This is a very common question people dealing with a narcissist long term will ask, since they are by nature provocative and reaction seeking personality types, and therefore often unpleasant to deal with. They’ll often takes shots at those they see as easy targets, as we want to know whether it’s best to fight back and do battle with them.
That’s what we’re going to cover in this post – the arguments for and against doing battle with a narcissist psychologically – but in general the answer is that it’s not a good idea.
In general, it is not recommended to engage in a battle of wills with a narcissist, since they have been practicing for almost their entire lives in finding and pushing people’s emotional “buttons” or weak spots, and will almost certainly be better at this than you. These people are best avoided and ignored for your own state management.
However, circumstances and temperaments differ, and sometimes doing battle in a cunning and subtle way with a narcissist might be at least satisfying in the short term, although usually not wise if you must continue to deal with them long term. However, we’ll offer some tactics and advice in this regard, and also some broader advice on how it’s usually best to handle a narcissist.
Why You Generally Shouldn’t Do Battle With A Narcissist
One foundational reason why it is generally not advised to do battle with a narcissist is simply that they’re better at arguments/conflicts/pushing buttons than you are. They’ve been practicing denying reality, manipulating others and provoking reactions for almost their entire lives.
Personality disorder expert Richard Grannon provided one of the best quotes on this that’s always stuck with me since I heard it:
“Just getting locked into a cycle of vengeance with someone who’s really spent their whole lives since infancy with this PTSD reaction formation defensive personality interaction style of being predatory, of being manipulative, of being reaction seeking…..The chances are high that if you just try and engage that superiorly qualified, superiorly trained enemy in all out battle, that you’ll simply lose. You’re just gonna lose. So I don’t recommend it from that point of view”
Richard Grannon – see video below
In other words, in a battle of wills, they’re just better at being an a**hole than you’ll ever be, because you probably haven’t got the training they have in this! They’ve been practicing their whole lives.
Here are some other reasons why it’s generally a waste of time and not advisable to engage in a mental/psychological battle with a narcissist:
- If you’re hoping to do battle with a narcissist using logic/facts/reason, understand they cannot and will not ever be able process this, since their whole identity is based on a DENIAL of reality, not it’s acceptance. No amount of information, however correct, will ever get through to a narcissist once you’re doing battle with them. They can deny reality with a completely straight face, and even with a smile.
- NEVER tell a narcissist what your real feelings/frustrations/grievances are. It simply feeds them the emotional reaction they are seeking, and they get a kick out of seeing you upset and exasperated. You’re also telling them your weak points, which is a very bad idea.
- Similarly, when you continue to present clear facts and evidence, and they continue to deny and gas-light you, don’t get drawn into continuing to push the pedal down on reason and information, getting more exasperated doing so. This also “feeds” them, and you’ll often see them smirking as they see you’re getting frustrated. Dis-engage and detach.
- If you decide to engage with the narcissist in a confrontational, angry way, you are almost always feeding into what they want, since they’ve been practicing provoking reactions in others, in gas-lighting and “winning” arguments their whole life. Do you really want to do battle with such a person in front of others? The sensible answer is almost always no.
- In workplaces especially, they’ll co-opt “useful idiots” or “flying monkeys” into smear campaigns against you, since they can very adeptly wrap unintelligent, superficial people round their little fingers.
- A disordered person can NEVER be made to change by you telling them what you think of them, nor raging at them or insulting them. They are “fed” by ALL attention, even negative attention.
In most cases, the best response to provocation from a narcissist is to remain calm, not rise to it, and disengage and detach as soon as possible. Getting into a battle of wills with them is usually not a good idea.
“One of the biggest things you can do for yourself if you are dealing with someone like this is to always remain calm when dealing with them because what you’ll find with psychopaths and narcissists especially is that they’re trying to provoke you.
They’re trying to provoke reactions so that you look crazy and hysterical and they can then sit back and play victim and say ‘oh look what this person did to me and how crazy they’re acting’.
If you remain calm completely with them, you gain that upper hand. They’re trying to put you on the defensive. They’re trying to make you feel like you’re under attack. So if they say the perfect thing that has you thinking ‘oh my god, I have to respond to that because I have the perfect response, you should know that was intentionally planned”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here.
Longer Term Solution – Detach & Heal From The Narcissist
In almost all cases, the best solution long term is to simply get away from these people rather than do battle with them. In relationships, this mean breaking up and ending all contact. In jobs, this means moving on to something else. It is generally advised NOT to spend long periods of time around these crazy-making, upside down personality types, especially not engaging in constant conflict with them, for your own mental health and sanity as much as anything else.
Plus, if you REALLY want to annoy and torture the narcissist, the best approach is to actually not engage with them at all, to ignore them and move on with your life with a complete disinterest in who they are or what they’re doing.
Here are some broader level suggestions, that are in the long run more productive than engaging in battle with a narcissist:
- 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 guide on managing contact with a narc. If it’s a job, look for something else ASAP.
- 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. Paradoxically, you cause them the most pain by not even interacting with them at all!
Healing Tortures The Narcissist
What If You Really Want To Fight With The Narcissist?
However, I was never going to provide only one view and say that’s gospel in this article, because I know from personal experience that life isn’t always that simple. Sometimes a narcissist is continually hammering away at us, and we can’t get away from them right away (might be a job scenario), and we really want to fight back, for our own dignity as much as anything else. We get sick and tired of their behavior, and really want to put these people in their place.
What can we do in these scenarios where we might understand to a point all of the things raised above, but for our own self respect, we still want to push back with these people and let them know we are not a pushover, at least while we still have to deal with them?
If we want to push a narcissist’s buttons, there are some well established ways to do this, that we’ve covered elsewhere on this blog. We’ll summarise the main strategies here of how you can irritate and annoy the narcissist in a psychological battle, puncturing their false, grandiose sense of self and causing them narcissistic injury.
Here are some things you can do to attack a narcissist:
- Imply that they’re boring, bland, uninteresting and ordinary, just one of many and not special at all.
- Imply with your facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures that you find the time you spend with them really boring and uninteresting.
- Send any abuse (gas-lighting, sly digs, sneaky insults etc) right back to them. Whatever they do to you, do it right back to them straight away.
- Say no to them repeatedly, and with a smile.
- If they’re a cerebral narcissist and draw their “supply” from what they do with their minds, undermine this and attack their intelligence/IQ/wit etc, making them out to be very ordinary in this area
- If they’re a somatic narcissist and draw their “supply” from their bodies (beauty, sports, sex, athleticism etc), undermine this and make them feel very ordinary and not special in this area.
- Find a way to keep them waiting and send the message that your time is more important than theirs (will always enrage a narcissist)
- Ignoring many narcissists, and not even engaging, is actually also a good way to irritate them.
- With any “shots” or “digs” you do manage to get in on a narcissist, it’s best to:
- Get them in subtly, suddenly and/or “under the radar”, when they’re not expecting it (like a liver shot in combat)
- Get them in in a context where you can leave right away, and they don’t have chance to respond.
It should be said that fighting back can sometimes be a good strategy with more fragile, vulnerable narcissists, who may realize you are not such an easy target, and back off you. With more overt, outwardly confident narcissists who have more “reinforcement” and “supply” from their environment, it’s not always a good idea, so it’s all about reading the power dynamics of the situation and responding accordingly.
Words Of Caution Before You Do Battle With A Narcissist
Whilst it is true that the narcissistic personality is very fragile and has obvious weak spots you can poke at for your own amusement once you know where to look, it’s also still true that doing battle with a narcissist is generally still not advisable, nor to your own benefit in the long run in most cases.
Whilst you can always do it if you want to, here are some “bigger picture” warnings to consider:
- Although we have covered how narcissists also have their weak points, so do you most likely, and the narcissist will have likely “clocked” and “filed away” these weaknesses long ago to hammer away at if needed. All the Cluster B disordered personality types are power-fixated and are therefore scanning you for weakness a long time before you’re scanning them.
- An enraged narcissist can be very unpleasant and obnoxious to deal with, especially if you have to stay around them for a long time.
- Consider the long term negative effects a narcissist will have on your own self esteem and sanity if a protracted ego battle goes on for months or years. You might only fully realize it once you get away from them, when the damage is already done.
- Once a battle of wills has started with a narcissist, it won’t stop until they win or you get away from them. Narcissists don’t forgive and forget attacks on their fragile ego.
- They don’t let this stuff slide. They have to “win” and be on top at all times. Moreover they have no moral and ethical boundaries and will go to any lengths to “win”.
In other words, whilst getting a nice psychological “liver shot” in on a narcissist is really satisfying in the moment, think about the “now what?”. What about when you next see them? Are they a boss or colleague that you’ll need to be in contact with going forward? They will find a way to get back at you, since they love scoring points.
Therefore, if you’re going to start this battle of wills with a narcissist, you’d better be prepared to finish it and accept it will likely never end until you get away from them permanently.