6 red flag phrases narcissists use to manipulate you during an argument

Getting into a disagreement with another person is never easy. It often causes uncomfortable feelings such as stress, anger or sadness. But while discussions are usually awkward with just about anyone, they’re especially 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 does not make them a narcissist. Only 5-5% of the American population has narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, according to Manahil Riaz, a psychotherapist in Houston and owner of Riaz Counseling in Texas. So while someone may have narcissistic traits like self-centeredness or a lack of empathy, it doesn’t mean they have NPD, Riaz added.

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

Someone with pathological narcissistic traits may meet some, but not all, criteria for NPD, Grosso added. Those criteria include entitlement, lack of empathy, desire for praise and admiration, exploitation of others, arrogance and grandiosity, Grosso said.

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

1. You are exaggerating.

When you talk to someone with pathological narcissism, or NPD, they may repeatedly dismiss, deflect, or invalidate your concerns or hurt feelings to avoid taking responsibility for their impact on you, Grosso said.

This can sound like phrases like you’re overreacting or being oversensitive, which can be used to control the narrative, Cwynar said, and make you feel like you’re the one causing a problem.

Rather than doubling down on your position, comments like this are likely to 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 deny 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 might hear them explain you that you’re the angry one while they yell and 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 emotional phobia, she said.

3. I can’t believe you attack me, I always get the blame.

No matter how wrong your loved one is, they will never look like this. Instead, they are always the victim.

Narcissists often see themselves as victims because of their deep sense of entitlement, fragile self-esteem and lack of empathy for others, Cwynar said. This victim mentality causes narcissists to believe that others are constantly mistreating or mistreating them.

You might hear a narcissist say things like, I can’t believe you’re attacking me like that. 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 am constantly criticized and unfairly judged, 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 perception of victimhood as a tool to gain support or to divert attention from their own problematic behavior.

As a result, they may deflect blame and responsibility and instead blame someone or something else, he noted.

Kinga Krzeminska via Getty Images

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

4. If you loved me, you would.

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

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

Statements like this make it hard to confront the person you’re fighting with, likely leading you to withdraw and put 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 minds, this is especially prominent in people with NPD, Grosso said.

So you might hear someone with narcissistic personality disorder say, “You should have known he was angry, fully expecting you to anticipate his emotions and understand what he’s feeling without any communication.”

A phrase like that can lead the other person to feel hypervigilant, like they’re walking on eggshells, Grosso explained.

In addition, feelings of fear, guilt and obligation can also arise, which takes power away from the wronged person, he noted.

6. Long expressions that do not touch the point.

There’s this concept called word salad, where they can just say things that don’t make sense, Riaz said. So they can issue statements that don’t connect just to confuse you, he added.

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

Eventually, you forget what you’re fighting for because the conversation has gone so far left, he added.

An additional red flag: There is often little or no negotiation or compromise.

When arguing with another person, there is usually some kind of negotiation involved. Maybe after a fight about cleaning, you agree to take out the trash more often while your partner agrees to clean the counters after cooking.

This is not the case for someone in a relationship with someone with narcissistic personality disorder. There is usually no negotiation because their patterns are so unpleasant, Riaz said.

Also, negotiation is not a goal because this person just wants to get their way, Cwynar noted. So if they have a disagreement with you, it’s about them being able to control the narrative, control the situation, Cwynar said, to not come to a solution or a compromise.

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

All in all, it is often very difficult to deal with someone who uses the controlling and manipulative behavior mentioned above.

To cope, Riaz said it’s important to seek therapy. A good therapist will help you recognize, wow, it looks like you’re struggling, you’re trying your best, maybe it’s just not you, Riaz said. Therapy can help you decide what you want to do with this relationship as you process the impact it has on you.

You need to set boundaries so you can maintain a healthy relationship with the person, Cwynar said. If this is someone 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 it’s family, friends or a church group, Riaz said. You need people you can count on and talk to about the things going on in your life. If you don’t have that 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 he acknowledged that it’s not always possible to do that, like if you end up with someone with narcissistic personality disorder or have a narcissistic boss at a high-paying job you can’t quit.

So we can either walk away and make no contact, or we can have very strong boundaries and have low contact, Riaz said.

In the end, it is important that you take care of your physical and emotional needs. Understanding the why behind abusive behavior doesn’t excuse the impact and harmful nature of the behavior on your well-being, Grosso said.

Need help? In the US, call 1-866-331-9474 or text loveis to 22522 to get National Dating Abuse Helpline.

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