6 Red Flag Phrases Narcissists Use To Manipulate You During An Argument

Getting into a disagreement with another person is never easy. It often brings up uncomfortable feelings like stress, anger or sadness. But while arguments are generally uncomfortable with just about anyone, they are extra difficult with narcissists.

Narcissists are manipulative and have a desire to control others, making disagreements really, really frustrating, said Monica Cwynar, a licensed clinical social worker with Thriveworks in Pittsburgh.

Just because you have an unpleasant interaction with another person doesn’t make them a narcissist. Just .5-5% of the U.S. population has narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, according to Manahil Riaz, a psychotherapist in Houston and the owner of Riaz Counseling in Texas. So while someone can have narcissistic traits ― such as self-centeredness or a lack of empathy ― it does not mean they have NPD, Riaz added.

Instead, narcissism is a continuum that ranges from healthy narcissism, which is defined as an “integrated sense of self and healthy self-esteem to pathological narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder,” Justine Grosso, a somatic trauma psychologist, told HuffPost via email.

“Someone with pathological narcissistic traits may meet some but not all criteria for NPD,” Grosso added. These criteria includes entitlement, a lack of empathy, a desire for praise and admiration, exploiting others, arrogance and grandiosity, Grosso said.

These traits are hard to deal with on a normal day, and are that much harder when a narcissist is upset with you. We asked therapists to share the phrases and behaviors narcissists commonly use in conflict. Here’s what they are:

1. “You’re overreacting.”

“When talking to someone with pathological narcissism or NPD, they may repeatedly dismiss, deflect, or invalidate your concerns or hurt feelings in order to avoid taking accountability for their impact on you,” Grosso said.

This can sound like phrases such as “you’re overreacting” or “you’re too sensitive,” which can be used to control the narrative, said Cwynar, and make you feel like you’re the one causing a problem.

Instead of doubling down on your stance, comments like this likely make you doubt yourself and your feelings, and withdraw your complaint, Grosso said.

2. “I’m not angry, you’re angry.”

“People with pathological narcissism or NPD use an unconscious defense mechanism called projection in which they disown their own emotions and believe they belong to someone else,” Grosso said.

Say you’re in the middle of a fight with a narcissist, you may hear them telling you that you’re the angry one as they yell, scream and say condescending things, Grosso gave as an example.

“People with pathological narcissism or NPD deny their vulnerable feelings because of toxic shame and emotion phobia,” she said.

3. “I can’t believe you’re attacking me, I always get blamed.”

No matter how wrong your loved one is, they can never see themselves that way. Instead, they’re always the victim.

“Narcissists often see themselves as victims due to their deep-seated sense of entitlement, fragile self-esteem and lack of empathy for others,” Cwynar said. This victim mentality leads narcissists to believe they are “constantly being wronged or mistreated by others.”

You may hear a narcissist say things like, “I can’t believe you’re attacking me like this. I’m the one who always gets blamed for everything, even when it’s not my fault,” or “No matter what I do, it’s never good enough for you. I’m constantly being criticized and judged unfairly,” she said.

“By portraying themselves as victims, narcissists can manipulate others to gain attention, sympathy or control in relationships,” Cwynar said. “They may use their perceived victimhood as a tool to elicit support or to shift focus away from their own problematic behavior.”

As a result, they can deflect blame and responsibility, and instead put the blame on someone or something else, she noted.

Phrases that are meant to control and manipulate are commonly used during conflict with narcissists.

Kinga Krzeminska via Getty Images

Phrases that are meant to control and manipulate are commonly used during conflict with narcissists.

4. “If you loved me, you would do this.”

During a conflict, it’s common for narcissistic people to lean into manipulation, according to Cwynar. This language is intended to control so they can get what they want.

“They will use strong language like … “If you love me, [you’d do this for me] … if you don’t do this, I might hurt myself … if you leave here, then you never loved me,” Cwynar explained.

Statements like this make it hard to stand up to the person you’re quarreling with, likely leading you to retreat and put the control back in their hands.

5. “You should have known I was upset.”

“While many people with personality disorders and relational trauma may believe that others should read their mind, this is especially prominent in people with NPD,” said Grosso.

So, you may hear someone with narcissistic personality disorder say, “You should have known I was angry,” fully expecting you to anticipate their emotions and understand what they’re feeling without any kind of communication.

“A phrase like this may lead the other person to feel hypervigilant, like they’re walking on eggshells,” Grosso explained.

Additionally, feelings of fear, guilt and obligation may bubble up, too, which takes power away from the wronged individual, she noted.

6. Long-winded expressions that don’t touch on the point.

“There’s this concept called ‘word salad,’ where they just might say things that don’t make sense,” said Riaz. So, they may spout statements that don’t connect just to confuse you, she added.

“Like, ‘I do everything for this family, you sit at home, and I’m thinking about the future and what we can do better, and I’m trying to get my education,’” Riaz said. “And they just go on and on and on and on.”

Eventually, you forget why you’re even fighting because the conversation has gone so far left, she added.

A bonus red flag: There’s often little or no negotiation or compromise.

When in an argument with another person, typically there is some sort of negotiation. Maybe after a fight about cleanliness, you agree to take the trash out more often while your partner agrees to wipe down the countertops after they cook.

This is not the case for someone in a relationship with someone with narcissistic personality disorder. “There’s typically no negotiation because their patterns are just so disagreeable,” Riaz said.

Additionally, negotiation isn’t a goal because this person just wants to get their way, Cwynar noted. “So, if they’re having a disagreement with you, it’s about them being able to control the narrative, control the situation,” Cwynar said, not to get to a solution or compromise.

If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, it’s important to take care of yourself.

All in all, it’s really tough to frequently deal with someone who uses the controlling, manipulative behavior mentioned above.

To cope, Riaz said it’s important to seek therapy. “A good therapist will help you recognize, ‘Wow, it sounds like you’re really struggling, you’re trying everything you can — maybe it’s not you,’” Riaz said. Therapy can help you decide what you want to do about this relationship while processing the impact it has on you.

“You need to set boundaries so that you can maintain a healthy relationship with the person,” Cwynar said. If this is a person you need to have in your life, it’s important to have boundaries to protect yourself from them.

It’s also important to have a support system, whether that’s family, friends or a church group, said Riaz. You need folks you can count on and talk to about the things going on in your life. If you don’t have this kind of support, it’s important to create it by joining local groups, signing up for clubs and meeting new people, Riaz added.

When it comes to the toxic relationship itself, “If you can walk away, I would definitely say walk away,” Riaz said. But she acknowledged that it’s not always possible to do so, like if you co-parent with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder or have a narcissistic boss at a high-paying job that you can’t leave.

“So, either we can walk away and do no contact, or we can have really strong boundaries and have low contact,” Riaz said.

In the end, it’s important that you take care of your physical and emotional needs. “Understanding the ‘why’ behind abusive behavior does not excuse the impact and harmful nature of the behavior on your well-being,” Grosso said.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 22522 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline.

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