If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, it can be almost liberating to finally discover why they are the way they are. You feel as though suddenly you understand everything, and you might be thinking that they will feel the same way if you tell them. But should you tell a narcissist that they have this devastating personality disorder?
The desire to tell a narcissist that you’ve figured out their problem is usually borne of frustration and a desire to help them to change. If you do tell them, however, it’s not very likely that they will accept what you’re saying. The reality is they risk narcissistic collapse if they do accept it.
Confronting a narcissist is a tricky thing to do, and it’s best to be prepared if you’re thinking about telling them they’re a narcissist. It’s vital to understand what your motives for telling them are as well as the different ways they might respond.
Why Do You Want to Tell Them?
Of course, you likely have your own individual reasons for wanting to confront the narcissist in your life, but it’s likely that you’ve been searching for answers yourself. Coping with the behavior of a narcissist is difficult, to say the least.
Given the common manipulation techniques that narcissists use to control the people in their lives, it’s not surprising that you would be wondering exactly where the problem lies in the uncomfortable and unproductive interactions you have with them. Is it them, or is it you?
Narcissists often use gaslighting to make you feel like you’re the one with the problem. That’s an extremely frustrating tactic for the victim of narcissistic abuse because you can literally start to question your own sanity.
That’s why when you find out that the problem is with the narcissist, you probably feel the need to shout it from the mountaintop! One common reason for wanting to confront the narcissist is a desire to regain a sense of control over your life by letting them know that you know it’s them and not you.
You also might want to hurt them. It’s understandable because they have certainly spent a good amount of time hurting you. You might also reasonably want them to take responsibility for their own behavior.
It’s also true that you might have a genuine desire to help them change their behavior. You think that if they can just understand what’s behind their problems, you can help them to heal. But will it work?
What Happens When You Confront a Narcissist?
You’ve practiced it a hundred times in your mind. You’ll simply say, “I understand why you act the way you do. It all fits. You don’t feel empathy, you are very defensive, and you keep trying to control me and everyone else around you. All of those are characteristics of a narcissist.”
You’ll add, “You were probably traumatized as a child, and that caused you to deny your true self and construct a fake self in its place. You hide behind that because you have low self-esteem, and you need to maintain the facade of your fake self to feel good about yourself. You’re actually punishing me and other people in your life because of your own pain.”
It feels good to think you might say this to the narcissist, and in your heart of hearts, you’re hoping they will respond in a positive way. It will be a revelation for them, and they will acknowledge it and their need to seek help. But is that really what will happen?
Unfortunately, it’s more likely they will fly into a rage of denial and distraction. They will accuse you of being the narcissist – a favored manipulation technique known as projection, and they will devalue you. They will call you ignorant or, worse, stupid.
They will also begin to try and gaslight you into believing you’re the source of the problem or that you have misinterpreted all of their well-meaning intentions. On the other hand, they might accept that they are a narcissist, but they might see that as a positive thing. They might feel as though they have been rewarded for their narcissistic behavior, and in some contexts, they might be right.
While this is somewhat deflating, there are still some times when you might find it helpful to confront the narcissist in your life.
Should You Confront a Narcissist?
No matter how the narcissist might respond, there may be very compelling reasons for confronting them. It’s helpful to look at some of the arguments for and against taking that step.
In the ‘pros’ column, it is possible that the narcissist might consider what you’ve said and really attempt to change. You’re genuinely trying to help them improve their life, and they might see that and try to change for their own sake and for the sake of others around them. If that happens, you will have played a pivotal role in their life and your relationship with them.
Under ‘cons,’ however, is the fact that it’s unlikely your confrontation will prompt a genuine moment of enlightenment. It’s more likely they will deny and deflect by gaslighting you, lying, and blaming you or others for any questionable behavior you might bring up.
It’s also likely they will use the conversation to get their narcissistic supply by emotionally affecting you, which makes them feel even more powerful. You might actually provoke a stubborn, narcissistic backlash with the confrontation.
When you consider the question of whether you should tell a narcissist they’re a narcissist, you need to consider whether they are even capable of considering the possibility. If they are, perhaps they will seek help, and you can stop their narcissistic abuse or at least reduce your own suffering.
The key to this happening, however, is that the narcissist must be able to realize they have a problem. That’s the first step – understanding that there is a problem, and then, the second step is genuine self-awareness to fully understand your role in creating the problem.
Most narcissists simply don’t have the ability to be introspective, to examine themselves and the motives behind their behavior in an honest and open way.
Can Narcissists Be Self-Aware?
The real question here is, do narcissists actually know they are hurting you? The answer is often yes, they may realize that you’re hurt, but they usually have some way of rationalizing and justifying their behavior.
They will often blame you for ‘making them’ act the way they did. It’s typical victim-blaming that is common in other kinds of abusive relationships. There are some narcissists, however, who like to cause pain and act in a very deliberate way. These are known as malignant narcissists.
Additionally, a typical trait of all narcissists is that they lack empathy. They can’t put themselves in your place, and therefore, they don’t understand the effect their actions have on you. That means they are less likely to feel any guilt for what they have done, much less responsibility.
While narcissists do have feelings — they’re human, after all — they don’t always understand exactly why they feel upset about something. Since they don’t analyze their feelings on a deep level, lack introspection, and can see the link between their behavior and your pain, they are unlikely to feel any kind of remorse for what they have done.
For all these reasons, it is very difficult for a narcissist to know or accept that there is anything wrong with them. Moreover, their fragile self-esteem can’t withstand the kind of deep introspection that most healthy people use to self-correct for bad behaviors.
For the narcissist, it’s simply easier to blame someone else for their behavior and absolve themself of any responsibility for the consequences that result. Still, some narcissists do see that there is something wrong, and on occasion, they may reach out for help.
Can Therapy Help a Narcissist?
If a narcissist really comes to understand that they need help and has a strong desire to change, therapy can help them reduce their narcissistic behaviors. There are several types of therapy that have shown promise in helping narcissists.
For therapy to be successful, however, as psychologist and narcissism expert Dr. Elinor Greenberg points out there are, “seven characteristics that self-aware narcissists have in common that make them good candidates for psychotherapy.” These include the following:
- Motivated: To stick with the long-term therapy that most narcissists need, the individual must be very motivated to change. They need to have a good reason that makes them highly motivated to undergo the difficult self-reflection that lies ahead.
- High-functioning: This refers to the ability of the narcissist to navigate modern life. They need to be able to hold a job, pay their bills, and meet other responsibilities. If they are not able to do that, their chances of getting anything out of the therapy are greatly reduced.
- Psychologically-minded: This means the narcissist needs to be curious about how people think in general. They need to be interested in what lies behind their own behavior.
- Capacity for self-reflection: They need to be at least willing to look inside. This is something most narcissists are loath to do. They don’t want to face their true self, which they believe to be hopelessly flawed.
- Intelligent: It’s very helpful if the narcissist is intelligent and can make the connections they will need to make in order to reduce those negative tendencies.
- Strong ego: This refers to the emotional stability of the narcissist. They need to be relatively stable, and basically, they need to be in touch with reality. Therapy will cause its fair share of emotional chaos, so the better the emotional foundation, the more likely it will be that the therapy will succeed.
- The desire for self-improvement: This is probably one of the most important factors the narcissist must possess for therapy to work. They need to want it badly enough that they will stick with it.
The more of these traits that the narcissist in your life possesses, the greater the likelihood they can be helped from therapy.
How Should I Tell a Narcissist They Need Help?
If you do decide to approach the narcissist in your life, you’ll want to be certain this is what you want to do. You need to realize it’s very likely you won’t get a good response. If you are certain, the next thing to do is prepare.
You can prepare for self-care by making sure you have a strong support network of loving family members and/or friends who can help you as you navigate this difficult path. You might even consider consulting a professional.
You also want to think about how you will respond to the various manipulative tactic the narcissist might employ when you tell them what you have to say. Consider what you will do if they try to gaslight you or blame you for their behavior. What will you do if they become physically or emotionally abusive? What will you say if they simply deny everything or if they react in a passive-aggressive manner? By carefully considering how you will respond to each of these possible reactions, you can prepare so that you can act decisively.
To determine how you will act in response to each of these possibilities, you should also think about your boundaries. Where are they, and what consequences will you use to enforce them? What will you do if the narcissist refuses to acknowledge their problem and won’t try to change?
Once you have everything in place and have carefully thought about how you will respond to the narcissist’s reactions, choose a time and place when you can command the narcissist’s attention. Make sure you won’t encounter any distractions, and then calmly speak to them about the traits they have that have caused you to believe they may have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and how seeking help can benefit them.
Telling a narcissist they’re a narcissist is likely to result in a rageful response and denial, but in certain cases, it can cause them to consider what you’ve said and even seek help. Before you take this kind of step, however, you’ll want to be properly prepared.
It’s vital to know how you will respond to any of their possible reactions and what your boundaries are. It’s also critical to have people in your life you can turn to for emotional support so you can process your own feelings and any narcissistic abuse you’ve endured.
If you’re trying to get the narcissist you love to change so that you can live happily with each other, you’ll want to read this blog about whether or not that is even possible. It will give you additional insight into what you can reasonably expect from a narcissist.
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