It’s extremely difficult to get a narcissist to admit they’re wrong because to do so would mean exposing their flaws and vulnerabilities. Because of their damaged sense of self, that would be devastating for their self-esteem, and in fact, it could result in a mental breakdown. That’s little consolation to you, however, if you’re dealing with a narcissist in your life. So how can you get them to admit they’re wrong without destabilizing their mental state?
There are several strategies you can use to get a narcissist to admit they’re wrong. First, don’t talk down to them, and be humble yourself. You also want to stick to the current problem; don’t bring up past events. Lastly, focus on the outcome you want to achieve rather than what they did wrong.
To employ these strategies, it’s vital to understand what’s behind the narcissist’s reticence to take responsibility for anything they have done wrong. That way you can recognize what they’re doing and why, and then, you can better get them to work with you instead of against you.
Why Won’t Narcissists Admit When They’re Wrong?
It’s a common trait of narcissists to have difficulty taking responsibility for the mistakes they make. Although they seem like they are extremely confident people, the truth is they are hiding a fragile self-esteem and damaged identity mechanisms that make admitting they are wrong very difficult.
Healthy people experience personal growth from acknowledging their mistakes and learning from them, but for the narcissist, they are too insecure to be able to do so. When they are cornered and they must admit they are wrong, they will often fly into an explosive rage – known as narcissistic rage – in order to distract from their error.
If that doesn’t work, the narcissist can experience what is known as narcissistic collapse. They may become severely depressed and unable to function in their daily life. The reason behind this is that they don’t have an internal mechanism to soothe themselves or to make them feel secure in their worth as a human being.
For a healthy person, making a mistake is part of being human, and it doesn’t diminish your sense of self-worth. Your healthy ego maintains that feeling of self-value despite any errors you might make. But narcissists are not able to do this because of their damaged sense of self.
They need other people to prop up their self-esteem because they don’t have a healthy sense of self that can do that for them. When they make a mistake, the biggest fear is that their true – and low – value will be exposed for all to see. When that happens, they are afraid they will be abandoned by everyone in their life. This is why the narcissist will use several manipulative tactics to get people in their life to stop noticing when they’ve made a mistake.
What Will Narcissists Do to Avoid Being Held Responsible?
Narcissists are happy to take responsibility for successes and accomplishments, but when it comes to taking the blame, they will do a number of different things to avoid being held responsible. They will employ any or all of the following strategies:
Blame Someone Else
They will bully and blame other people around them to avoid being held responsible for their own mistakes or bad actions. This may include belittling other people and bullying them into admitting they did something wrong even if they didn’t.
Narcissists use projection all the time to escape responsibility for something they have done. Often, in fact, they will project onto a person they consider to be overly responsible. This person is also typically codependent and a fan of the narcissist, so they will take the blame.
Argue to the Point of Exhaustion
This is a common tactic that narcissists will use, and it gets great results. Typically, it involves the narcissist picking one detail of the issue to argue about until the other person just can’t take it anymore. Even if that person is successful in arguing their own point and getting the narcissist to back off on that detail, the narcissist will simply pick another small point and start arguing that. This eventually wears the other person down, and they give up.
Another successful tactic narcissists will use is to simply deny that what you say happened actually happened. They may even rewrite history altogether. The idea is to get you to question your own memory and perception of reality.
Diversion and Counterattack
Another thing they will do is divert your attention to some other small, usually insignificant issue and exaggerate that over the main point. Their plan is to wear you down and then counterattack when you’re exhausted.
Fear and Avoidance
Another common technique the narcissist will employ is to use your own fears against you. They have an uncanny ability to figure out something you’re afraid of and exaggerate it to the point of paranoia. Once they have you good and afraid, they will use your fear as a reason to avoid their own responsibility. They will say that you are the one being reactionary, and so, anything you request should not be taken seriously.
Bait and Switch
This is an extremely manipulative tactic that really messes with your ability to trust other people. The narcissist will often help you with some terrible situation, which naturally makes you trust the narcissist. You also feel a sense of loyalty to them.
Meanwhile, the narcissist will wait until sometime in the future where you confront them about taking responsibility for something they have done. That’s when they withdraw and withhold both their love and their attention. This can be so dramatic that it often works.
It can easily cause you to just accept responsibility to stop the confrontation and get the narcissist to return to you. The narcissist will often then accuse you of being unappreciative of the time they helped you which is designed to make you feel guilty so that you’ll do whatever they want.
All of these strategies are designed to manipulate you into not expecting the narcissist to take responsibility for their actions. If you accede to the narcissist’s wishes, the emotional abuse will only get worse, and it is extremely harmful to you and other people in your life.
What Harm Does This Cause?
The gaslighting and deception involved in these tactics can destroy entire families, traumatize work colleagues, and alienate family members. It can ruin your closest relationships, undermine the trust and love between families and cause painful trauma to people you care about.
Moreover, it can make you question your perception of reality and lose trust in your ability to make decisions. It can actually cripple you as you try to do what needs to be done in your life. It causes anxiety and insecurity which can also harm your physical health and make you feel hypervigilant and distrustful of everyone in your life.
Additionally, when you learn to be accountable for your actions, you’re building character, and when you teach that to your children, you’re giving them a valuable life lesson. You could even argue that this is one of the most important lessons you will learn in your life.
Not only does taking responsibility help to build character, it also teaches you how to overcome challenges in your life. It helps you to improve and become a better person. Without learning how to accept responsibility and overcome challenges, you become stuck in place. You can’t move forward or move on. All of this can have devastating consequences for your mental health, your future goals, and your physical wellbeing. So what can you do?
How to Make a Narcissist Take Responsibility
You have to realize that a narcissist will not be able to openly admit they are wrong. Without significant, intense, and long-term psychotherapy, they simply won’t be able to overcome the damaged sense of self that has created this problem in the first place.
The first step in getting them to at least take responsibility so you can resolve problems is to adjust your expectations. This is not a healthy person you’re dealing with, and they won’t be able to recognize their mistakes, admit them, and then grow from them.
Once you accept that they won’t be able to do that unless they are engaged in intensive therapy to get help, you can use some practical strategies to get them to work with you instead of against you. Let’s explore the possibilities.
1. Don’t Talk Down to Them
One thing that everyone hates – narcissists and non-narcissists alike – is someone who talks down to them. When someone is condescending, it makes you feel stupid, and it makes them seem extremely vain. So instead of being the judge, the teacher, or the holier-than-thou mother superior, get on the same level with the narcissist.
Instead of saying, “You did this wrong,” try something like, “I can see why you did it this way, but I was thinking we might do it like this. What do you think?” This way, you’re treating them like an equal whose opinion you value.
You’re also not making yourself out to be a know-it-all who has to have everything their way. You’re leaving it open for feedback from the narcissist. Of course, depending on the situation, you may have to be more assertive in insisting that something be done your way.
For example, if you’re in a romantic relationship or marriage with a narcissist and their behaviors are threatening that relationship. In this case, you don’t want to come off as though you’re judging them, but you need to let them know that what they’re doing is not acceptable.
In that case, you might try something like, “I can see that you were abused in your childhood, but your drinking is putting everything we want to do together at risk. If you have some ideas about how to stop drinking, I’m all ears, but if not, you either need to seek help or I will have to make the best decision for my own life.”
In this case, you’re stating that you will not accept this behavior, but you understand it. You’re giving the narcissist a way to save face. They can put the blame on what happened to them in their childhood.
2. Be Humble Yourself
If you talk to the narcissist in terms of what is right versus what is wrong, they will see you as being arrogant and trying to show that you’re superior to them. If that happens, they will resist anything you say.
When you’re upset about the way you’re being treated, it can be hard to refrain from blaming the narcissist, but the more you try to make it seem as though they are in the wrong, the more they will fight back against what you want them to do.
Instead of presenting what you want as the ‘right’ way to do something or treat other people, try saying something like, “I’m not an expert at this, but I know that when you insult me, I feel very bad about our relationship. I would like it if we could both refrain from raising our voices when we disagree.”
In this example, you’re stating right off the bat that you’re not an expert, but you’re expressing how the behaviors make you feel. You’re stating what you need but in a very humble way. You’re also using the word ‘we’ when discussing what you want.
You’re not making the narcissist feel as though they are in the wrong or that they are the only one engaging in the offensive behavior. You’re putting yourself in the same boat with them and asking that you both can make changes to accommodate each other.
3. Let Someone Else Be the Bad Guy
If you point out that you’re no expert on a particular topic, then you might suggest that the two of you get help with the problem. If you’re having trouble communicating, you might say something like, “We just seem to have problems expressing ourselves to each other. I don’t know what to do, so maybe we should ask an expert to help us talk to one another in more respectful ways.”
In this example, you can let a relationship counselor or other professional be the one to confront the narcissist about their behavior. You might even learn something yourself. This way you don’t have to be the one making any kind of accusation, and it could genuinely help you both with your interactions.
Sometimes, it may also be necessary to get the intervention of other types of professionals. If the narcissist in your life is physically abusive or you think they might become physically abusive, you might say something like, “I’m afraid of you when you get so angry, and I don’t know how to handle that situation. I’m going to ask people who are experts at dealing with angry people to help out when you get that angry.”
This could refer to the police or other professionals who can help to calm the situation down. You’re not presenting yourself as the expert, you’re not blaming them directly, and you’re not asking them to change. You’re simply stating that you will get help because you don’t know what to do.
4. Don’t Phrase Things in Terms of Right and Wrong
If you phrase things in terms of what is right and what is wrong, you’re setting yourself up as an expert on morality. You’re also giving the narcissist no choice but to defend themselves, so this will certainly cause an argument.
Instead of telling them they are in the wrong, focus on the outcome you want to achieve and enlist their help in reaching that goal. Express how you feel about the situation, but don’t phrase it in terms of what everyone feels or should feel.
For example, you might say something like, “I feel frustrated when you call me names because I feel like it hinders our ability to communicate. I know you don’t mean to disrespect me, and so, can you help me improve our communication with one another?”
In this example, you’re trying to get the narcissist on your side in solving the problem. You’re not presenting yourself as the arbiter of right and wrong, but you are letting them know how you feel when they engage in negative behavior.
How Will the Narcissist Respond?
Narcissists are hypervigilant for any criticism since they fear it will lead to the exposure of their true self, and so, you’re likely to get an argument even if you employ these strategies. As Professor Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited, reveals, “Narcissists are awkward, tactless, painful, taciturn, abrasive, and insensitive.” They will likely respond in a surprising and negative way no matter how you approach them.
You have to use your own judgment and knowledge of the person you’re dealing with, but these tactics will often get better results than using other, more accusatory methods. If you fear physical abuse, it’s better to have these kinds of discussions in a place you consider safe like with other friends or family members present or in a public place. Additionally, if you show genuine concern for them and your relationship with them, they are likely to respond more favorably.
Still, there are likely to be many times when they won’t listen to you or respond to what you’re trying to get them to do. In those cases, you have to make the best decision with your own self-care in mind. It may mean leaving them or it may mean simply letting life teach them a lesson that you can’t provide. In the latter case, don’t accept responsibility for something they’ve done; rather, let them learn what they need to learn.
It causes the narcissist extreme psychological distress to admit they are wrong or take responsibility for their actions. Their personality disorder makes them averse to appearing vulnerable, and if they must admit they’re wrong, that creates a situation where they will appear weak and vulnerable.
Without extensive psychological counseling, there’s little you can do to help them, but you can set and maintain boundaries. You can use strategies that will be effective at getting them to treat you with more respect and in a better, less narcissistic way. You’ll have to constantly maintain those boundaries and enforce the consequences of any violations again and again, but in the end, it will help you have a happier, more satisfying life.
If you’re trying to make a narcissist be more accountable for their actions, you need to read this post that explains how narcissism affects their longevity. It has some critical insights into the consequences of some of the narcissist’s worst behavior.
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