Emotional Wellbeing



Mandy Kloppers

Why are narcissists so mean?

They may claim they love you, but you must determine whether you feel loved by the way they treat you.

Narcissists don’t always intend to be mean but due to the fact that they lack empathy, they often hurt their partners without realising it.

An interesting and accurate way to think of one with narcissistic personality disorder is as a big baby — no really, because a baby, like a true narcissist, is concerned only with themselves and their needs. Narcissists are just stuck there in this bottomless, constant need.

Underneath, they are extremely insecure and can’t cope when their partner’s focus and attention isn’t on them. They are highly sensitive when it comes to their needs that they get externally but they will not want to meet your needs in the same way. It’s all about them and it always will be. If you stay with a narcissist, don’t fool yourself into believing they will ever change and become less selfish.

Typically, narcissists possess poor emotional regulation, aggressive impulses, and are psychologically fragile. This is why they anger easily and have tantrums.

Narcissists please themselves only

The only time a narcissist will be ‘altruistic’ is if it makes them look good. They might spoil you but they will make sure that you never forget how wonderful they have been. You may do plenty for them but they will expect that. However, if they ever go out of their way for you – make sure you are eternally grateful.

Underneath their façade is toxic shame, which may be unconscious. Shame makes narcissists feel insecure and inadequate―vulnerable feelings that they must deny to themselves and others. This is one reason that they can’t take criticism, responsibility, dissent, or negative feedback even when meant to be constructive. Instead, they demand unconditional, positive regard from others.

Because narcissists require unconditional adoration and admiration, if the narcissist isn’t getting what they want, they will end up seeking it elsewhere. This is why many narcissists often end up cheating.

Narcissists lack object constancy

Narcissists share a similarity with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disordered people – they lack object constancy and see life in black and white terms. “Object constancy refers to the ability to see the bigger picture or the greater context. For example, if someone does something that disappoints you, you can put that in the context of the whole relationship. You may feel hurt and disappointed but you don’t hate your partner if generally, they are good to you and reasonable.  If you don’t have object constancy, there is no context. That one negative event takes precedence over all that has preceded it.

If a narcissist feels they are being attacked (which often ISN’T the case – it’s more likely their partner is being reasonable and asking for fair treatment),  by their own logic — being attacked, they will bite back even harder.

However, by their nature, they may also want to hurt you too, because it makes them feel superior. They suffer from profound alienation, emptiness, powerlessness, and lack of meaning.

Whether the relationship is worth it is up to you

In some ways, it isn’t worth working out what their intentions are because the results are the same. People in relationships with narcissists find themselves wrapped up in the same arguments time and time again. This is often followed by the punishment which could be an explosive confrontation, or cold silent treatment, depending on the type of narcissist they are with.

They think a completely different way, and so arguments have to be de-escalated differently too.  If you’re worried that you might be a narcissist, you probably are not one. Narcissists generally lack the kind of empathetic self-reflection that might make them wonder if they have a personality disorder. This is partly why narcissism is so seldom treated.

How to handle an argument with a narcissist

Narcissists are manipulative. They are skilled at finding pressure points and know exactly what to say or do to push our most vulnerable and wounded inner parts. What’s interesting is that evidence suggests: Narcissism can be very problematic in some relationships and environments and not in others. A person may show their narcissistic colors at work, but not at all at home, or vice versa.

  • Do Not Argue About Right 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 you are/were feeling like that.”

Do not say: “I know you felt disappointed when I…..(fill in the blank) and that is just how I feel when you….(fill in the blank).”

  • Take Responsibility for Your Part

Narcissists grew up in homes where admitting being at fault led to being devalued. I have found it useful to model how to take appropriate, non-defensive, responsibility.

There was something about this person that attracted you to him or her and during the course of your interactions, this has been either lost or forgotten. By focusing on their shortcomings, you are inevitably getting more of the very behavior you are frustrated with – instead, try switching your critical thinking to what the person is doing that you personally admire. In other words, what they are doing that’s right.Do they make you laugh when you least expect it? Are they talented artists that make you inspired to reach for your own goals? Are there moments of unexpected thoughtfulness that perk you up when you feel overwhelmed?There is a lot of truth to the adage “you get what you focus on”, meaning what you put your attention on creates a filter by which you view the world, including other people.

 As relationship expert Laura Doyle states in her article My Husband is a Narcissist, what is the harm in expecting the best from people instead of the worst? This change in your own perspective will affect the energy you put into the world and the energy you get back – including the energy from Narcissists.

Do say: “So sorry. I realize now that I could have phrased that better. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

Don’t say: “You always take what I say the wrong way!”

  • Use “We” Language

Narcissists cannot accept blame, but many react well if you use “we” language and include yourself in the behavior. For example, imagine that you and your Narcissistic mate have just had a fight that he started, you defended yourself, and now the two of you are caught up in an escalating argument over something trivial and you would like to stop arguing. Start by saying something positive.

Do say: “I love you and you love me. The last thing I want to do is hurt you or argue with you. I think we both got off track somehow. Let’s kiss and make up.”

Don’t say: “I can’t believe you picked a fight with me over something so stupid.”

  • The No-Fault Do-Over

As Narcissists do not usually have the ego strength to take responsibility for provoking a pointless fight over a trivial matter, I have invented the concept of the “No-Fault Do-Over.”

Do Say: “Well, this is not going very well. I am sure we can do better. Let’s take a “No-Fault Do-Over” and try again.”

Don’t say: “You can’t treat me this way. I expect an apology.” (You won’t get an apology during a fight, just a longer fight).

  • Ask a Question about a Topic That Interests Them

Exhibitionistic Narcissists love to display their knowledge to an admiring audience. It is fairly easy to distract them by asking a question about a topic that interests them. For your own sake, try and pick one that interests you as well. Many Narcissists will happily go on talking for hours with minimal encouragement. You do not need much of a segway, just something simple as in the example below.

Example: “You know so much about (pick a topic), I was wondering about (x, y, or z) and I was sure you would know the answer.”

The Recipe: Flattering true statement + question

  • Ask for Advice

This is a variation on the above suggestion. Narcissists love to give advice. Most will happily give you advice on almost any topic, even when they know less than you about it. The only warning here is that they are likely to take it personally if they find out that you did not follow their advice. I suggest that you think about your question in advance, choose a topic that they actually know more than you about, and ask something that you actually need advice about.

Example: “I have an important investment decision to make about what percentage of my retirement savings should be in stocks versus bonds. You know so much about that topic, and have done so well, would you mind giving me your opinion?”

  • Tell Them Something True and Complimentary

Everyone has strengths and most people feel underappreciated. Narcissists are particularly hungry for positive feedback because they cannot internalize and hold onto the good feelings for very long.

Put aside for the moment, all the things that you now dislike about them and only pay attention to what you do like and admire about them. If possible, remember a specific instance when they displayed this good quality or talent and tell them about how great they were in as much detail as possible. Here is an example below to give you an idea of how to go about it. As you can see, you do not need to explain why you are suddenly changing the topic.

Do say: “I just remembered something that you did last week that I was so impressed by. Do you remember when we were out with friends and they wanted to go to this new hot club, but nobody could figure out how to get in. You got on the phone and talked to the manager and somehow convinced him to not only let us in, but to seat us in the VIP section where we all got free drinks! How did you ever manage that? No one but you could have pulled that off!”

Don’t say: “You are so talented that I don’t understand why you are so insecure.”

  • Do Not Take the Bait

Many Narcissists say provocative and nasty things to get a response from you. Usually they do it because they feel angered or insulted by something you have done and want to start a fight. Or, they may be anxious or angry about something else entirely and are taking it out on you.

I have discovered that if I ignore their insult and do not rise to the bait, I can often avoid a pointless fight. If “your” Narcissist cannot stand simply being ignored and escalates, you can use one of the methods described earlier to shift their attention to something more pleasant.

Punchline: All of the above is focused on catering to the Narcissistic individual’s needs. This is not about fairness or an opinion about how a relationship should work. These are simply tips that might help your relationship with a Narcissistic mate, friend, or family member go more smoothly or get back on track when things are rapidly degenerating into a pointless and exhausting fight.


The bottom line

Being in a relationship with a narcissist is exhausting. They rarely understand your point of view. They are selfish and do as they please but if you treat them the same way, there would be hell to pay. If you can cope with someone rarely considering your needs as important as theirs, doing what they want when they want and someone who expects adoration and your attention even though they only focus on you if there is nothing else going on that’s more appealing…then you’re all set!

If however you feel you deserve more and prefer a partner who plays fair and gives back (instead of always taking) then you need to move on. As hard as that may be, you will thank yourself in the long run and once you are over them, you will wonder why you stayed so long.

Mandy X