Last Updated on June 29, 2022 by Alexander Burgemeester
Should you tell a Narcissist they are a narcissist? Narcissists hurt you on every front and all you want to do is confront them and tell them they are a Narcissist so they can change their behavior. But is this even possible? Let’s start with an example.
Probably Scott was desperate. The relationship started well enough – his girlfriend was kind, sweet, and affectionate in the beginning.
But soon enough, the lies started. Or rather, he started noticing them. The mask slipped, and her lack of empathy started to shine through.
Then came the insults. The criticism. The guilt trips. The fake tears. After 8 months of abuse, he was at his wit’s end.
Scott had read about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) online, and was pretty sure his partner fit the bill. So, he decided to confront her about it. To tell her who – and what – she was.
He was hoping for a moment of enlightenment, something that would make her change.
But sadly for Scott, it just led to more guilt trips. This, unfortunately, is a common reaction from the narcissist.
Have you ever had thoughts of doing the same thing? Perhaps you’re wondering if it’s a good idea.
Should you tell a narcissist they are a narcissist? We’ll get to that – but first, let’s explore where this urge comes from.
Why do People Want to Confront a Narcissist?
Every person has their own reasons, but like Scott, they are usually born of frustration. People are struggling to cope with the behaviour of a narcissist, and they are looking for a way out.
Some common reasons people might want to confront a narcissist include:
- To help them understand why they behave like they do
- Because “The truth may set them free”
- To change their behaviour
- To hurt them back
- To make them take responsibility for their behaviour
- To regain a sense of control by standing up to the narcissist
- To hurt the narcissist
If someone is abusing you, whether they are your partner, a family member, or someone at work – and you recognize them as a narcissist, the urge to tell them can be strong.
You can see something about them that they can’t see. You want to tell them:
“You’re a narcissist. You have a lack of empathy. You’ve probably experienced some trauma that hurt you.
You have low self-esteem, so you’ve constructed a fake self that your fragile real self can hide behind.
You need a constant supply of attention and adoration to maintain that facade.
This is why you act this way. You’re punishing me for your own pain.”
The idea of saying all this might feel good. But is it a good strategy? Does it even work?
Can you tell narcissists they are narcissists?
Of course, you can tell them. The question is, will they listen? Will they accept what you say, take ownership of it, and try to change?
The hurdle you face here is that a lot of narcissists’ behaviors are unconscious. Often, they themselves don’t realize the true cause of their behavior.
This puts them in a place where it’s hard to take true responsibility for their actions – something narcissists rarely do.
As far as they are concerned, they are the victims. If they act in abusive and destructive ways, well, that’s just someone else’s fault.
In an ideal world, you’d tell the narcissist that they have NPD, and it would lead to a moment of revelation for them.
They would realize that they don’t see the world in a useful way and that they are causing suffering for others – and for themselves:
“Oh yeah, you’re right! Thank you for bringing this to my attention!
I shall now find a good therapist to help make me feel whole again. If I manage to do that, I’ll be in touch – otherwise, I’ll leave you alone and stop causing problems for you!”
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. Narcissists may simply discount or deny what you say.
Furthermore, even if they do accept that they are a narcissist, they may simply see this as a positive thing!
These types of responses are the most likely. Still, there are times you might want to consider confronting a narcissist.
Should you Tell a Narcissist They Are a Narcissist?
Let’s look at some of the reasons for and against telling a narcissist they are a narcissist.
- There is a chance that they will attempt to change their behavior, albeit a small one.
- You are at least giving them an opportunity to improve their lives, both for their own sake and the sake of others.
- If you plan to break contact with a narcissist, or have already begun to, you may feel like you owe them an explanation as to why.
- It is highly unlikely to lead to a moment of enlightenment. They will most likely respond in whatever way they normally do.
- It may lead to further confrontation. Perhaps they will turn it around, and try to gaslight you – convince you that you are the narcissist, and they are the victim (and they may truly believe that).
- A confrontation can sometimes be a form of narcissistic supply. It proves to the narcissist that they are able to emotionally affect you, which might make them feel powerful. You may end up having the opposite of your intended effect.
Should you tell a narcissist they need help?
As noted above, one of the “pros” to telling a narcissist that they’re a narcissist, is that it might lead to them seeking help. This is worth at least some thought.
If you’re being abused by a narcissist, you might see a confrontation like this as a way to potentially stop the abuse – you’re trying to remove or reduce your own suffering at their hands.
But it’s also worth keeping in mind that for them to realize that they have a mental disorder, and to seek treatment for it, is in their best interests too – and they can’t do that if they don’t realize they have a problem.
Although NPD is difficult to treat, there are success stories. In these cases, someone had to have told them they were a narcissist, and that they needed help.
This has to be the first step towards a life that’s not only less harmful to others but better for themselves too.
Unfortunately, the second step is honest self-awareness – and sadly this is often lacking in narcissists! Let’s take a brief tour of what you’re up against here.
Narcissism and self-awareness – a quick guide
To help you get an idea of the impact of NPD on self-awareness, here are some common questions people ask:
- Do narcissists know they hurt you? Generally speaking, they understand that they are hurting you, but rationalise their behaviour in some way. It also tends to be reactionary, in the heat of the moment, rather than planned. However, some narcissists, who we call “malignant narcissists”, do cause pain deliberately and in a calculated way.
- Do narcissists know what they are doing? Narcissists often realise what they are doing, but have a poor sense of why they are doing it.Their self-awareness only goes so deep.
- Do narcissists know they are using you? It varies from person to person. They may be aware they are using you, but not see it as a problem. They may not feel, understand, or realise the pain their manipulations cause you.
- Do narcissists feel guilt? They can feel guilty, but they are less likely to. When their feelings get hurt (such as after a confrontation!), they far less likely to feel guilty for what they do in response to this. Although not all narcissists lack empathy, many do, and it’s hard to feel guilty when you’re oblivious to the pain you’re causing.
- Do narcissists cry? Yes – narcissists are notoriously thin-skinned, and some narcissists do cry when upset.
- Do narcissists feel emotional pain? Although many blogs on the internet portray narcissists as unfeeling monsters, this is not true. Narcissists feel all the emotions that non-narcissists do, but to different degrees, and in response to different things. They may not truly understand what upsets them, or why, however.
- Do narcissists feel remorse? Narcissists are capable of remorse, but it is less common and not as strong as non-narcissists feel. Again, when narcissists are weak in empathy, they often don’t realize they’ve done something they should be remorseful of.
But given the impact narcissists tend to have on other people, surely they know that there is something wrong with them?
Do narcissists know they are sick?
There are some narcissists who have recognized their condition and taken steps toward treating it. But as we’ve just seen, this level of self-awareness is not a characteristic of the condition.
It is rare for narcissists to know (or to accept, if they do know) that they have an illness, in the same way, people with other mental illnesses do, such as people with depression or anxiety.
For example Australian broadcasting network SBS interviewed a diagnosed narcissist, who had been in treatment for 10 years.
When asked if he had any idea he had NPD before being diagnosed, he said “None, no. Until that day I didn’t even know what it was.”
Narcissists don’t tend to come to the conclusion that they are sick all by themselves.
To admit that one is suffering from a mental illness is to admit a flaw, which narcissists find incredibly difficult. They think of themselves as superior, not inferior.
Do narcissists respond to therapy?
So, narcissists don’t have a clear sense of why they behave the way they do, nor do they generally think the way they behave is even a problem.
This lack of self-awareness is what you are dealing with if you want to convince a narcissist to seek treatment.
However if they can get past this hurdle, some narcissists do seek treatment and find benefits.
Dr. Elinor Greenberg, a psychologist in New York who specializes in NPD, lists her seven key characteristics of self-aware narcissists – the ones most likely to respond to therapy:
- Motivated – have a reason to change
- High-functioning – be able to navigate modern life, e.g. hold a job, pay bills on time etc
- Psychologically-minded – curious about how people think
- Have a capacity for self-reflection
- Relatively emotionally stable
- Have a desire for self-improvement in general
If the person you are thinking of confronting meets most of all of these traits, you’re more likely to be successful in your efforts.
How to tell a Narcissist they are a Narcissist or Need Help?
The first thing you should do is be sure this is a course of action you want to take.
In all likelihood, they will not thank you for sharing this with them, and it may create further abuse and conflict. They may use what you say to try to gain more control over you.
Also, bear in mind that if they do decide to seek help, there is a difficult path ahead for them – and for you.
Narcissists have their own wounds, that is for certain – but you likely have yours too.
Be wary of becoming a healer to someone else, rather than to yourself. If you decide to travel this path with them, it will not be an easy one.
Another thing you may be wondering – should you tell a narcissist how they make you feel?
This is another area in which caution is advisable. By telling them this, you are providing fuel for their ego, by confirming that they are able to affect you emotionally.
Telling a narcissist that they hurt you will not result in remorse, guilt, or shame. It is unlikely to change their behavior.
Before you tell them, make sure that you have adequate support in your life, which could mean supportive friends or professional help.
Then, you can then simply sit down and speak with the narcissist in your life about the traits they have, that you think they may have NPD, and that they might benefit from getting some help.
But don’t go in without a plan. Think about what you’ll do and say if they respond in different ways, such as:
- If they try to turn things around so that you are to blame
- If they deny they have a problem
- If they become abusive
- If they react in a passive-aggressive way
Also, decide where your boundaries are, and stick to them. If they do respond in a negative way, or if it’s clear that they will not change, how will this affect your relationship?
Would this be a sign that you need to break the relationship? You can’t control how they respond – only how you respond.
Overall, be sure not to put your own well-being on the line, for the sake of someone else’s.
16 thoughts on “Should You Tell a Narcissist They are a Narcissist?”
I am going through this as an Empath. I feel the need to break the relationship.
This is really good. I only found this article by using Brave/DuckDuckGo. Using Google your blog never showed up. You are very clear and concise. Thank you for this excellent write up. I wish it could find its way up the ladder of the Google searchers.
This is for the author Dear Alexander
Yes yes yes! Thanks for your research……job well done. I relate aLmost perfectly…. breath of fresh air. Bravo keep up the good work you’re doing a great job
I too only found this when searching with Duck Duck Go and I am grateful! Thank you!
I say no harm at all in telling them. It might help and it can’t hurt
Actually if you read this article you’d know it CAN make things much worse 🤦
Thank you for the article. Reading it leaves me with a roller coaster of emotions and leads me to a path of thinking that things are unlikely to change.
I’d be terrified to tell them that they are a narcissist and face the rage, anger and blame that will ensue, also likely to be turned back on me.
One only has to experience how far a narcissist will go to be in control to know the risks of telling the narcissist. Your advice is true and clear. Thank you.
Thank you so much for your research and allowing God to use you to open my eyes to what I’m dealing with. I remember having surgery and he had a fit because he had to serve me breakfast. I cater to him all the time. I’m really getting exhausted in Its all about him. I’m having to walk on egg shells when he’s off. I’m actually less stress when he’s not around me all the time. I’m in a marriage that makes me feel like I’m doing prison time. Keep me in your prayers as I find counsel in what way I should go. Thank you again for the revelation.
Have lived a horrible, abusive life w older sister who after reading up on lots of this stiff, is clearly a malignant narcissist. It all makes sense now. She evidently has some deep resentment & hatred towards me, but putting all the pieces together from her crap over the last 40 years, I hope this is the the right description, always in very passive-aggressive way. And yeah, Ive done the ‘ I m tired of this & I m going to go off on u & tell u how nasty u are, a narcissist, etc..’
Huge fail every time
Like u said it gives them fuel & they come back on u 10 fold. They can certainly dish out control & judgements, but when u try to give them a dose of their own crap- look out!! They will not like it, accept it & refuse as usual, any blame or responsibility for any of their behavior. In fact, she responds back to me telling ME how toxic, nasty, damaged, full of venom & vile I am & SHE wants nothing do w ME.???
After last blow-up 3 days ago, family or not, I am ready to cut & sever all ties & any kind of relationship with her. It is too stressful, my anxiety is fully out of control, know now she will never change
I have the same relationship with my brother who for all our lives has bullied and behaved in narcissistic ways. Recently he realized he needed a next of kin for poa and I accepted. The abuse began again. I had to be available 24/7 for his needs. When I wasn’t it turned against me “ where were you? What if something happened to me? What happens in your life affects me” I gave up! He wants to be friends! I’m not doing poa, which he “promised money “ believe me no amount of money is worth the abuse . Both he and his sister are of this behavior. I have been turned on many many times and still come back
I started dating this girl that unfortunately is my type. Cute girl that came off very very sweet. She’s a nanny that loves animals and has 2 cats lol well we went on like 5 dates and talked a lot for about 2 months and their were some times she was blurting out lil comments that really would make you think like why did she say that. I kept my cool. Most of the time until I felt like she was fucking with my head and I put alot of blame on myself and she blocked me on everything except FB messenger. She reached out to me again and we started talking and seeing each other again for a couple months and she started acting like this again so we stopped talking for a few months and she keeps reaching out to me for about a year and half now but when she does it’s always to check up on me and when I try to hang out she flakes on me. She reached out to me like a month ago and told me she missed me and how sad it is that we haven’t seen each other in about a year. I was buying any of it and i didn’t bite on her I miss you and it’s sad because she’s the reason we stopped talking. So I told her let’s just put the bullshit behind us and hangout and she said we will soon lol but a few days later she acting the same again like she don’t want to. It’s sad cause I actually met her almost 7 years ago from my sister in law friend. but we didn’t talk or date until about 2 years ago and my sister in law doesn’t even know that we dated and talk. I know shes been through some stuff with her family. She is almost 23 and I realized she is really into herself. I just found out what a narcissist was by dating this girl smh I don’t really want to be the one to tell her unfortunately I feel like many men have prob called her many things and she plays victim every time. She really tries to push my buttons through text and I don’t let her win now and I see it’s frustrating her
Like she recently told me she’s sorry if she’s ever hurt me and she misses me and how sad it is we haven’t seen each other all in one night and just change her energy the next day. Sometime I wonder if she is also bi polar because she told me one time she dated someone that was bi polar. It just made me feel like someone probably told her that and she flipped it on them. The way I see it is she’s 22 and young very dangerous stage for a narcissist. I’m 28 so I just feel like it’s best to let her figure that out with other men that will help her grow because she’s not ready for a relationship. She’s very secretive with her social media and out of the 6 years I’ve known her she’s never had a boyfriend. I really like her when we’re dating and showed my cards early and she used that against me. But now it’s gotten to the point to where I just keep in touch when she reaches out to me and seeing how she really is it’s like wow I’ve never dated a person this bad and I feel bad for her and who ever she’s talking too sadly. Like I really want her to just get in a relationship so I can believe she’s capable of that. Even the whole time I talked to her she would tell me how she don’t have friends but honestly I’ve caught her in enough lies to know better. She like hides a lot about her life
Enlightening and has made me feel better for the understanding.
The description of a narcissist almost sounds just like how our relationship played out. I was confused by how much attention she gave at the start, then hot and cold responses and the lack of bond, lots of asking how beautiful I thought she was, always posing obsessed with material things, asking for money, becoming more selfish in the bedroom and when we broke up so readily moving on.
Crazy thing is I love her, and know she has come from a broken upbringing, abuse, it is mostly sub-conscious behavior therefore I cant hate her for it.
My DIL is a narcissist. After a year of being available at a moment’s notice for babysitting my grandaughter, my DIL has decided I’m toxic and can no longer see my granddaughter. I loved the time I spent with her and miss having fun with her. A few months ago, my son and DIL can to my house without letting me know they were coming over. This was after months of not responding to my text messages to visit with my granddaughter. This encounter lasted for 1 1/2 hours. The intent was to “mend the relationship”, but was mostly shouting by my DIL. After a few weeks of feeling hurt, I found a therapist who listened to what had happened and let me know there was nothing I did that should have resulted in what happened. Then I found information about NPD and put all the pieces together. My DIL definitely had NPD. I still am not allowed to see my 2 yo granddaughter. My son will not intervene to help me with this, because I now think he knows the consequences for him to contradict his wife would be dire. But I worry about my granddaughter. My DIL said that my granddaughter is just like her. Her exact words were “she spends so much time with me, she is me”. That’s scarry for so many reasons. I don’t want my granddaughter to grow up to be a narcissist, or to be hurt by one. Both of these outcomes are possible. I want to confront my DIL, but I’ve read several articles about not doing so, such as this one. But, I also want to protect my granddaughter. I’ve thought about bringing this information to my son, that maybe opening his eyes would protect my granddaughter somewhat. What are your thought?
My father is a narcissist and my mother is an empathetic victim. They have been 7 years trying to divorce. My father wants to leave her in the streets. I know I need to cut him off because he drains my energy, but I fear telling him he’s a narcissist will worsen things. I feel the guilt of being the absent daughter to my father, but I need to finally put me first. This is so exhausting.