This is a common things victims of narcissists want to know. They spend so much time provoking negative reactions in others, that we often want to know how to get back at them. What weak spots does a narc have, and how can we play on these to irritate them, instead of always being on the receiving end?
We know that people may be searching on how to irritate a narcissist for different reasons. Some people are caught up with a narc right now and want to fight back in the moment, pushing their buttons instead of having their own buttons pushed. Other have just broken off with one and want revenge.
We’ll cover some of these ways to take cheap shots at a narcissist to irritate them, but these are really short term wins and don’t do much in the bigger scheme of things. Moreover, an enraged narc can be really unpleasant to deal with.
Ultimately we’ll move onto a more generalized and detached approach to this whole issue. By this, we mean that the best way to permanently irritate a narcissist is to fully heal from their abuse, and totally detach from them psychologically, so they are completely unimportant and uninteresting to you.
In other words, despite all the more obvious tricks you can play on a narc in the moment, you can paradoxically cause them the most pain and irritation by not even interacting with them at all, by moving on with your life with a total disinterest in who they are or what they’re doing.
Let’s run through some commonly cited ways to annoy a narcissist, before moving onto to this bigger picture tactic of detachment and living well as the best way of getting even.
“The best revenge is a life well lived”
1. Imply That They’re Ordinary & Uninteresting
A key part of what keeps the narcissistic self image in place is a sense of extra-ordinariness and special-ness. Puncturing this fantasy self image by bringing them back to the harsh reality that they’re just like everyone else will infuriate them.
It is true that one reason psychopaths and narcs are able to get people hooked on them is by creating “that little bit extra” in interactions and relationships that makes it seem like it’s better than what you can get from anyone else. They want to be seen as special and unique, but in reality this is just cheap trickery and creates fake, addictive bonds that aren’t based on real intimacy or vulnerability.
Seeing through this trickery and bringing the narc crashing back to earth by pointing out their banality and ordinariness is guaranteed to irritate them.
Here are some ways to do this:
- Narcissist will often drop subtle hints or facial expressions that you’re boring them to provoke a reaction. Flip the script and do the same to them – imply with body language, hints and facial expressions that they’re boring you. Drum the table, blow through your lips, look around at other people instead of them.
- Imply that the time you’re spending with them is really dull and nothing special, and that you’re got much better and more exciting things to do with other people (hedonistic narcissists will go mad at this).
- Imply that their interests, hobbies or or other pet “things” they’re really into are boring, dull or uninteresting.
- Imply that papers/books/articles they wrote, or other projects they’ve worked on are boring, dull, or unexceptional and ordinary.
- More generally, imply that they, or anything they do, say, have or follow, is dull uninteresting and unexceptional – distinctly ordinary.
- Narcs love to turn up late and keep others waiting, making themselves the center of attention. Flip the script, keep them waiting and cause them inconvenience, do not apologize and watch them explode with rage. Blame any reactions on them being too sensitive or moody. Send the message that your time is more important than theirs.
- Take subtle digs at them through back handed compliments which have an aspect of praise in there, but also with an insult embedded, but always with a smile and positive body language.
- Doing these things will actively irritate the narcissist, since by criticizing anything they do in this way, they’ll take the insult by extension to themselves. They’re very fragile in this way – they will fume if their fake image of perfection and special-ness is broken.
Give off a general demeanor of being bored and disinterested in the narc to really annoy them
“Just frame whatever the narcissist wants or needs as completely banal and ordinary. Their needs are ordinary, their wants are ordinary,… their life is ordinary…..You know what that would do to a narcissist in your life, they would go ballistic. If you just very calmly just kept repeating that ‘everything you want is normal, you’re a completely normal person, you’re one of many, you’re not special, you’re not special, you’re not special’. They’ll flip their lids.
Tell a narcissist how boring they are….(that’s) a nice little liver shot there. Just suggest or imply they’re dull…That’s harsh”
Richard Grannon/Sam Vaknin.
2. Send Abuse Right Back to Them
There’s something about sending negative energy and abuse right back to a narcissist, and doing it quickly, that really irritates them. It can also cause the more fragile ones to realize you aren’t such an easy target, and they may back down and start attacking someone else instead.
Here’s some examples of how you can do this:
- If they take subtle digs at you, take subtle digs right back at them.
- If they denigrate you with dismissive meta-communication (words behind words, tone of voice), then send disrespectful meta-communication right back.
- If they gas-light you, then gas-light them right back.
- If they take shots at you through conversations supposedly about other people, but they’re really taking a dig at you (a common subtle abuse tactic), then do the same right back to them.
- When doing this, always bring it back to two main principles of the narcissist – denial and projection. Subtly always imply these two things are always at play with them (because they are with a narc!).
- Work in the above points about subtly implying they are dull, boring, uninteresting and unexceptional.
- See also this excellent guide on taking revenge on a narc, which runs through clever return shots like these you can take to annoy them, but also pushes you towards the ultimately better long term goal of getting rid of them and just living well (see last few sections below).
- All in all, you’re making it clear that you are aware of what their weak points are, and that you can immediately push their buttons in response to them trying to push your buttons. The narcissistic personality is actually very fragile and broken, so you may find some of them backing off (not all).
Of course, one of the problems people caught up with narcs can have is an inability to see abuse for what it is in the moment – the “caught-up-ness” of a codependent/weak boundaried person not being able to see abuse and respond as it happens. So often we are confused in the moment (is it abuse, or isn’t it?, is it me? etc) that we don’t respond and only realize afterwards that we’ve just been insulted or “mugged off” yet again.
Once you get quicker at spotting abuse you can send it right back where it belongs
Getting quick at spotting abuse (especially subtle abuse) as it happens, and responding right away to flip the script and irritate them, lies so often in consuming as much recovery literature on narcissism as possible, and getting “street-wise” to the common tactics the narc employs to provoke reactions in us (that bad feeling we get inside as they’ve just pushed another button).
I personally found that binge watching Richard Grannon’s YouTube channel really helped with this smartening up to narcissistic abuse, as well as standing up for myself more readily in the moment. Regarding the “caught-up-ness” and confusion we can feel wondering whether something is abuse or gas-lighting, see this excellent video. Bottom line – If you’re asking the questions “is this abuse? Is this person I’d dealing with a narcissist” and searching online for answers – that’s your answer. It is!
3. Saying No To Them
Sometimes it’s the really simple things. The strongest and simplest way of setting boundaries is that two letter word – no! Saying no a narcissist, especially repeatedly, calmly, and with a smile can really enrage them, especially if they’ve got used to you always saying yes and acquiescing to their demands.
Narcissists quickly establish a dynamic in relationships where they’re exploiting the other person to get what they want. They might start off love-bombing the other person, but this will quickly dwindle to just throwing breadcrumbs as the abusive dynamics escalate (devalue-discard stages). Once they’re ensconced in a relationship, it’s not so much give and take as take and take.
One very simple way of breaking this loop is to just simply, calmly say no to their requests. Doing it calmly, without drama and with a smile on your face is the best way to irritate them. It won’t take too many no’s delivered in this way for the narcissist to get really irritated. You’re taking them off their pedestal where they’re superior and you’re way down below, kissing their feet. They don’t like this it all.
One two letter word can have more power than anything else in abusive relationships
4. Confuse Them With Nonsense
This is a more mischievous one that I’ve not seen in other guides on this, but I’ve had great fun doing. Narcissists need to be in control in interactions, and one way to break this control is to just confuse them by spamming them with nonsense word salad and illogical, absurd humor, pictures and memes, or just responding in illogical ways they can’t get a handle on.
I had great fun with this with an ex narc friend. I decided to experiment with this, so I just kept spamming our chat with silly pictures and words, that didn’t make sense or fit together in any logical order. He did not respond well, brutally attacking me, but the insults didn’t even bother me because I was having so much fun confusing him and reversing the usual dynamic of him in control and taking shots at me.
Any time he tried insulting me, I just sent a silly picture instead of even responding with words. Eventually, he ended up blocking me temporarily because he couldn’t handle the change in dynamic, and the loss of control combined with the absurdity and silliness infuriated him. The key point is, you can take back control by being a little bit nonsensical and mischievous with your humor.
Anything they don’t understand and can’t control will irritate them. Try being mischievous and confusing with a narc, and watch the annoyance bubble up inside them. Their loss of control, plus the fact you’re enjoying yourself at their expense, will p**s them off no end.
5. Withhold Their Narcissistic Supply
All narcissists need feeding what is called “narcissistic supply”, some kind of psychological “food” that reinforces their fake (and fragile) self image. This will vary from narc to narc, so your task is to observe closely what each individual narc values as their supply, and how they get it.
There’s two broad forms of narcissistic supply:
- Some kind of reinforcement of how great, interesting, special or exceptional they are
- Some kind of denigration of another person or group as stupid or inferior, which by comparison makes them feel superior and “full” again.
Once you’ve found out how an individual narc most commonly gets fed their supply, withholding or starving them or any aspects of it that come from you is a great way of irritating and deflating them. Remember, without this, they fall in depletion and start attacking others to try and improve their own state (provocation is the secondary method if the first method of admiration/adoration/attention fails).
Here are some common ways to do this:
- Cut off all drama. Be aware of their attempts to provoke reactions, and don’t rise to it. They’re often drama addicts.
- Stop feeding their fake grandiose self image fantasy, whatever it is (the best this, the most beautiful that etc).
- Cut off or starve them of all opportunities to denigrate or mock others, if this is how they get their supply (they, the superior one, is talking about how someone else is inferior or stupid).
- Subtly undermine any image of number 1/best/brightest/biggest etc fantasies they have of themselves. Imply that they’re actually nothing special, just run of the mill.
- Be boring, dull and grey rock – don’t feed them silliness or entertainment if that’s what they’re used to.
- This will over time irritate them as you are starving them of the supply they need to feed their false self image. It also often gets rid of them as they move onto others to get this supply instead (they’re addicts in this sense).
- See Richard Grannon’s course on managing contact with a narc for more useful tips in this area.
6. Continue to Grow & Change
This is another scenario in which just by living as a growing, evolving person who wants to grow and change, you’re committing a crime in the narcissist’s eyes, showing how sick their mindset is. These characters cannot ever authentically grow, change or evolve, and they hate it when anyone in their sphere of influence tries to do the same.
This triggers their intense feelings of abandonment anxiety, as they can feel your growth is a direct threat that you may move away from them, abandoning them again as they were abandoned in childhood (the narcissistic personality is actually very fragile at the core, and operates out of negative emotions like fear and shame).
The bottom line here is that any steps you take that represent moving away from them and developing more autonomy and happiness that isn’t dependent on them, is likely to elicit a very bad reaction.
Look out for these things from the narc when you try and grow and change:
- Brutally attacking any new projects you undertake, criticizing and down-playing your efforts.
- More generally downplaying your talents and abilities, trying to make you feel stupid, incompetent, like you’ll never make it or succeed at anything new.
- Watch out for the “it’ll never go anywhere message” from them, or the “you’ll never make it” with challenging new ventures, designed to keep you in your box.
- Withholding financial support for projects.
- Denigrating new friends you might be making or new activities/classes you might be attending.
- Might be more controlling behavior as you branch out – asking where you’re going, where you’ve been, what you’re been doing etc.
- General abuse tactics and provocation may increase as they try to bring you down into a negative state so you stop growing and go back into “safety first” mode.
- In summary, narcissists can be very envious characters, who do not like people around them growing, changing and being happy. Everyone must be subservient to them.
The best tactic in the face on this nonsense from the narc is to carry on even more determinedly with all of these things in spite of their attacks, with MORE cheerfulness and energy, to increase their irritation.
What kind of sick, upside-down person gets enraged by someone trying to grow and change?
7. Move On With Your Life & Be Happy
This is a more general tactic, and one of the most important, especially if you’ve just broken off from a relationship with a narcissist. We’re going to spend a little bit longer on this point, because it’s such an important thing to understand about narcissists.
Narcissists get off on actively provoking negative reactions from others, on making them feel bad. And conversely, they are actively irritated when their attempts to do this fail, or when someone leaves them and moves on with their life perfectly happy and detached from them.
It’s a common trap in early stage recovery from relationships with narcs to fall into hatred towards them for what they’ve done to you. But psychopaths and narcissists get off on ALL attention, even negative attention, because you’re still showing that you care about them in some way emotionally; that you’re still corded to them psychologically.
What they do NOT like is when you are completely indifferent to them. When you’ve moved on to the extent that whenever you (rarely) think about them, or they are brought up in conversation, you just think “meh, whatever”.
This means they are unimportant to you, and being seen as unimportant and nothing special is the worst kind of injury to the self absorbed, narcissistic personality. They hate this. If you want to irritate them, you need to move past all attachments to them and genuinely enjoy your life without them in it.
Readers might think “how can the narcissist care about what state you are in when they are long gone and not even in your life?”. But they can! Recovery experts like Richard Grannon emphasize this a lot – your state transmits in peculiar ways, to the extent that a narcissist ex can sense when you’ve made a major leap forward in detaching from them, and they’ll often reappear in your life out of nowhere when you make these advances.
Similarly, if you’re still “stuck” to them psychologically in some way – either through love or hate or flipping back between the two – they can sense this as well, and they’ll get off on the fact that they’re still seen as important by you.
For people who’ve been through this and also those who help people in recovery, this happens too often to be a coincidence. Grannon sums this phenomenon up very well:
“(Someone) is in a relationship with a narcissist, and at the moment when they start to recover, the narcissist crawls out of the woodwork and sends them an email or calls them. The day, the morning, the afternoon. They’re getting on with their life, something great happens, they just got a new job, they’re about to move to a new country, life’s moving forward finally.
BOOM! In (the narcissist) comes. How does he know? How does she know? It’s almost like there’s a web, a connection there….The point that I’m making here is, you’re conveying more about your emotional state than you realize. You might even be conveying it without being in contact at all. So be happy, that tortures them…Get to the point where they are not on your mind”
See also the great video below where he details how you can cause the most injury to the narcissist by manifesting the one thing they fear the most – complete indifference and detachment to them.
“Healing tortures the narcissist”
Here are some tips when breaking off from a narcissist in a relationship:
- Drop them cold and move on with your life, literally as though they never existed. Go full on “no contact”, delete their numbers, emails, social media (everything!).
- If children are involved and you can’t go full no contact then see this excellent course on managing contact with a narc.
- If you’re hurting from the toxicity of the relationship, work through these issues with a skilled therapist.
- Work especially on moving past love AND hate for the narcissistic abuser. Move instead towards detachment and indifference to cause maximum irritation to them.
- Use a combination of exercise, therapy, meditation and other methods to stay in as positive a state as possible. Work on the Grannon principle that “your state transmits” – the happier you are, the more irritated the narcissist will be.
- Work on building new friends, connections, hobbies, etc, or on rekindling old friendships the narc may have pulled you away from to isolate you.
- Try not to get locked in fantasies of revenge against them. Work on the adage “the best revenge is living well“.
- If the narcissist contacts you again out the blue, especially when you’re about to start a positive new chapter in your life, ignore and/or dismiss them. Don’t get drawn back in.
- In summary, if you move on happily and cheerfully with your life and genuinely not caring what they’re up to or who they’re with, this will really irritate them.
“Nothing will p**s an NPD off more than your confidence, cheerfulness and detachment. It drives them crazy. Because your confidence and indifference and cheerfulness and detachment means they’re not powerful. It drives them mad”
Spartan Life Coach
A Word of Caution
Whilst we started this article off with some ways to get shots in at the narcissist, because this is undoubtedly what many of us are looking for when we’re caught up with them, we should emphasize that going into battle with these people long term isn’t usually advised.
Once we understand better the fragility of the narcissistic personality, then it can be satisfying to poke at their vulnerabilities and watch the irritation grow in them. However, be aware that these personalities can turn very nasty and vindictive in a very short space of time.
Make sure you’re ready for this and are detached from any barbs they’ll throw back at you. It’s true that some will back off, but if you have lots of unresolved issues yourself, the narc will have long ago clocked these and will hammer away even more at you, making life very unpleasant if you have to still be around this person.
Moreover, once they’re triggered in this way, they don’t just calm down again in a few minutes. Once the battle is on with a Cluster B disordered individual, it never stops until they win (this is more true for the psychopath, but it does also apply to the narc as well. They don’t just forgive and forget slights against their fragile ego, even if they are the ones that have been doing most of the abusing until then. They don’t do equal. They have to be on top at all times).
This is why the last point we mentioned (getting away from them and living well) is by far the most important one, both to irritate the narcissist but also for your own well being long term. You need to be strategic in the battles you pick, and understand where you are at in terms of your own weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
Getting into a prolonged battle of wills where you are pushing each others buttons is not advised. These people need to to be removed from your life as soon as possible. Stay around these people too long and they’ll even end up passing on some of their narcissistic traits to you as well. Dropping them cold and moving is the best way to annoy them but protect yourself as well.