There comes a time in some narcissistic relationships where the survivor realizes that their abuser is a narcissist. After months, years, or decades of living in a state of confusion, invalidation, manipulation, and abuse, the realization of their abuser’s narcissistic behavior can be just as mind boggling. So, the dust from the chaos and anguish that narcissistic relationships create has finally settled and all that is left is the fragile ego of a narcissist with nowhere to hide leaving many wondering… can you tell a narcissist that they are a narcissist?
This can be a very confusing period for the survivor because at this point, some survivors may want to call the narcissist out on their behavior so they can change, and others may want to call the narcissist out on their behavior to get an apology or another form of justice for their behavior. Nevertheless, the answer to “can you tell a narcissist that they are a narcissist?” is no.
It’s very understandable why a survivor of narcissism would want to call their abuser out on their behavior. They spend an enormous amount of their time trying to tell the difference between their own reality and the fabricated reality that the narcissist creates. So, when they finally find the answer to all the chaos, it’s normal to want to have a big confrontation and get the justice that they deserve. Sadly, 99.99% of the time that justice never comes.
What Happens When You Call Out a Narcissist?
For some people, calling out the narcissist on their behavior is unavoidable. For survivors of narcissistic abuse who decided to go that route, here are some reactions you can expect to see from the narcissist.
Gaslighting makes up a huge proportion of the foundation of narcissistic behavior. Gaslighting is when someone doubts the reality or questions the ability of another person so frequently that the other person is consumed with self-doubt and cannot trust their perception of reality.
Projection and Blame Shifting
The fragile ego of a narcissist needs to be fed validation and admiration constantly in order to survive. Anything that challenges their superficial reality will be met with more narcissistic behavior. While researching for our previous article “What Will a Narcissist Do When You Go No Contact?” We found that 52, out of 67, of our participants were gaslighted into believing that they were narcissists themselves after confronting their abuser about their narcissistic behavior.
If a survivor of narcissistic abuse were to confront a narcissist about their behavior, with evidence, it is very possible that the narcissist will twist the evidence to create a narrative where the survivor is the narcissist. This is very common within narcissistic relationships because the dynamics they operate on are fueled by projection and gaslighting, meaning that throughout the relationship the survivor is constantly being told that they are the problem, they are the ones who are manipulative, they are the ones who lack empathy. Over time this creates a level of self-doubt that enables the narcissist to convince the survivor they are the narcissist.
A narcissist may also blame shift by finding a way to blame anything and everything but themselves, they will never take responsibility for their behavior.
The silent treatment is definitely one of the most common manipulative tactics found within a narcissistic relationship. This is nothing more than a manifestation of emotional immaturity and it is triggered by just about anything that touches their fragile ego. It could be an argument, criticism, the narcissist isn’t getting their way and so on. If the survivor doesn’t live with the narcissist, the narcissist will just stop returning texts, calls and so on. If the survivor does live with the narcissist, then the narcissist will live in silence, only responding with very short answers when it is essential. The silent treatment is considered a form of manipulation because oftentimes a narcissist will use it to control their survivors through gaslighting. By ignoring the survivor’s existence, it is very common for the survivor to begin to question and/or blame themselves for the narcissist’s behavior.
“…the silent treatment would give me so much anxiety because of how uncomfortable it is. One time when he was being silent, I asked where my phone was because I had an important meeting to get to. He got up, grabbed it, and set it on the table in front of me without saying a word. It’s almost like you want the big fight to happen because at least then you’d be communicating. Most of the time I would end up questioning if I had gone too far in an argument, or did I do something wrong… I would eventually end up doing anything to get him to start speaking to me again…” Annie
Narcissists have an extremely difficult time managing their emotions and because of this they are extremely prone to clamming up and giving the survivor the silent treatment or exploding and creating narcissistic rage. Like the silent treatment, narcissistic rage is triggered by anything that challenges their fragile ego.
Narcissistic Word Salad
Word salad in the realm of narcissism is when the narcissist will try to confuse the survivor by saying a bunch of different words and phrases that don’t go together and don’t relate to the original question. Word salad is a tactic the narcissists use to distract the survivor from their original question.
Example: Mary decides it is time to confront her girlfriend about her gambling addiction. When she asks her to have a conversation about it, her girlfriend responds like this:
“You’re seriously going to bring this up now when I just got done watching the news with all of the horrible stuff going on in the world? You talk all the time about honesty, but your mother is a liar. What has your mom ever done for us? Why do we have to live in a world where mothers are ungrateful? I work so hard for us; I want to buy a new car… What do you want? Where is your necklace? I need some food…”
Oftentimes the survivors are so confused after hearing this that they drop the original request completely.
Effective Alternatives to Calling Out a Narcissist
Narcissists will not take responsibility for their actions. Here are some alternatives to calling out a narcissist that are much more likely to yield a more productive result.
Trust Your Suspicions
It’s very common for people caught within a narcissistic abuse cycle to discover the fundamentals of narcissism via media sources along the lines of YouTube videos or blogs and assume that they have the information that they need to successfully confront the narcissist.
The problem with this approach is that while yes, there are many fantastic sources survivors of narcissistic abuse can find, the path from comprehending the content from various sources to being able to safely handle a narcissistic relationship is not so black-and-white.
Generally speaking, the content on platforms that are covering narcissism is generalized. So, people can find very valuable information on how to identify narcissistic behavior, but to turn it into actionable information a survivor of narcissistic abuse should put their energy into understanding the aspects of their own narcissistic relationship and combining it with the generalized information from different platforms.
Another aspect of trusting your suspicions is letting go of the wish for things to be different which is a piece of advice given to survivors of narcissistic abuse by Ariel Leve. This is a fantastic piece of advice because the moment survivor of narcissistic abuse is able to come to the realization that their abuser’s behavior isn’t going to change, the relationship isn’t going to get better, and if they stay, they’ll forever be trapped in the cycle of abuse, is monumental
Gray rocking is a form of disengagement. At its core, it’s the survivor of narcissistic abuse maintaining a superficial relationship with the narcissist to protect themselves from further manipulation and having their insecurities and vulnerabilities exploited. When someone is gray rocking, they are actively steering interactions with their abuser away from deep conversations and towards superficial topics like the weather.
“… gray rock was a hard thing for me to do because it makes the relationship feel dead, and at the time I still very much wanted to be in a relationship with her…”
It’s common for gray rock to be a hard technique to maintain, especially for those who are still conflicted about the relationship. With that being said, it’s important to remember that narcissistic relationships are superficial; they lack empathy and despise intimacy. Narcissists use relationships to regulate their emotions and accumulate narcissistic supply.
Narcissists are some of the most self-loathing individuals on the planet. Their egos are astonishingly fragile Which makes them incapable of looking within themselves. So, instead of addressing their own emotional stability they projected onto others. Narcissistic supply comes from the emotional instability that they project onto their survivors. Going gray rock prohibits them from manipulating the survivor which cuts off their narcissistic supply.
Gray rocking is a great technique for the survivor of narcissistic abuse to set boundaries for themselves.
Seek Out Qualified Sources of Support
One of the most challenging aspects survivors of narcissistic abuse have to overcome are the people outside the abusive cycle. Not many people know what narcissism is let alone the depths of narcissistic behavior. This is why narcissists are able to enlist flying monkeys and/or surround themselves with enablers.
Seeking out people who understand narcissism, whether that be a therapist, group of friends, family members and so on, is a necessity if one is to go from a survivor of narcissistic abuse to a survivor of narcissistic abuse. Narcissistic relationships circulate around self-doubt within the survivor, so having this extra vote of confidence to reassure the survivor of their reality, is a necessity.
Confronting a narcissist about their narcissistic behavior is a recipe for failure. It also puts the survivor in of narcissistic abuse in a potentially dangerous situation because when this is done the narcissist is essentially a wild animal backed into a corner, they’re going to fight.
Survivors of narcissistic abuse are far better off using the techniques outlined in this article like seeking out qualified support, gray rocking, and trusting their own suspicions.
All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.
Interviewing Unfilteredd’s 67 participants who have survived narcissistic relationships