Should you confront a narcissist? What happens if you do confront him or her? Does the proverbial kitten really turn into a lion? Answers to those questions depend on the circumstances and the people involved. Before you decide to confront someone with a personality disorder, you need to ask yourself,”What is the outcome I am hoping for?”
Reason for Confrontation
If you have just discovered that your partner or parent is a narcissist, you may have a strong urge to confront them with that information in the hopes that they will recognize themselves in what you describe and be remorseful for the pain they have caused. If that is the outcome you expect, then you will be disappointed.
The narcissist’s sense of self has not developed beyond that of a young child and cannot cope with a truth that shows them to be less than perfect. Unlike alcoholics or other abusers who may eventually “see the light”, a narcissist just does not have the ability to look inside himself and perceive the truth. Self-reflection is not a tool in the narcissist’s toolbox of skills.
Before considering strategies about how to confront a narcissist, take a look at what you want out of the interaction. If you are looking for equality in your relationship, acceptance, or significance in his or her eyes, it is recommended that you simply move on. If you are looking for those outcomes you will invest excessive amounts of time and energy but with a minimum likelihood of success.
If you feel you are in a position where you have little or no choice (example: married and cannot leave for financial or religious reasons) except to confront a narcissist, then read on.
Reaction to Confrontation
What can you expect when you do confront a narcissist? Generally, they will resort to narcissistic rage (explosive or passive-aggressive) or denial. He or she may become enraged, deny everything, call you a liar, twist reality, blame you and then play the victim. You may be the recipient of rage and aggression or the victim of The Silent Treatment. It is also common for him or her to project everything you say about them on to you. For example, if you confront them about infidelity, they will turn it around and claim that you must be the one who cheated for you to even bring it up. If you are strong enough to cope with this treatment, then go ahead and use the strategies below to confront him (or her). If you are hoping for a permanent, positive change in their behavior, more disappointment or pain is likely on the way.
Why do they go into a “narcissistic rage”? They become enraged because they believe they are perfect and beyond reproach. They cannot accept any sort of disagreement, criticism or accountability for their actions. “Narcissists react with narcissistic rage to narcissistic injury”.
“Narcissistic injury” is any threat (real or imagined, no matter how slight) to the narcissist’s grandiose self-perception as perfect or omnipotent. They perceive every disagreement as criticism and every critical remark as abject humiliation. Narcissists desire perfection so even the slightest challenge to that self-perception is seen as a threat. Thus, the over-reaction. They react defensively and become indignant, aggressive and emotionally detached. They “devalue” the person who criticized, disagreed or dared to confront them about their behavior. By devaluing that person, narcissists minimize the impact of the threat to their self worth. The devalued individual is likely to be subjected to severe and continual emotional harassment, guilt and blame, and to abuse (verbal and physical).
“Narcissistic rage” is a reaction to a perceived (real or imagined) slight, criticism, disagreement or confrontation. Narcissistic rage is a reaction to narcissistic injury. Narcissistic rage can come in one or both types: explosive and passive-aggressive.
1. Explosive – The narcissist erupts like a volcano, attacks everyone around him, causes damage to objects or people, and is highly abusive.
2. Passive-Aggressive – The narcissist sulks, gives The Silent Treatment, and makes plans on how to punish the person. They are malicious and vengeful. They harass, disturb, sabotage and damage the work or possessions of the transgressors.
How to Confront?
According to Sam Vaknin, self-proclaimed narcissist and author of Malignant Self-Love, the simplest way is by abandoning him or by threatening to abandon him. The threat to abandon can be vague and doesn’t have to be conditional (“If you do/ don’t do something – I will leave you”). When you confront a narcissist, you must be insistent and shout back. He or she can be controlled by the exact weapons that he uses to overpower others.
Their fear of abandonment overshadows almost everything else in a narcissist’s life. For example, if he gets emotionally close to someone he begins to fear that abandonment is inevitable. That causes him to act cruel and distance himself which often results in the abandonment that he feared. It is the narcissist’s paradox to which also holds the key to confronting and coping with the narcissist. If he engages in narcissistic rage – rage back at him. This inflames the fear of being abandoned and consequently quiets and calms him. He will try to make amends, immediately moving from one end of the emotional spectrum (cold, angry, cynical, and cruel) to the other end of the spectrum (warm, loving, optimistic and kind).
Mirror the narcissist’s actions and repeat his words back to him: If he threatens you – threaten him back. If he leaves the house – you leave the house. If he acts suspicious – you act suspicious. Descend to his level and use criticism, degrading comments and humiliation. Mirror his image back to him and the narcissist will always retreat.
Narcissists can cause negative and harmful effects to us. They are superficial individuals whose self-worth often stems from their behavior toward their partner, family and friends. To successfully and effectively confront a narcissist, your own self-worth must be strong and you need to robustly believe in your right to confront his or her attitude or behavior. Stand up for yourself and confront the narcissist by mirroring his behaviors; by doing this you can regain control and put it back in your court.