When you’re learning about managing narcissism and narcissistic abuse, one of the first things that you learn is that you shouldn’t argue with the narcissist in your life. Instead, you’re advised to use the gray rock method, set boundaries, go no contact and so on.

While it is fantastic advice, have you ever wondered why you shouldn’t argue with a narcissist? Why are they allowed to throw tantrums and say horrible things while you’re expected to remain indifferent to their abuse?

There are three reasons why arguing with a narcissist is a horrible idea. First, narcissists gain pleasure from hurting other people, so they’re willing to argue until they win. Second, narcissists have low neuroticism. Third, narcissists need to argue in order to protect their falsified identity. 

It is really important that you build a solid foundation of knowledge about narcissistic abuse because in all honesty, having the ability to identify narcissistic behavior patterns isn’t always enough. Their manipulative and destructive nature isn’t going to cease to exist simply because you’re knowledgeable about narcissism and narcissistic abuse

Narcissists are masterful at the art of deception and will challenge what you believe to be true every chance they get. With there being such a broad spectrum of narcissism and narcissistic abuse, the only way to successfully manage narcissistic abuse is to ensure you know the reasoning behind the techniques you’re advised to use.

A woman in a white shirt learning about narcissistic abuse.

Why Do Narcissists Like to Argue?

One thing that we know about people with narcissistic personalities is that the dynamics of a healthy relationship are very destabilizing for them. 

Their fear of abandonment, tendencies to fantasize about the “perfect” life, desperate need for narcissistic supply, novelty seeking characteristics, fear of rejection, and inability to regulate their own emotions prohibits them from being able to maintain healthy relationships. 

As a general rule, narcissists like to argue because their insecure need to win and be the best in any given situation causes them to gravitate towards conflict in an attempt to regulate their own emotions. They’re comforted by the high and low points of a dysfunctional relationship.

As if this isn’t bad enough, the fragility of a narcissist’s ego acts as a safety net for their emotional stability if they were to “lose” an argument. 

How?

When a narcissist has his/her identity contradicted, they experience a narcissistic injury (ego injury) and throw themselves into a narcissistic rage. 

This rage can manifest in both a passive aggressive and terrifyingly explosive manner. What ends up happening is that those who suffer narcissistic abuse much rather neglect their own emotions, thoughts, feelings, and needs to avoid narcissistic rage. 

A woman in a pink shirt deciding to keep her emotions, thoughts, feelings, and needs to herself instead of expressing them to her narcissistic partner

So, even if you happened to magically stumble across a narcissist who didn’t have an insecure need to win and/or be the best, the fragility of their ego prohibits them from having a level of agreeableness that enables healthy relationships. 

With that being said, there’s another reason that narcissists like to argue. 

Narcissists like to argue because arguments enable them to protect their fragile sense of self. They need to fight, put other people down, and prove their superiority to prevent the realization that they aren’t as special as their falsified identity leads them to believe.  

It’s important to remember that narcissists spend their entire lives protecting their falsified identity. The fragility of their egos combined with their inability to regulate their own emotions makes the protection of their fragile sense of self a fundamental need for their well being, like drinking water or eating food.

Unless the narcissist in your life shows signs of sadism, which we will talk about in the next section, the narcissist in your life may be starting arguments from a protective state rather than a sadistic state. 

Why Are Narcissists So Good at Arguing?  

As I mentioned before, narcissists have low levels of neuroticism and they often gain pleasure by hurting other people. These are two very important aspects of the narcissistic realm that you have to be aware of when trying to manage narcissistic abuse.

Let’s start with their low levels of neuroticism, which is one of the big five personality traits that refers to the way a person experiences the world as distressing, threatening, and unsafe. 

According to Thompson, E.R. people with high scores for neuroticism are more likely than average to be moody and to experience such feelings as anxiety, worry, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, guilt, depressed mood, and loneliness. 

People with high levels of neuroticism do significantly worse in stressful environments than those with low levels of neuroticism. 

Since narcissists have low levels of neuroticism their emotions in stressful situations, like an argument, are extremely stable. Arguing with someone who is naturally comfortable in argumentative environments is destined to fail.

A narcissist trying to provoke his wife into a confrontation.

An important detail to note is that covert narcissists actually have high levels of neuroticism. If you don’t remember, some of the characteristics of covert narcissists are the following:

  • They victimize themselves.
  • They are very vulnerable and needy.
  • They are socially inadequate and anxious.
  • They are very resentful, irritable, and hostile.
  • They often come off as depressed.
  • They’re passive-aggressive, hypersensitive to criticism, and argumentative.

Given their high levels of neuroticism, the reasoning behind their argumentative nature be found in a narcissists need to argue in order to protect their identity and their sadistic personality traits that we’ll talk about next.

Moving on to a narcissist’s pleasure in others turmoil/pain is a strong indication of their sadistic personalities. According to Oxford Languages, sadism is the tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others.

How does this have a correlation with narcissistic arguments?

A narcissist’s need for power, control, and dominance over others is one of the biggest reasons that sadism has been linked to narcissism, especially malignant narcissism. 

Meaning that the gratification a narcissist gets from inflicting emotional and/or physical pain on others outweighs the stress of an abusive environment. 

They much rather live in an environment that is plagued with chaos because they’re able to use that chaos to mask their own inadequacies. They’re able to fulfill their need to be powerful, dominant, and in control of others when they’re able to let their sadistic personality traits express themselves. 

In a healthy and stable relationship, they wouldn’t have a “protective shield” that they could use to mask their emotional instability. A narcissist’s pleasure in others turmoil/pain is a manifestation of their inability to regulate all of the suppressed negative emotions in their psyche. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article? 

While narcissists have low levels of neuroticism and sadistic personality traits, don’t underestimate a narcissist’s need to protect their superficial identity.  

They cannot handle the amount of emotional distress that comes from having their identity contradicted. Remember, they spend their entire lives building and maintaining a falsified identity to be accepted by others. Their insecure need to be someone that they’re not makes arguments almost like a do or die situation, you’re not going to win.

What you can do instead is learn how to exploit their weaknesses. Sounds a little bit narcissistic but, it is the only way you’ll be able to protect yourself both physically and emotionally while positioning yourself to escape the narcissistic abuse cycle when the time comes.

A really good way to start this process would be by reading our article What Are Narcissists’ Weaknesses where we give a really unique reason why the gray rock method, setting boundaries, and the no contact method word so well!


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.

References:

Kwon, Sangil and Weed, Nathan C.. “neuroticism”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Jan. 2019 

Thompson, Edmund. “Development and validation of an international English big-five Mini-Markers.” Personality and Individual Differences 45 (2008): 542-548.