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You know that old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” right? We all know that isn’t true – certain words really can hurt us. And we all know that narcissists have some pretty unrealistic standards, one of which basically asks us to actively censor ourselves when we speak to them so as to avoid triggering their fragile egos and sending them into a spiraling narcissistic whirl – basically a meltdown.
And if you know me, you know that this has often been a problem in my own life. See, I am one of those people who can’t shut up sometimes. It’s a real issue. For example, if I hear someone saying something that is just an outrageous lie, or misrepresentation of me in some way, I cannot not tell them. I have to say the truth. For years, it was almost like I couldn’t help it, and even if I tried to stay silent or to go along with the lie, the words would still almost involuntarily spill out of me.
Now that I’m an adult, and since I’ve done the work of healing from my toxic relationships, I’ve gotten better in one way: I don’t bother to argue with anyone who won’t hear me. I have learned it’s a waste of breath. I’ll tell someone the truth once, and if I can see that they’re intentionally not receiving the message, I’ll stop trying to make them understand.
But, as you might imagine, when I was a kid, I got in trouble a LOT for the words I used. Not because I cursed or said things that were extra mean, but because I couldn’t shut up and go along with the various lies that were thrown at me. For example, if I did a chore wrong, my parent might ask me to agree that I was lazy and worthless. And if I refused to agree, which I inevitably did for some ridiculous reason, this would lead to a really bad day. My little brother would pull me aside and ask what was wrong with me: why didn’t I just say whatever they wanted me to say so I would stay out of trouble? I wanted to, I really did, but something in me just wouldn’t stay silent. I’d go on to do the same thing during my marriage to a narcissist – that dang word vomit thing would get me in trouble every time.
It’s funny how much of an impact words can have on us, isn’t it? This is true for narcissists too, and there are certain words and phrases that you can say to a narcissist that will positively destroy them. And while it might be tempting to use this information to hurt the narcissist, that isn’t the reason I’m sharing it with you today. In fact, while we all know that the ideal answer to dealing with a narcissist is to go no contact, there are certain situations where we have to continue to deal with them – either we can’t leave right away or we’ve got kids with them, or some kind of business we need to accomplish with them. In any case, if you’re dealing with a narcissist, then you know you have to tread very carefully. This means to avoid using certain words around them. That is because if you use certain words, they will destroy the narcissist. And as tempting as it is to do that (because they had it coming), the consequences of facing the narcissistic rage is far from pretty.
If you can relate, stick with me because that’s exactly what we’re talking about today – words that destroy a narcissist, what you can say or do instead of using them, and if you watch till the end, I’ll fill you in on the number one word you can never say to a narcissist without completely destroying them.
Phrases and Words That Destroy Narcissists
Now, what are the words that will destroy a narcissist that you want to avoid using (at least if you’re trying to keep the peace)?
1. ‘I know the truth about you’ or ‘I see right through you’
Narcissists cannot stand to have their masks unceremoniously removed and their true selves called out. So, if the narcissist claims to be something that you know for sure they are not, it would really hurt them to hear you say you see through them. For example, if the narcissist is always talking about how they’re a genius, you might point out that you saw a copy of their IQ test and the score was average, at best. Or if they claim to have won some big beauty pageant 20 years ago, but you know they were really the third runner-up, pointing this out will only upset them. If you want to avoid drama, you’ll have to keep pretending that you believe they are the false self they pretend to be.
2. ‘I don’t remember that’
Narcissists have this way of expecting their sources of narcissistic supply to go along with their lies, no matter what. So, if you’re with a group of friends and they tell a completely made-up story, you better go along with it, or you’ll hurt their feelings, eliciting narcissistic injury at the very least (and probably risk dealing with their rage later). For example, one client told me a story about how her narcissistic father would always tell made-up (or at least, heavily altered) stories that featured him as the hero. She instinctively knew to go along with them, “or else.” But one day, she’d finally had enough. So when he told yet another tall tale at a family gathering, he turned to her and said, “Remember that?” She said, “No, actually, I don’t remember it that way at all.” She said he gave her the “you’re dead to me” look in the moment, and when they got home, she got in big trouble. To avoid the drama here, you’d have to pretend that you do remember whatever story they’re telling – even when it makes you look bad. Not worth it, in my opinion.
3. ‘I’m busy and don’t have time for you right now’
Narcissists, especially those of the more overt nature, will need every moment of your time, or at the very least, they will expect you to drop whatever you’re doing when they want or need your attention. Their inflated sense of entitlement and lack of an actual self makes it impossible for them to spend any time alone. They can’t stand the idea of having to fend for themselves and might have to face themselves if you leave them alone for too long. So no matter if you’re at work, or taking care of your kid or doing anything else at all, if they want your attention and you don’t dole it out as requested, they’ll crumble into a big old pile of narcissistic injury. As always, when that doesn’t work, the rage will soon follow. Why? Because they feel like you don’t feel like they’re important if you don’t drop everything when they need you. To avoid drama here, you can try saying, “I’ll be right there,” or “We can talk at this time,” but even that won’t be good enough for most of them. Many narcissists will even go so far as to sabotage your job and push away all of your friends in order to monopolize your time.
4. ‘You are a failure’ or ‘I am so disappointed in you’
Telling a narcissist they’re a failure or that you’re disappointed in them in any way sort of tugs at that false self – the mask they hide behind for most people. And even if they already know that you know who they are, acknowledging that they’re anything less than perfect will only enrage and offend them. Side note: even if someone else shares this kind of sentiment with them, they’re likely to take out their negative feelings on you – a sort of emotional garbage dump. For example, if their boss at work gives them a bad review or points out a mistake, they may come home and ruin your night as a result of it. To avoid drama in this case, you’d need to take their side in every situation and agree that it isn’t their fault somehow – which brings me to number five.
5. ‘It’s your fault’
You probably already know that narcissists refuse to take responsibility for their behavior, at least when it comes to anything they feel makes them look bad. They will blame everyone but themselves for their failures and screw-ups. On top of that, they’ll expect you to go along with their delusion. So, using the example from number four, if you don’t agree that the boss is at fault for the bad review or mistake they pointed out, the narcissist will have another reason to go after you. Oh, and this will even be the case if YOU are the person being blamed – if you don’t agree that it’s your fault, they will make you pay. To avoid the drama, or at least minimize it, you’d need to agree that someone else is responsible – even if that means you have to admit to something you didn’t do.
6. ‘I Don’t Believe You’
You know that narcissists are pathological liars and of course you have learned to take anything they say with a grain of salt, right? And with good reason. But if you tell them that you don’t believe them, watch out. They can’t stand it. If you want to avoid drama, don’t bother pointing out their lies. Not only will they never admit the truth, but you can use this to your advantage if necessary. For example, let’s say you find out they’re cheating and you confront them. They’ll deny it, even if you have actual proof and are showing it to them. As infuriating as this will be, pretend to believe them. Yeah, that’s right. Go ahead and let them lie – they will assume you believe them. And since they also have a tendency to underestimate you, they’ll get sloppy when they think they’ve got you snowed. This will allow you to do what you need to do to deal with the cheating (which, for the record, I hope means you’ll be getting your ducks in a row to leave them) without having to deal with their drama.
This is the ultimate way to destroy a narcissist. See, narcissists need narcissistic supply to function – like a vampire needs blood and darkness. If you’re one of their sources of narcissistic supply, they can’t stand the idea of not having you around to dump all that emotional garbage on, not to mention to give them the attention, praise and admiration they demand. If you say goodbye and leave, and then you go no contact and stick with it, they will, at least temporarily, be destroyed. Of course, they’ll also use this narcissistic injury as a way to gain attention from other people and often to find a new source of supply, playing the poor me game and engaging in various smear campaigns about you with anyone who will listen. But if you hold out, and you use the gray rock method – as in, you don’t react emotionally – or you just remain fully no contact and don’t react at all – they’ll eventually move on and stop torturing you. As difficult as this can feel, it is ultimately the best outcome of a relationship with a toxic narcissist.
Bottom line: remember that in the end, while you can certainly temporarily destroy a narcissist using words such as the ones I’ve shared here, the very best revenge you could get on any narcissist would be to simply live your life well without them. To find true happiness and peace in your life, despite the fact that they exist. Not only would learning you’re happy without them and living like they don’t exist destroy a narcissist, but it would make them feel like you’ve won the relationship. Not that you need such a trophy – but you do deserve to be happy and to not live in fear of triggering the next episode of narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury. No one should have to live like this. Walking on eggshells is both difficult and painful and it can change you in some pretty profound ways. If you’d like to learn more about how narcissistic abuse changes you, check out this video.
Question of the day: did you recognize any of the phrases I shared as things that might upset or bother the narcissist in your own life? And what other words would you add to my list? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it!
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.