A Psychologist Explains Why You Should Never Call Out a Narcissist
It can be a huge relief to realize that the person who has been making your life difficult is a narcissist — to be able to put a single word to the gaslighting, lack of empathy, and other ways in which they may have hurt you and others. But while it can be meaningful to have this information, does not necessarily mean you should share it with that person.
“It feels like a revelation, it feels like the moment you get the one thing nobody ever gets in a relationship with a narcissist, and that’s justice,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula. Unfortunately, a narcissist isn’t just waiting for you to get their number in order to then change their behavior.
“Not only is it not going to change anything, it’s probably going to make things worse,” she says. “They’re going to look at you, they’re going to turn it around, and they’re going to say, ‘Really? Because I would say you’re the narcissist.’ And then they’ll go on a 20-minute tirade about how you’re the narcissist, and they’ll gaslight you, and they’ll manipulate you, and they’ll throw in some insults, and by the time they’re done with you and they’ve done that number on you, you are going to think you’re the narcissist. Is that really worth it?”
The real reason why simply confronting a narcissist and calling them out for their behavior won’t work is simple: they’re not actually listening to you. If they truly are a narcissist, they have never been listening, and are especially unlikely to take any criticism or feedback on board.
Ramani adds that in her professional capacity as a therapist, she has had that conversation, but each time it has come after months of laying important groundwork. And if that conversation goes badly, it is also a lot easier to refer a client to another therapist than it is to continue a relationship with a narcissistic friend, colleague or family member. The most important thing, Ramani advises, is to prioritize your own safety and wellbeing, possibly through therapy.
“Work on techniques around how you can protect yourself so you don’t defend or personalize, maintain realistic expectations,” she says. “Once you figure this out, it becomes a brilliant opportunity not only to shield yourself, but other people in that circumstance. And most importantly, the best way to school the narcissist is not to tell them a narcissist; the best way to do it is to slowly but surely start pulling back the narcissistic supply. It’s a gradual distancing. You’re no longer engaging, you’re no longer a source of supply or bait… Your lack of engagement is all the lesson you need to show them.”