement frames the person as a selfless martyr who goes unrecognized and unappreciated for their sacrifices, positioning themselves as the victim of others’ lack of gratitude. Narcissistic mothers often use this comment to play the victim.
  5. “No matter what I do, it’s never good enough for anyone.”
    By consistently emphasizing their perceived inadequacy and others’ unattainable standards, this person positions themselves as the victim of unrealistic expectations, implying that they can never satisfy anyone.
  6. “I’m just too sensitive. That’s why I get hurt so easily.”
    Here, the person attributes their vulnerability and ease of getting hurt to being overly sensitive, positioning themselves as a victim of their own emotional state and implying that others should be more careful around them.

How Do You Argue With a Narcissist?

Under normal circumstances, people aim to find a solution to whatever may have caused the argument. But when you are arguing with a narcissist, it is a war of willpower – who has the most stamina to win this argument?

Engaging in arguments with narcissists can be challenging as it is almost guaranteed that a highly narcissistic person will not back down until they feel they have won or had the last word.

However, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to address an issue with a narcissist, here are some strategies to consider:

Remember Their Strategy

Narcissists want to maintain their grandiose and superior sense of self to feel in control and “win.” They are not interested in making you feel better or finding a solution – they want to place all the blame on you to deflect attention away from their own shortcomings and assert their dominance.

When you keep this in mind, their words and behavior will lose their intensity. You will realize that you no longer have to take them seriously. Their behavior is not about you; it’s about them and their fragile ego.

Keep Your Expectations Low

Considering a narcissist’s personality, you should not expect them to apologize or see things from your point of view. Trying to convince them of your narrative or how much their actions have hurt you is a waste of time.

They can never accept responsibility because they believe they are perfect and entitled to behave the way they do.

Recognize that not all arguments with a narcissist are worth pursuing. Sometimes, it may be more beneficial to disengage and focus on setting boundaries or seeking support from others.

Use Non-Confrontational Language

This is true for arguing with any person, regardless of whether they are narcissistic or not. No one likes to be reproached or pointed at with an accusing finger – especially not narcissists. Non-confrontational language includes:

  • Using “I” and “we” statements instead of “you” statements
  • Staying calm (but assertive)
  • Using open and nonaggressive body language (e.g. relax the muscles of your body and face, open hand gestures, uncross your arms and legs)
  • Saying things like “I understand” or “From my perceptive.” Tell them you agree with some of what they said and then add how your point of view differs.

Remain Unemotional

Narcissists thrive on emotional reactions and may attempt to provoke you. Narcissists want to feel in control of you and your emotions, so by remaining calm and composed, you are taking away that control. Take deep breaths, maintain a steady tone of voice, and avoid getting defensive or emotional.

Bring them back to the point gently and keep your sentences short and direct (e.g. “yes/no” and “okay.”) Let them speak and rant while staying silent – this will make them feel uncomfortable and prevent them from manipulating your emotions.

Focus on Your Well-Being

Engaging in arguments with a narcissist can be emotionally draining and damaging to our well-being. When we constantly get angry and upset, our body releases excess stress hormone, which can be detrimental to our mental and physical health.

It is important to focus on your well-being, safety, and health. Stick to your boundaries and set strict limits. Reinforce these boundaries during the argument and assertively address any attempts to disrespect or manipulate you.

When narcissists are angry, it might be best to de-escalate the situation and leave. De-escalation does not mean you are condoning bad behavior, but rather you are allowing them to come back down from their rage.

  • Do not argue with them
  • Do not blame (they will always turn the tables back on you)
  • Focus on listening; avoid talking
  • Empathize (e.g., “I understand why you are feeling angry”)
  • Do not ask for or expect an apology
  • Ignore their insults and try not take them personally
  • If you are feeling unsafe, disengage and leave immediately

Why Is Arguing With a Narcissist So Difficult?

Arguing with a narcissist can be exceptionally difficult due to several factors that are characteristic of their behavior and personality traits. One of these core traits is antagonism. Antagonism refers to a state or behavior characterized by anger, hostility, entitlement, or opposition.

Narcissists also have an inflated sense of self-importance and believe they are superior to others, which means they do not respond well to criticism or “disobedience.”

This alone would be enough to make arguments with narcissistic individuals difficult and distressing.

But, there are other reasons why arguing with a narcissist can be challenging. These include their other-oriented perfectionism and their lack of “whole object relations.”

Other-Oriented and “Narcissistic” Perfectionism

Other-oriented perfectionism is a subtype of perfectionism that involves setting high standards and expecting perfection from others. People with high levels of other-oriented perfectionism tend to be narcissistic.

It is characterized by the tendency to hold unrealistically high expectations and standards for the performance, behavior, or achievements of others. Individuals with other-oriented perfectionism often impose these standards on others and may become critical, demanding, or unsatisfied when others do not meet their expectations.

It is a “defining component of narcissistic perfectionism, a higher-order form of perfectionism, narcissistic grandiosity, and narcissistic entitlement.”

Individuals with other-oriented perfectionism may have limited empathy or understanding towards others’ limitations, struggles, or differences. Thus, they are less motivated to help and support others and are less interested in making other people happy.

They have little interest in forming intimate connections, getting along with others, or understanding others’ point of views. Additionally, their narcissistic tendencies mean they are admiration-seeking, entitled, exploitative, insensitive, and manipulative.

This character trait partly explains why it is so difficult to argue with a narcissistic person – they expect others to be perfect and hold them to impossible standards. But inevitably, others will not always meet these standards and cannot give them the level of attention and admiration they feel they deserve.

Not having their needs met leads the narcissist to become overly critical and hostile. Because they believe they are better and more deserving than others, they feel entitled to be degrading towards the other person.

They can become manipulative, aggressive, and callous because they are only interested in being the “winner” and maintaining their grandiose self-esteem.

Examples of other-oriented perfectionism include:

  • Disliking someone because they make mistakes.
  • Expecting others to always be in a good mood.
  • Losing interest in someone when they fail at something.
  • Wanting someone’s appearance to be flawless at all times.
  • Judging others’ performance or behavior.

Whole Object Relations

Whole objects relations is a psychoanalytical term that refers to an individual’s ability to see others as whole individuals with their own separate identity, thoughts, and emotions. This includes being able to acknowledge and understand that everyone has good and bad qualities.

Without this ability, a person can only see others (and themselves) as all good or all bad. People with high levels of narcissism tend to lack whole object relations, so they deem other people as either perfect or worthless.

If a narcissistic sees you as “perfect,” they will engage in love bombing. Although this might seem positive, it is actually a form of manipulation because this is a standard that no one can maintain; Sooner or later, they will notice something they do not like about you.

When this happens, or you challenge or threaten their grandiose and superior self-image (termed “narcissistic injury”), you become an enemy, and they can no longer see your positives. 

Because of their antagonistic and superior nature, they feel entitled to be abusive and may even want to “destroy” the person who caused the narcissistic injury. It is a toxic cocktail that makes arguing with a narcissistic person unsafe and troubling.

Examples include:

  • Only saying negative things about their ex-partners or ex-friends.
  • Having a minor argument with someone and writing them off entirely.
  • Noticing a “flaw” in someone and withdrawing from them emotionally and/ or physically 

The Narcissist’s Strategy

In short, a narcissist’s strategy during an argument is to maintain their grandiose sense of self and to feel in control and superior to their “enemy.”

Their grandiosity is like a fortress they have built around themselves that protects them from abuse and negative feedback.

Unfortunately, maintaining this fortress comes at a cost to other people because they defend it aggressively.

When you engage in an argument with a narcissist, you are, in some way, giving them negative feedback. For example, you might be telling them that they do not call you often enough, do not listen properly, or said something unkind to you. 

This cannot be integrated into their sense of self because they lack whole object relations (see above); thus, acknowledging a flaw would mean they are worthless. For that reason, they cannot take responsibility or admit they did something wrong, so instead, they turn the tables on you.

If you let them know they are not perfect in some way, they experience this as a narcissistic injury.

The person who caused the injury is now an enemy in their eyes and “deserves” to be punished. Their strategy becomes to utterly defeat the other person and demonstrate the power they have.

In other words, a narcissistic person wants to “win” every argument and discussion. They are not listening to your words; they just want to ensure they come out on top.

When you have a strong emotional reaction and end up apologizing (even when you have not done anything wrong), they feel they are winning. It makes them feel powerful when they have control over you and your feelings.

Arguing With a Covert Narcissist

Arguing with a covert narcissist is just as difficult as arguing with any other type of narcissist. They share the same grandiose and antagonistic (aggressive, hostile, manipulative, callous) core, but they present as shy and introverted rather than imposing and extraverted.

When you have a conflict with them, they will also shift the blame, gaslight, play the victim, and disregard your feelings.

Covert narcissists, as the name suggests, are more subtle in their manipulative and abusive tactics. They will hide their superior and grandiose delusions by putting on an act of being nice, humble, caring, and shy. 

However, when their buttons have been pushed (i.e., when they experience a narcissistic injury), their true colors start to show. Similar to the other types of narcissists, they may explode into rage and yell, hit, or throw things, or stonewall you and act like you are entirely insignificant.

Covert narcissists, unlike overt ones, will often use self-deprecation as a means to play the victim.

They might say things like, “I’m such a horrible person, you deserve better” or “You’d be so much happier without me.” These kinds of statements are meant to make you feel guilty or compel you to defend yourself and your love for them – playing straight into the narcissist’s hands.  

Covert narcissists are more difficult to identify because they do not fit the stereotypical description of a narcissist. However, their behavior during arguments is classically narcissistic: they are hypersensitive, entitled, aggressive, hostile, and cannot take responsibility for their actions and words.

Their behavior can be distressing, frustrating, and even traumatizing.

Dealing with any type of narcissist in an argument can be challenging. It’s essential to prioritize your well-being, set boundaries, and consider seeking professional help or support if the situation becomes emotionally or psychologically distressing.


Stoeber, J. (2014). How Other-Oriented Perfectionism Differs from Self-Oriented and Socially Prescribed Perfectionism. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 36, 329-338.

Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Julia Simkus

BA (Hons) Psychology, Princeton University

Editor at Simply Psychology

Julia Simkus is a graduate of Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She is currently studying for a Master's Degree in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness in September 2023. Julia's research has been published in peer reviewed journals.

Anna Drescher

Mental Health Writer

BSc (Hons), Psychology, Goldsmiths University, MSc in Psychotherapy, University of Queensland

Anna Drescher is a freelance writer and solution-focused hypnotherapist, specializing in CBT and meditation. Using insights from her experience working as an NHS Assistant Clinical Psychologist and Recovery Officer, along with her Master's degree in Psychotherapy, she lends deep empathy and profound understanding to her mental health and relationships writing.