When I first learned about narcissism and narcissistic personality order, it was like a lightbulb was switched on for me. Honestly, it felt like the whole world looked different – and while I had many unfortunate realizations about who I was and how I got that way, I also felt a sense of almost exhilaration that I could barely contain.
Maybe that was due to the simple fact that, after identifying the first toxic narcissist in my life, I realized that I wasn’t quite as crazy as I’d once believed. But I think it was because I had finally found answers – and because I was finally on my way to figuring out what had gone wrong in my life.
I had a new, more enlightened perspective. I had figured out that my whole life had been affected in a profound way by the toxic people in my life, and I wanted to share it with the world. Truthfully, this is part of what got me started researching, writing and talking about this stuff all those years ago.
But one question plagued me at the time: should I tell the narcissists that I’d figured them out? Should I let them know what I’d realized?
You might be surprised to hear that this question is quite common among my readers, viewers, listeners and clients. They all ask: should I tell the narcissist that I have figured them out?
I mean, it makes sense, right? Think about it. You’ve learned the signs of narcissism and you’ve done the research necessary to figure out that you’re dealing with someone who seems to be a toxic narcissist. And since you’ve taken the time to figure it out, you might think that if you could just tell them, they’d realize the error of their ways and stop being so toxic.
So here you are and now, all you can think about is telling this person exactly what and who they are – but you’re a little worried. Will they really change? How will they react? SHOULD you even tell them what you’ve learned? Will it help?
Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about today in this video – whether or not you should tell the narcissist that you’re on to them and exactly what to expect if you do (see video here).
What should you expect from the narcissist when they learn that you’ve figured them out?
Narcissists have plenty of secrets. They keep their proverbial cards close to the chest, and they certainly won’t appreciate or respond well to being called out for what they are. When they know that you are on to them, they will step up their manipulation game. And they will do whatever they can – almost literally anything within their power to make sure that they keep control over you. What do narcissists do when you have figured them out?
Well, let’s talk about it.
1. They Get ANGRY.
You might not be surprised to know that a narcissist who knows you’ve figured them out will get angry. But we aren’t talking about typical anger, we’re talking about irrational, blind and unresolvable narcissistic rage. They will verbally and emotionally go on the defense and make any level of communication nearly impossible.
2. They Play the Victim
Just like any other situation where the narcissist doesn’t get what they want here, narcissistic injury is sure to follow narcissistic rage in this situation. Assuming you refuse to agree that you were wrong with your suggestion that they might be a narcissist, even when they get angry, they might slip into the “poor me” act. This means they will act like you telling them they’re a narcissist is actually you just being mean and name-calling. They might even call you abusive. No, I’m not kidding.
3. They Do Their Research and Use It Against You.
Once you tell a narcissist they’re a narcissist, they’re going to want to know what you mean. So they start googling. That’s when they find my articles and videos, along with the thousands of others who have popped up in the past couple of years. They’ll learn all the lingo and they’ll decide that it is YOU who is the narcissist. They will tell you that you are accusing them of the dark truth of yourself. And in some cases, despite all practical evidence, they’ll project their own negative qualities on to you and call YOU the narcissist. And then they twist everything around and if they’re really good at it, they’ll leave you spinning, wondering if maybe they’re right and you really are the narcissist in this situation.
4. They Will Diagnose You.
Speaking of diagnosable personality disorders, the narcissist’s next step might be to actually diagnose you with some kind of psychological problem. It’s a common occurrence when a narcissist is lying or manipulating a friend, coworker or loved one. When they don’t get their way, they often turn up the intensity by questioning your sanity. You might be called paranoid, stressed out—too sensitive or even hormonal. To turn up the pressure, they’ll tell you that you need therapy and/or meds to get through it. They’ll tell you you’re bipolar, schizophrenic or worse. Again, it’s all about being in control.
5. They Gaslight You.
Remember that part I mentioned where they twist everything around and leave you spinning? That might also be part of the gaslighting cycle. Gaslighting is the narcissist’s go-to manipulation tactic. Used by most narcissists, it is a pervasive and highly-effective tactic meant to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. In this case, they will say things to indicate that you don’t know what you’re talking about, or that you’re so small-minded that you believe anything you read on the internet. Or they might tear down your sources or even tell you that you didn’t experience what you did with them. Of course, their go-to insult tends to be an implication (or a direct statement) that you are flat-out crazy. (But don’t fall for it!)
6. They Tell You What You’re Thinking.
Narcissists often claim to know what you (or others) are thinking—and if you deny that your mind’s working the way they believe it is, they might just say you’re lying. They might make a face or a gesture to indicate it and even accuse you of lying to YOURSELF. Because of course, as narcissists, they can’t be wrong – and they certainly won’t acknowledge that there’s anything wrong with them on an intrinsic level – at least, not anything that they can’t benefit directly from. And when you tell them what they are, all they’ll hear is that your thinking must be flawed, because there’s nothing wrong with them, as far as they can tell.
7. They Will Claim to Be ‘Normal.’
Narcissists are always acting like you’re overreacting to their abuse, and this case is no different. Rather than acknowledging that there might be something a bit off about their personality (much less that they actually might have a diagnosable personality disorder), they will claim that their behavior is completely normal. And even though, deep down, you know for sure that it’s not, you might doubt yourself thanks to their ability to state complete lies with absolute confidence. Hint: their behavior is far from normal. Normal behavior isn’t generally diagnosable.
8. They Bait and Switch You.
Narcissists love the old bait and switch manipulation tactic. But let’s break it down a bit. Baiting is what happens when a narcissist pokes at you, intentionally trying to upset or anger you, or to somehow get an emotional “rise” from you. The narcissist might use this manipulation tactic in this situation in order to start an argument. They do this by flinging insults about your character and blatantly attacking you on sensitive or personal levels. For example, they might say that you’re just like the parent who abused you growing up They’ll dig deep and hit you with the most painful insults they can think of – and this is where the “switch” comes in. After all, they all of this for one single purpose: to deflect – as in, to throw the negative attention off of themselves and on to you.
9. They Use Your Fears Against You
You already know the narcissist has been breaking you down for all of these years. In fact, they tell you that know so much about you, probably even more than you know yourself. But, remember how it was during the idealization stage? At the beginning of your relationship, they might have listened to you really closely and you thought it was because you’d met your soulmate. In reality, they did this to file away any vulnerabilities you revealed for later use. Now is the time they’ll bring them back out, if they haven’t already, and do anything within their power to make you afraid. They will tell you they’re the best you will ever do. They’ll lie to you and tell you how you will never find anyone else and you will end up all alone if you leave them. They’ll threaten to smear you by exposing your so-called flaws and bad habits to everyone in your life – and then, they’ll remind you, no one will love you anyway. They are playing on the most common fear we all have: the fear of abandonment and of being alone with no one to help you. Don’t fall for it.
10. They Will Call You a Bad Person.
As you’re likely painfully aware, narcissists have a way of refusing to validate you. In fact, they’re experts at invalidation – and that is a big part of what makes their behavior so difficult for us. Even when they’re not being accused of being a narcissist, they always want to tell you all about your imperfections in thorough, excruciating (and exaggerated) detail. They’ll make up lies about who you are and what you think and expect you to go along with it. They’ll straight up accuse you of being a bad person. I mean, as far as they see it, you’ve accused them of something, so they might as well point out all the things that are wrong with you, too. And, since you’ve dared to question their perfection and dominance by suggesting they might have a personality disorder, you’ll be treated to new and additional insults to your integrity and to the very core of who you are. Nothing is off-limits for the narcissist.
Are you getting where I’m going with this? The fact is that a narcissist will never admit that there could be something wrong or that they’re not perfect if they can avoid it – and this is especially true when there’s no benefit to them admitting it.
So, should you tell a narcissist that they are a narcissist?
You can try to tell the narcissist what they are if you like, now that you know what to expect. But before you do, please remember that it won’t do you much good. In fact, it might actually make your life harder. After all, narcissists are infamously incapable of true self-reflection, so they’ll only end up hurting you, emotionally, psychologically and in some unfortunate cases, even physically, if they know that you know. It just isn’t worth the momentary satisfaction that comes with it.
If you want my personal opinion, I say don’t bother trying. It’ll only set you back and leave you feeling confused, angry, and possibly a little crazy.
How do you deal with a narcissist, then?
If you have been involved with a narcissist, you probably found yourself struggling to even have a reasonable conversation with him or her on a regular basis. This is because, by nature, the narcissist is wired to instigate drama, manipulate, and generally do their best to make it all about themselves. This can be both exhausting and frustrating for anyone trying to deal with a narcissist. Ideally, you’d go no contact the moment you realize what you’ve been dealing with. But life is not always ideal, so you need to know how to manage these people in the moment.
We all know that the narcissist has a whole toolbox full of manipulative tactics. It is shocking when you really think about how many different ways they’ll try to get what they want (not to mention how “low” they’ll go).
There’s one simple rule when it comes to communicating effectively with a narcissist – and it’s so basic that you probably won’t believe me when I tell you what it is.
The rule is: do not engage the narcissist.
What do I mean by this? Well, it’s simple: keep emotion out of it. When the narcissist tries to manipulate and provoke you, which he or she inevitably will, you have to maintain an air of professional-type detachment. Try to see the narcissist as almost a stranger and communicate with him on that level.
This is what you might know as the “gray rock” rule in which you deal with the narcissist if you have to, but only give boring, monotonous responses. This deprives the narcissist of the narcissistic supply they get out of the emotional feedback you’d otherwise give them.
By sticking to the gray rock rule, you can bet that your narcissist will lose interest quickly. That’s because it’ll retrain their brain to consider you “boring” and to put it as simply as possible, it’ll mean that you’ll no longer be an effective source of narcissistic supply.
If it helps, look at it like this: by not telling the narcissist that you know what they are, you won’t be showing them all your cards. That will give you an advantage over them since you can then learn about their psychology and learn how to deal with them effectively if you must. Of course, going no contact is always the ideal option when it comes to dealing with toxic narcissists. But gray rock is the next best thing.
The question of the day is: have you ever told a narcissist what they are? Have you considered it? What happened? And if you have, what advice would you offer your fellow survivors in this situation? 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.