Dealing with the self-absorption of a narcissist isn’t easy, since narcissists need all eyes on them.
It can be a challenge having them in your friend group or as a co-worker. While this is not an exhaustive list, here are four things narcissists do to remain the center of attention. Here’s what to look for and how to handle it.
1. The Old Victim Angle
The Scenario: You might be telling a story about someone else’s woes, or be sympathizing with someone in the group about their troubles. Either way, a narcissist won’t stand for that type of empathy.
The Narcissist: A narcissist will make quick work of the conversation to turn things in their favor. Regardless of the situation, suddenly they will become the victim and nothing that has happened to anyone else will seem as sad. This allows them to draw attention back to themselves, even if it is for something unrelated or of no real concern. They just want to make sure no one else is stealing their thunder, even at the risk of letting someone else in need fall by the wayside.
Your Reaction: Don’t get angry and try to let them see the sympathy for others is warranted.
2. Reverse Projection
The Scenario: The conversation makes the narcissist feel they are on the hook for some wrongdoing.
The Narcissist: Especially when they know they are guilty, their quickest way to recover is to make others look bad while making themselves look good. If you’re on the receiving end, suddenly people doubt the narcissist did anything bad, and start to question you instead.
Your Reaction: Your best defense is to let them know you’re not upset by their maneuver with a simple smile and showing a general lack of interest. Throw in a joke and they might even realize you’re not someone to be trifled with.
3. Affixing Blame
The Scenario: This is kind of like reverse projection but in this case, the narcissist is being blamed for something, or at least they think they are.
The Narcissist: Suddenly they’re pointing out your failings and why you’re at fault. Their fear of looking bad makes them paranoid, so this can happen pretty much any time for no good reason. And if they are guilty? They’re sure to find someone else responsible for their behavior. You did something that gave them no choice but to behave badly. This is an endless cycle that goes nowhere.
Your Reaction: In most cases, it’s best to simply reassure them all is well, so they realize nothing is actually wrong. Just a word of caution: It could be true that they have done something terrible you don’t even know about yet! Hence the shame and guilt that’s made them so paranoid in the first place.
4. Constant Interruption
The Scenario: Somehow the conversation keeps taking attention away from them.
The Narcissist: If they sense this, they’ll do everything possible to get things back to them. This usually entails a lot of interruption trying to change the subject, or taking over the conversation. They might use a different tactic by asking questions even though they don’t really care about your answers. They also tend to toss in advice even if they don’t know what they’re talking about. The worst-case scenario? They’ll make up stories so they can be included in the conversation.
Your Reaction: Simply acknowledging them and their input can often be enough to keep the conversation on track.
Just like anyone, narcissists deserve respect and acknowledgment. While their behavior might be caused by trauma or an abusive childhood, they still don’t have the right to treat others with disrespect or lack of empathy.