All people have narcissistic traits to some degree. In healthy individuals, a normal amount helps them take pride in their accomplishments. But this very narcissism becomes dangerous when it increases and is used to manipulate others. The things narcissists say in an argument can even lead to the death of your self-esteem.
That’s why, for more insights on narcissistic abuse, we turned to psychotherapist Dr. Chavi Bhargava Sharma (Masters in Psychology), who has vast experience in diverse spheres of mental health and wellness, including relationship counseling
What Is A Narcissist?
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Chavi explains, “Narcissists think of themselves as very important. They constantly crave praise and attention. Overtly, they appear as confident people. But unconsciously or subconsciously, they are not that confident. They, in fact, have a very low self-esteem.
“They are not stupid. In fact, they are very charismatic and seductive. They use this charm to manipulate you and twist facts to their advantage. They are insecure, arrogant, and emotionally abusive.”
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists nine criteria for NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), but it specifies that someone only needs to meet five of them to clinically qualify as a narcissist:
- Grandiose sense of self-importance
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- The belief they’re special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
- Need for excessive admiration
- Sense of entitlement
- Interpersonally exploitative behavior
- Lack of empathy
- Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
- Demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes
If anyone close to you, be it your partner, family member, or friend shows the above signs, know that it has nothing to do with you. You are just the target of abuse in a relationship and not the cause of it.
Anyone who’s close to the narcissist will be the target of their abuse, regardless of who they are. But if you’re familiar with the things narcissists say to trick you, you can prepare yourself for dealing with them.
30 Manipulative Things Narcissists Say In An Argument And What They Actually Mean
Chavi points out, “The root cause of narcissism lies in a person’s childhood or unbalanced upbringing. They either received too much adoration as a child or too much criticism. This is why the child grew up to feel that the world is selfish and they cannot succeed without shooting others down or denying others’ rights.” Now that we know what narcissism is and its causes, let’s dig deeper into the things narcissists say in an argument.
1. “You’re too sensitive”
Chavi emphasizes, “A narcissist never takes responsibility for their own behavior. It’s NEVER their fault. They trivialize your feelings and tell you that you always blow things out of proportion.”
If they are making you doubt your own reality, they are definitely trying to gaslight you. Calling you too sensitive is a classic method for blame-shifting. This allows someone with NPD to shrug off accountability for their own actions.
What they actually mean: “I don’t want to accept that it’s my fault.”
2. “You’re crazy, you need help”
Calling you crazy is one of the classic narcissist argument tactics. Narcissists are also called ‘crazy makers’ because making you question your own sanity helps them establish control over you. It’s a classic gaslighting technique to kill your self-esteem and make you doubt your truth.
What they actually mean: “I am not going to take responsibility for this, so I will stop listening.”
3. “I’m sorry you feel that way”
The things narcissists say in an argument also include a fake apology about how ‘you’ feel this way. This does not mean that they feel any kind of remorse. They are just making it sound like you are feeling upset for no good reason. Instead, they should say “I’m sorry I did this” to show accountability for their mistakes.
What they actually mean: “I don’t believe I’ve caused you harm and will not take responsibility for my actions.”
4. “You’re being unreasonable”
Narcissistic abusers use this phrase in an attempt to discredit your feelings and diminish your point of view. This manipulation tactic works well on people who are more inclined to be agreeable and less likely to take action against the injustice done to them.
What they actually mean: “I don’t have the openness to listen to the views that disagree with me.”
5. “You’re lucky I put up with this”
Since a narcissist has an inflated sense of self, they feel they’re doing you a favor by being with you. You are expected to feel ‘grateful’ and ‘blessed’ that they have chosen to stay with you. The intention behind these narcissistic words is to make you feel worthless.
What they actually mean: “I am scared you’re pulling away and might end up leaving me.”
6. “This is how you repay me?”
According to Chavi, one of the most common things narcissists say in an argument is, “I have done so much for you but you never appreciate me.” They keep count of all the good things they do and then later expect you to pay them back. How can you reward their so-called acts of ‘kindness’? By never speaking against them.
7. “I’m the best you’ll ever have”
Claiming to be the “best romantic partner” is one of the most common things narcissists say about themselves. As research points out, they see themselves very positively and are motivated to maintain their overly positive self-perceptions. So, they make it seem like they’ve stooped to be with you and you are unworthy of them.
Related Reading: 12 Signs You Are Dating Someone With A God Complex
What they actually mean: “I am scared that I’m unworthy of you.”
8. “I’m only doing this because I love you”
“I am only doing it out of love” or “I have your best interests at heart” are some of the most common phrases narcissists use. They justify their mistreatment of you. They act jealous or insecure simply because they “love” you.
What they actually mean: “I enjoy controlling and exploiting you.”
9. “Not everything is about you”
Chavi says, “Narcissists have a low self-esteem and hence need people to admire and validate them constantly. They lack empathy and hence have trouble understanding others. They require attention, feel entitled, and expect special privileges (that they don’t give back).”
Hence, “Not everything is about you” is one of the common things narcissists say because everything is about THEM. They get defensive if you steal their spotlight, even for a second. They will make you feel guilty and embarrassed if you take the focus away from them. Remember, guilt-tripping in relationships is a form of abuse.
What they actually mean: “Don’t steal my thunder.”
10. “We don’t need anyone else”
This is one of the things a narcissist would say in a relationship to keep you compliant and loyal to them. If they fight with you for spending time with other people, know that they are trying to isolate you from everyone else. They are trying to make it a codependent relationship.
What they actually mean: “I don’t want to compete for your time and attention because I want you all for myself.”
11. “You have to pick a side”
These narcissistic words are a subtle way to emotionally manipulate you. They might ask you questions like “If you could choose to stay with just one person on this planet, who would it be?” in the hopes that you’d say it’s them. And if you don’t choose them over others, they might get upset and give you a cold shoulder.
What they actually mean: “Choose me. Love me more than others. Tell me I’m the most important to you.”
12. “You’re nothing without me”
According to Chavi, “Narcissists keep obsessing over how powerful they are. They feel that their achievements are better than others. They get very angry when people don’t give them the adoration they expect.”
Related Reading: What To Do When Your Husband Belittles You
Hence, the things narcissists say to mock you include them taking credit for your accomplishments. “You couldn’t have done it without me” is one of the classic narcissist argument tactics. They make you feel that you owe them for your success.
What they actually mean: “I want a share in your glory to preserve my narcissistic supply.”
13. “Well, no wonder no one likes you”
This is one of the common things narcissists say to keep you in line. It’s their way of destroying your self-esteem and making you feel like you have no one else to turn to. Your partner makes you feel insecure by telling you that no one else can love you or care for you the way they do.
What they actually mean: “The more alienated and alone you feel, the less likely you are to leave me.”
14. “You’re so insecure, it’s not attractive”
The things narcissists say to mock you also include calling you ‘insecure’ and ‘unattractive’. They want you to feel flawed. This is their way to distract you from the topic at hand. In the long haul, you’ll end up hating or doubting yourself. Making you feel bad about yourself distracts them from how much they hate themselves.
What they actually mean: “I’m the one who is insecure and I’m frightened that you’ll leave me.”
15. “Don’t cry, you are just trying to manipulate me”
Chavi explains, “The reason people don’t get out of emotionally abusive relationships is because they don’t realize how much toxicity they’re facing on a daily basis.
“Let’s take the metaphor of a frog in a well. If you increase the temperature of the water suddenly, the frog would jump out. But if you increase the temperature gradually, the frog would acclimatize itself.
“This is exactly how narcissistic words work. You normalize the emotional abuse because you don’t even realize you’re being abused in subtle ways.” So, when they tell you to stop crying, they just want you to feel like a weak person. Simply put, they are projecting and accusing you of exactly what they are doing.
What they actually mean: “I don’t want you to express your feelings.”
16. “It’s not my fault, it’s because of you/money/stress/work”
Research shows that those who live with narcissism often carry an innate sense of victimhood, which is why they might shift the blame over to you, someone else, or another external factor they have little control over. Getting defensive and playing the victim card are both classic blame-shifting strategies.
What they actually mean: “Taking accountability for my actions would require me to shed my ego and I am incapable of doing that.”
17. “I still haven’t forgotten that mistake of yours”
The things narcissists say in an argument include bringing up your past wrongdoings but never taking responsibility for theirs. Maybe your prior offense has nothing to do with the current conflict. But they would still bring it up to divert your attention and put you on the defensive. This is called a narcissistic ‘word salad’.
What they actually mean: “Now you have proof against me and so I have to deflect the argument at any cost.”
18. “That never happened”
Studies suggest that those with narcissism aren’t as prone to guilt as others, which can make it difficult for them to take accountability for their actions. So, “Your evidence doesn’t prove anything” and “I never said that” are some of the most common phrases narcissists use.
What they actually mean: “I know I am guilty but I will outright deny it so that you end up doubting yourself.”
19. “Relax. Don’t make it such a big deal”
According to Chavi, the things a narcissist would say in a relationship include “It’s such a trivial issue. Don’t exaggerate it.” Even researchers have found that those who live with NPD have limited self-awareness and a reduced ability to attune to others, which may explain why they don’t see their behaviors in the same light as you do.
What they actually mean: “You’re confronting me so I am going to minimize/downplay your distress.”
20. “If you do that, I won’t like you anymore”
This is one of the weird things narcissists say to emotionally blackmail you. They put you in a spot, wherein you’re supposed to ‘prove’ your love to them. It’s either their way or the highway. They threaten you in subtle ways and leave you with no freedom to make your own choice.
What they actually mean: “I cannot handle rejection. I need people to obey me blindly.”
21. “You don’t know what you’re talking about”
Chavi emphasizes, “Narcissists are very insecure people. Their ego is a protective mechanism against perceived threats, like criticism.” Hence, they get defensive and try too hard to make themselves feel superior by comparison. It’s their way of saying, “I am the expert. I have a better grasp of the issue at hand.”
What they actually mean: “The moment I start feeling threatened, I start devaluing you.”
Related Reading: 7 Reasons Why Narcissists Can’t Maintain Intimate Relationships
22. “You need to grow up!”
“You’re such an immature child” is one of the most common things a narcissist would say in a relationship. As Chavi points out, “Everything that you say is “irrational”. The only person under the Sun who makes sense is them.”
What they actually mean: “Ridiculing you helps me calm my insecurities.”
23. “Why can’t you be more like them?”
Comparing you to others comes under classic narcissistic traits. They either give you the silent treatment to gain an upper hand or expect you to be someone else in order to be liked by them. This can hamper your mental health and cripple your self-worth.
What they actually mean: “I don’t see myself in a good light. Why should you?”
24. “You pissed me off, that’s why I said mean things to you”
If you’re still looking for things a narcissist would say, the most famous one is “You made me do this”. Everything that they do is justified because you are the one who “triggers” them. You are the one who brings out the worst in them. Everyone else, on the other hand, is able to bring out the best in them.
What they actually mean: “I am not able to deal with my anger. So I will dump that guilt on you.”
25. “And I thought you were a good person. My bad”
Calling you a bad person is one of the weird things narcissists say. “I am so disappointed in you”, “I didn’t expect this from you”, or “How can you, out of all people, say this?” are other common things narcissists say.
What they actually mean: “I am not even close to becoming the person I aspire to be. So, I want you to drown with me.”
Related Reading: 9 Things To Be Mindful Of When Arguing With A Narcissistic Husband
26. “You’re always looking for reasons to fight with me”
Every time you try to express your feelings or explain why you felt bad, they make you feel like you committed a crime. They invalidate your emotions and make you feel like your only goal is to upset them. So, they say, “Why do you always criticize me?” or “You always have to ruin my mood/day”.
What they actually mean: “I don’t need you to give me a reality check. I am happy living in denial.”
27. “You always take it the wrong way”
On the things narcissists say in an argument, Chavi says, “They will always tell you that you have misconstrued their comments. They are just trying to gaslight you by telling you that they didn’t mean it in the way you understood it.”
What they actually mean: “It was deliberately said by me to hurt you. But now I have to make up for it.”
28. “Maybe we should end this”
They have no intention of breaking up with you. But narcissists say one thing and do another. They bring up the subject of parting ways with you on a regular basis. Why so? Because they love it when you show signs you’re begging for love. They love freaking you out.
What they actually mean: “Seeing how scared you are to lose me gives me a sense of pleasure.”
29. “I have no idea what you’re talking about? When?”
When it comes to the things narcissists say in an argument, their go-to strategy is playing dumb. They often say things like “I just don’t understand”, “What do you mean when you say that?”, or “Where is this coming from?”
What they actually mean: “I know exactly what you’re talking about. I just don’t want to talk about it.”
30. “I am already going through so much. Thank you for making it worse”
Self-pity is a classic narcissistic trait. Hence, the things narcissists say in an argument often include “My life is so difficult”, “I am in so much pain”, “You know I’m depressed”, etc.
What they actually mean: “I want you to feel sorry for me and give me attention.”
- A covert narcissist has grandiose sense of self-importance and a deep-seated need for praise and attention
- The things narcissists say in an argument include calling you too sensitive, crazy, or dramatic
- They make you feel that you’re unworthy of them and it’s your privilege to be with them
- They try to isolate you and distance you from your close ones
- They expect you to repay them by showering them with praise and obedience
- They mistreat you or destroy your confidence and tell you they do it because they love you
- They call you insecure and blame you for using crying as a manipulation tactic
Finally, Chavi explains, “If the above things narcissists say in an argument sound familiar to you, you should take your partner to therapy, since it’s very difficult to live with a person with such a rigid defense mechanism. We use various techniques to work on their self-esteem, like CBT, psychoanalysis, and healing their past trauma.” If you’re looking for support, our counselors from Bonobology’s panel are just a click away.
She adds, “I have seen complicated cases, especially the ones with two narcissists in love. They don’t even continue with therapy because therapy is all about agreeing to work on yourself. In other cases, people are scared to leave, because it’s an arranged marriage.
“But if it’s getting too overwhelming, it’s better to take a stand and get out of the toxic relationship. You cannot call it a relationship if there is only one person in it.” So, always look out for yourself, stay calm, and protect your mental health.