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The world is full of difficult personalities, but the one that’s impossible to avoid is the narcissist. They are usually the most insecure people in the room, but have established a way of appearing ultra-confident.
As a psychologist who studies narcissism, I’ve found that, in most cases, highly narcissistic people are masters of gaslighting. Their primary goal in a relationship is to offset their insecurity by controlling and manipulating others.
Here are six phrases that they always use — and how to deal with them:
- “I don’t want to make this about me, but…”
Statements like this show that narcissistic people know they shouldn’t dominate the conversation, yet they do it anyway. It’s like a pseudo-disclaimer that gives them permission to only focus on themselves.
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How to handle it: If you get into a conversation with a narcissist, be prepared for their story hour. If it’s interesting, listen. You can even treat it like an IRL podcast. But if you’re hoping for a two-way conversation, look elsewhere.
- “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Narcissists have a hard time admitting fault, and this is their classic attempt at an apology. But it’s actually more of a deflection.
With this phrase, they’re implying that your feelings are your issues alone, and that they’ll take no responsibility for their behavior.
How to handle it: Without genuine remorse, no matter what the transgression was, they’ll likely do it again. My advice is to simply disengage. To avoid getting hurt in the future, it is often best to see people for who they really are.
- “Why are you doing this to me?”
Narcissists have a stunning capacity to shift from being the offender to being the victim.
You may be the one who has the flu or a tough week at work. But if whatever you’re struggling with inconveniences them, it will be framed as their problem.
How to handle it: You can get a degree of power back through self-awareness. Otherwise, you may find yourself constantly wondering if you’re actually at fault. Seek support — from a therapist or empathetic friend, for example — to remind yourself that you’re not the offender.
- “I’m a busy person. I don’t have time for this.”
“This” can be anything — maybe you want to discuss a project you’re working on together or you’re inviting them to a work event.
The hallmarks of a narcissist are entitlement, a lack of empathy and the inability to maintain reciprocal relationships. Not only are they unable to understand another person’s needs, but they’re also dismissive of them.
How to handle it: Recognize their limitations. They likely won’t make time for you unless they need something. These relationships are often the equivalent of going to an empty well for water, so do what you can to foster support independent of the narcissist.
- “I hope you know who you’re messing with.”
The evil twin to this is: “If you ever do wrong by me, I’ll make your life a living hell.”
This tactic of dangling menace and the possibility of vengeance is how they create an illusion of power and a sense of fear in you. Most people don’t want to face this perceived threat, so they comply.
How to handle it: This can be unsettling, especially if you’re dealing with someone who does have a track record of making other people miserable. Documentation is key. Save all emails and messages. If there’s a genuine safety issue, work with local authorities to devise a plan.
- “It’s not fair.”
Narcissists believe there should be a set of rules for them, and separate set of rules for everyone else. When they have to comply, or a consequence is enforced, it’s a reminder that they are not special.
Whether their friend’s company is doing great and making lots of money, or they have to pay a penalty because they tried to game the system and got caught, you can expect a rant of “it’s not fair” statements.
How to handle it: You may be tempted to appease them, perhaps out of guilt or to avoid conflict. But doing so will set an impossible precedent. Don’t try to be a person who tries to make life “fair” for them by making unreasonable personal sacrifices.
Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a psychologist, professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and founder of LUNA Education. She is also the author of “Don’t You Know Who I Am: How to Stay Sane in the Era of Narcissism, Entitlement and Incivility″ and “Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist.” Follow her on Twitter @DoctorRamani.
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