A question that often gets asked by people who are considering confronting the narcissist in their life about something is, “How do narcissists react to criticism?”

Narcissists typically respond to criticism with denial, deflection, narcissistic rage, gaslighting, projection, blame-shifting, or self-victimization. 

In this article, I will give examples of each response to help you better understand what you can expect if you criticize the narcissist in your life.

1.) Denial

The first reaction a narcissist could have to criticism is denial.

Denial means ignoring the reality of a situation to avoid anxiety. 

For example, I want you to imagine you have a narcissist in your life who tends to dismiss your feelings. 

You’ve decided to confront them about this.

You say, “You dismiss my feelings when we’re talking, which makes me feel invalidated.”

They say, “That’s not true at all. I’ve never disregarded your feelings.”

A narcissist denying being abusive.

You say, “Remember last week when I was upset about my project falling through? You immediately changed the subject instead of acknowledging how I was feeling.”

They say, “You’re misremembering things. You’ve always had a terrible memory. That is not how that happened. I always listen to you and care about your feelings.”

This is denial. 

The narcissist is denying the criticism you pointed out, which was that they regularly dismiss your feelings during the conversations you have with them.

2.) Deflection

The second reaction a narcissist could have to criticism is deflection.

Deflection means redirecting focus, blame, or criticism from oneself onto another person in an attempt to preserve one’s self-image.

For example, imagine you’re conversing with the narcissist in your life and bringing up something that has been bothering you.

You say, “I heard you let (name of your kid) drop out of high school. I feel like you always make decisions without considering my input as if my opinion doesn’t matter.”

They say, “Well, what about when you chose the music during our car ride last week without asking me? You do the same thing.”

You say, “Choosing music isn’t the same as making significant decisions like letting our kid drop out of high school without discussing it with me.”

They don’t respond (silent treatment), so you follow up with, “Can we please focus on the original topic? Their education is essential.”

They say, “You make decisions without asking me. We should address that first.”

This is deflection. 

Instead of addressing your criticism, the narcissist is trying to shift the focus of the conversation by bringing up a different “issue” they have.

3.) Narcissistic Rage 

The third reaction a narcissist could have to criticism is narcissistic rage.

Narcissistic rage is the intense anger or aggression that a narcissist or someone with high narcissistic traits displays when they experience a narcissistic injury.

Suggested Reading: What Is Narcissistic Rage?

The term “narcissistic injury” refers to any perceived threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem or self-worth.

For example, I want you to imagine you’re having a conversation with the narcissist in your life about their habit of constantly interrupting you during conversations.

You say, “You interrupt me a lot when I’m speaking. It makes it hard to communicate with you because I always feel like I don’t get to finish my thoughts.”

Because of their mind-bogglingly fragile ego, the narcissist in your life sees your comment as a threat.

They respond by screaming in your face, “How dare you accuse me of something like that! You’re always looking for ways to belittle me!”

You say, “I didn’t mean to upset you. I brought this up because I think our communication could improve if we improved this part of our relationship.”

But despite your reassurances, their anger continues to escalate, and they say, “You’re trying to make me the bad guy! I can’t believe you’d accuse me of such a thing!”

Then they stand up, slam their fist against the table, and storm out of the room.

This is narcissistic rage.

This extreme reaction to your criticism is meant to intimidate and silence you, thereby averting the need for them to address the criticism or question their behavior. 

4.) Gaslighting

The fourth reaction a narcissist could have to criticism is gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that occurs when someone intentionally or unintentionally doubts or denies reality.

Suggested Reading: Why Do Narcissists Gaslight?

Alright. Picture this.

The narcissist in your life often downplays your accomplishments.

You decide to talk to them about it.

You say, “When I share my achievements with you, you frequently downplay them. This makes me feel like my accomplishments aren’t valuable.”

Some trying to hold a narcissist accountable for their actions.

They say, “I’ve never done that. You’re just being overly sensitive.”

You respond, “But I clearly remember when I told you about my promotion last month, you brushed it off, saying everyone gets promoted eventually.”

Then they end the conversation by saying, “You’re exaggerating things. I would never do that. You must have misunderstood. Stop bothering me. Go away.”

This is gaslighting. 

They’re denying the criticism you’ve pointed out and attempting to make you question your own perception and feelings about the situation.

5.) Projection 

The fifth reaction a narcissist could have to criticism is projection.

Projection is a defense mechanism that involves attributing one’s own feelings, desires, or qualities to another person, group, animal, or object.

Suggested Reading: How Do You Know When a Narcissist Is Projecting?

For example, let’s say you’re conversing with the narcissist in your life about how they constantly speak about themselves, leaving little room for you to share.

You say, “Our conversations revolve around your experiences and stories. I don’t get to share as much about my own life.”

They say, “You’re always talking about yourself. You never ask about me.”

Seeing the direction this is going, you say, “Listen, I believe our conversations should be balanced. I want to hear about you, but I also want to share my experiences.”

They say, “You’re just trying to make this about you. You’re the one who doesn’t listen.”

This is projection. 

Instead of acknowledging your concerns, they accuse you of the very behavior you are criticizing them for.

6.) Blame-Shifting

The sixth reaction a narcissist could have to criticism is blame-shifting. 

Blame-shifting is a defense mechanism where one will avoid accountability for something they said or did and deflect the fault onto someone else.

For example, imagine you are confronting the narcissist in your life about their tendency to always be late for your meetups.

You say, “It’s been bothering me that you’ve been consistently late for our meetups because I set time aside for you, and you being late throws off my plans.”

Someone trying to confront a narcissist.

They say, “It’s not my fault. You always set the meetups at inconvenient times.”

You say, “I’ve asked you multiple times if the meetup times were convenient for you, and you agreed.”

The narcissist says, “Well, you should know I have a lot going on. You’re not being considerate of my schedule.”

This is blame-shifting. 

Instead of acknowledging their tendency to be late to your meetups, they blame you for supposedly choosing inconvenient times.

7.) Self-Victimization

The seventh reaction a narcissist could have to criticism is self-victimization.

Self-victimization is the fabrication or exaggeration of victimhood.

Suggested Reading: Why Do Narcissists Go Into a Depression?

For example, imagine that you have decided to tell the narcissist in your life that you feel left out when they make decisions that affect both of you without discussing it with your first and that you would like to be able to have a say.

They respond by saying, “You’re always blaming me for everything. It’s like no matter what I do. It’s never right. You’re always attacking me.”

You say, “I’m not blaming you for everything. I’m trying to discuss a specific issue that’s been bothering me.”

The narcissist says, “I can never do anything right in your eyes. You always find something to criticize.”

This is self-victimization. 

Instead of addressing your criticism, the narcissist is framing themselves as a victim of constant blame and attack. 

What Should You Take Away from This Article?

Narcissists do not handle criticism well. 

If you decide to criticize the narcissist in your life, you should be prepared to face denial, self-victimization, gaslighting, or any of the other reactions I listed in this article. 

About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.

If you’re ready to heal, visit The Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse to get started.


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