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10 Common Tactics Narcissists Use in Arguments (And How to Spot Them)

Engaging in arguments with narcissists can be a challenging and often bewildering experience. Their manipulative tactics can leave you feeling confused, frustrated, and even doubting your own reality.

By understanding the common strategies they employ, you can better navigate these interactions and protect yourself from their psychological manipulation.

Here are ten detailed tactics narcissists use in arguments and how to spot them.

1. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a hallmark tactic of narcissists, where they manipulate your perception of reality to make you doubt your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. They may:

  • Deny: Deny that events occurred or that they said certain things, even when evidence suggests otherwise.
  • Minimize: Downplay the significance of your feelings or experiences, making you feel like you’re overreacting or being irrational.
  • Shift Blame: Blame you for misinterpreting or misremembering situations, further undermining your confidence.

Spotting It: Pay attention to inconsistencies in their stories and trust your own memory and intuition. Keep a journal or record conversations to validate your experiences.

2. Projection

Narcissists often project their own flaws, insecurities, and behaviors onto others to deflect attention away from themselves and avoid accountability. They may:

  • Accuse You: Accuse you of exhibiting the very behaviors they are guilty of, such as lying, cheating, or being manipulative.
  • Criticize: Criticize you for qualities or actions that are actually characteristic of their own behavior.
  • Shift Focus: Shift the focus of the argument from their actions to your perceived faults.

Spotting It: Look for patterns of projection, especially when their accusations seem unfounded or disproportionate. Stay grounded in your own self-awareness and integrity.

3. Blame-Shifting

Narcissists are adept at deflecting responsibility for their actions onto others to avoid facing consequences. They may:

  • Shift Responsibility: Shift blame onto you or others for their mistakes, shortcomings, or failures.
  • Rationalize: Justify their behavior by citing external circumstances or blaming past traumas or experiences.
  • Minimize Impact: Downplay the consequences of their actions or the harm they’ve caused to others.

Spotting It: Notice when they consistently avoid taking responsibility for their actions or when they become defensive in response to criticism. Hold them accountable for their behavior.

4. Deflection

When confronted with uncomfortable truths or criticisms, narcissists often deflect attention away from themselves by changing the subject or diverting the conversation onto tangential issues. They may:

  • Change Topic: Suddenly shift the conversation to a different topic to avoid addressing the issue at hand.
  • Dismiss Concerns: Dismiss your concerns or grievances as unimportant or irrelevant.
  • Play Victim: Paint themselves as the victim of unfair treatment or persecution to garner sympathy and deflect criticism.

Spotting It: Notice when they consistently avoid addressing your concerns directly or when they become defensive or evasive. Stay focused on the original topic of the argument.

5. Manipulative Language

Narcissists use manipulative language to control the narrative of the argument and influence your perceptions and reactions. They may:

  • Flattery: Use excessive praise or compliments to manipulate your emotions and disarm your defenses.
  • Guilt-Tripping: Guilt-trip you by playing on your emotions or making you feel responsible for their happiness or well-being.
  • Sarcasm: Employ sarcasm or passive-aggressive remarks to undermine your confidence and assert dominance.

Spotting It: Pay attention to the tone and intention behind their words. Question whether their language is intended to genuinely communicate or to manipulate and control.

6. Invalidating Your Feelings

Narcissists often invalidate your feelings and experiences to maintain their sense of superiority and control. They may:

  • Dismiss: Dismiss or belittle your emotions, making you feel like your feelings are unwarranted or irrational.
  • Minimize Impact: Minimize the significance of your experiences or struggles, making you feel like you’re overreacting or being dramatic.
  • Redefine Reality: Gaslight you by denying or distorting your reality, making you question your own perceptions and experiences.

Spotting It: Notice when they consistently dismiss or trivialize your feelings and experiences. Trust your own emotions and seek validation from supportive sources.

7. Playing the Victim

Narcissists often play the victim to garner sympathy, deflect blame, and manipulate others into feeling sorry for them. They may:

  • Exaggerate Suffering: Exaggerate their hardships or struggles to evoke pity and sympathy from others.
  • Seek Validation: Seek validation and reassurance from others to bolster their fragile ego and sense of self-worth.
  • Avoid Accountability: Use their victimhood as a shield to deflect criticism and avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

Spotting It: Notice when they consistently portray themselves as victims or martyr-like figures in situations where they are actually at fault. Hold them accountable for their behavior.

8. Playing the Hero

In contrast to playing the victim, narcissists may also portray themselves as heroes or saviors to inflate their sense of importance and superiority. They may:

  • Grandstand: Brag about their accomplishments or good deeds to gain admiration and validation from others.
  • Exaggerate Contributions: Exaggerate their role in resolving conflicts or solving problems to make themselves appear indispensable or heroic.
  • Seek Admiration: Crave admiration and adoration from others to fuel their ego and reinforce their self-image as a superior being.

Spotting It: Notice when they consistently seek attention or validation for their actions and accomplishments, especially when they exaggerate or fabricate their contributions.

9. Emotional Manipulation

Narcissists often use emotional manipulation to control others, exploit their vulnerabilities, and achieve their own agenda. They may:

  • Pity Ploy: Play on your sympathy or guilt to manipulate your emotions and gain compliance or forgiveness.
  • Love Bombing: Shower you with excessive affection, attention, or gifts to manipulate your emotions and gain your loyalty or affection.
  • Silent Treatment: Use withdrawal or silence as a form of punishment or manipulation to control your behavior or elicit a reaction.

Spotting It: Notice when they consistently use emotional manipulation tactics to control or influence your behavior. Set boundaries and assert your autonomy.

10. Intimidation and Aggression

When all else fails, narcissists may resort to intimidation and aggression to assert dominance and control over others. They may:

  • Threaten: Threaten you with physical harm, emotional abuse, or other forms of retaliation to coerce compliance or silence dissent.
  • Bully: Use intimidation tactics such as yelling, name-calling, or insults to instill fear and subjugate others.
  • Use Physical Presence: Invade your personal space or use threatening body language to intimidate and assert dominance.

Spotting It: Notice when they resort to aggressive or intimidating behavior to control or manipulate you. Stand firm and assert your boundaries.


Navigating arguments with narcissists requires keen observation and unwavering self-assurance. By understanding their manipulative tactics, you can disarm their attempts to control and manipulate you.

Trust your instincts, maintain boundaries, and don’t let them undermine your sense of reality. With these insights, you can confidently navigate the treacherous waters of narcissistic arguments and emerge unscathed.