How Do You Talk To A Narcissist? A Psychoanalyst Breaks It Down

Psychoanalyst By Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.
Psychoanalyst
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst with specialized clinical training in infant-parent, child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapy.
Two Women Talking in a Meeting

When engaging in conversation, you expect to be talking with a person. Unfortunately, if you're talking to a true narcissist, two-way dialogue is highly unlikely. If you have a superficial friend, co-worker, boss, spouse, or partner who is a narcissist, it can be difficult to keep conversation going. Narcissists will usually only want to speak if it meets their ends, such as:

  • Admiration
  • Flattery
  • Recognition
  • Helping them meet their goals
  • Patience in hearing repeated stories
  • Special treatment to suit their sense of entitlement

Narcissists abhor not getting preferential treatment. So, if you want to pursue a discussion, it's important to be attentive and clearly indicate you're listening. One way to do this is by frequently paraphrasing what has been said to you. Another is to willingly do what is requested of you, so long as you feel comfortable with it.

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What exactly should I say to a narcissist?

It's important to be aware of wording so the narcissist doesn't feel slighted, upstaged, or criticized, even constructively, when you engage in conversation. That being said, most of what you say might not be recognized as it would in an actual conversation. Instead, the narcissist expects what they say to be acknowledged, appreciated, praised, and confirmed.

Begin any discussion with a compliment, flattery, or praise in order to get the narcissist's attention. To keep their attention, listen endlessly. This might be hard when narcissists repeat themselves, which they will hardly be aware of. 

Should I be aware of any offensive behaviors?

If you have plans to be alone with someone who's a narcissist, he or she will likely invite strangers into the conversation without consulting you. They'll do this to receive attention from others who might appreciate a story you've grown bored of. It gives the narcissist a needed opportunity to demonstrate how knowledgeable they are, which might be keenly noticed and admired by strangers.

If the narcissist shows haughty or arrogant behaviors or attitudes, do not take this demeanor personally. They are characteristically this way with most people, even when not provoked. In fact, to keep the conversation going, ask them to share more about whatever topic they are discussing. This will hold their attention.

When you unintentionally slight a narcissist in his or her mind, he or she will probably leave the room without explanation. They will then maintain passive-aggressive behaviors—like the silent treatment—for long periods of time. Again, if you do not take this behavior personally but instead wait for them to collect themselves, you will eventually be able to continue talking.

In effect, talking to a narcissist is a one-sided experience. Only when their long-winded speaking begins to reach a close can you respond effectively, if at all. Do not ever expect the narcissist to empathize with your feelings in such a situation. They may be clueless as to how you feel if you try to explain or worse, not care. 

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What if I'm dating a narcissist?

Wanting to be in a relationship with a narcissist might seem compelling. They are often charismatic, charming, extensively knowledgeable, and will persistently pursue you for your empathy. If you are indeed an empathic, appreciative partner who is often self-denigrating, you may fit the picture of a codependent, who narcissists are commonly drawn to.

He or she may make you feel enhanced and distinctive by being associated with them. If you give that impression to the narcissist when you are talking, your relationship may remain stable. 

Only when the narcissist senses a change in conversation to your own interests, desires, and ambitions, will the talking abruptly end. Typically that happens when you are beginning to satisfy your own needs, not only those of the narcissist. 

The narcissist feels exceptionally entitled to your dependence. You may fear abandonment if you do not bring the narcissist back to the center of your life. It is easy for a characteristically empathic person to blame themselves when they can't talk endlessly to a narcissist.

Your lapses may induce a narcissistic rage that you feel is your fault. Trust me, it's not. It's important to understand that you're dealing with a narcissist in order to set boundaries and protect yourself from unnecessary guilt or hurt feelings.

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