20 Shocking Ways Narcissists React When You Call Out Their Behavior

20 Shocking Ways Narcissists React When You Call Out Their Behavior Shutterstock

Narcissists, or those with narcissistic tendencies, don’t respond to confrontation the way that most people do (or, at least, should).

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While getting defensive and feeling hurt by criticism or offense is normal, narcissists take things to a whole new level. Any mild negative remark can trigger feelings of rejection. Their reactions are often way over the top, involving everything from dramatic denial to manipulative mind games. Instead of owning up to their behavior, they’re more likely to double down and deflect using whatever shocking tactics they can.

1. Denial.

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Narcissists are seldom willing to accept their shortcomings. When you point out their red flags, their first instinct is to make the problem disappear (and I don’t mean by fixing it). They will flat-out deny any wrongdoing before daring to recognize harmful behavior. To them, it’s easier to live in a reality where they’re perfect than to admit they might have a flaw.

2. Blame-shifting.

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Blame-shifting is a classic narcissistic move. They turn the tables and accuse you of the very behavior you’re calling them out on. “Oh, you’re upset that I ignored your phone calls? Well, you ignore me all the time!” Narcs will make sure that you’re always the villain in their story. Rest assured that whatever you accuse them of, they’ll dig up some example where you did something like it, too. Narcissists love to make comparisons—though they’re almost always apples to oranges. They want you to know that they think you’re the guilty one—a clever trick to avoid facing their own behavior and keep you on the defensive.

3. Disproportionate emotional response.

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A narcissist’s reactiveness is often explosive. When you call them out, their response is usually wildly inappropriate for the situation. This outrageous reaction intends to make you feel at fault and regret even bringing it up. They might erupt in anger and unleash a tirade of insults—a term called “narcissistic rage.” This rage stems from what’s known as a “narcissistic injury,” which, as Dr. Sarah Davies tells Glamour, is an “emotional wound that threatens a narcissist’s very fragile ego.” Any risk of shame, humiliation, rejection, or losing control sends them into a defensive, aggressive frenzy. Being on the receiving end of this outburst can be terrifying–and that’s the point.

4. Playing victim.

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Narcissists never want to believe that they have any imperfections or make mistakes. Confront them about their flaws, and suddenly, they’re the ones who’ve been hurt and wronged. Accountability? Not in their vocabulary. Narcissists would rather flip the script and cast themselves as the real victims than acknowledge any faults. They can do no wrong! You just don’t understand how your justified criticism is making them suffer! You can’t be mad at them—you should be sorry for them! *major eye roll*

5. Silent treatment.

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When a narcissist gives you the silent treatment, it’s not just them shutting down–it’s a calculated move used to punish you. By withholding communication, they make you feel anxious and desperate for an answer that they won’t give you. This tactic allows them to avoid addressing the issue while simultaneously exerting control over you. It’s a passive-aggressive way to sidestep accountability and hope you’ll relent and apologize just to end the silence.

6. Saying “believe whatever you want.”

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Telling you to “Believe what you want” or that “You’re not going to trust what I say anyway” is a sneaky, narcissistic tactic to dodge responsibility. This dismissive response is designed to make you question your accusation while avoiding giving you an actual response. By putting the burden of figuring it out back onto you, they conveniently manage to sidestep the issue entirely, leaving you frustrated and unsure.

7. Projection.

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Narcs will project their own negative behaviors onto you or others. They’ll accuse you of all the things that they already know they’re guilty of. They’ll point fingers at others, too, calling out similar behaviors to make their actions seem less problematic. By projecting onto you and those around you, they cleverly avoid facing their own issues and keep you on the defensive.

8. Gaslighting.

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When a narcissist feels their inflated or perceived sense of importance is under threat, they’ll stop at nothing to maintain their dominance. Gaslighting is a common manipulation technique that aims to make you doubt your reality. They’ll insist that your memories are wrong, your perceptions are off base, or your feelings are coming out of thin air—all to keep you under their control. By distorting the truth and making you question your sanity, they remain in the driver’s seat, firmly holding the upper hand.

9. Minimizing.

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Narcissists love to downplay the significance of their behavior and make it seem trivial. They’ll laugh it off to make you feel ridiculous and say it’s no big deal. They’ll insist that what they did is totally normal, making you feel like you’re the one being irrational. By minimizing bad behavior, they can make you question your judgment and feel like you’re blowing things out of proportion. 

10. Triangulation.

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Triangulation involves a third party to validate the narc’s behavior and make you feel ganged up on. By involving someone else, they create an alliance that makes you feel isolated and outnumbered. This tactic not only reinforces their stance but also undermines your position, making you feel under-supported and overwhelmed. 

11. Smear campaign.

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When handling conflict, narcs will go around to other people talking negatively about you. They’ll rush to give their spin on the story first, painting you out to be the bad guy or the “crazy” one. The privacy of what goes on in your relationship is no longer safe because you know that whatever happens is going to be talked about by the narcissist. By the narc spreading their version of events, they invalidate your perspective and overrule your side of things. This preemptive strike not only tarnishes your reputation but also garners sympathy and support for them, leaving you alone and discredited.

12. Deflection.

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When confronted, narcissists are quick to turn the conversation away from their behavior. They’ll dredge up your past mistakes or bring up unrelated issues, steering the discussion off course. As much as you try to stay on topic, you suddenly find yourself defending actions from ages ago instead of addressing the current issue. Your attention averts from their wrongdoing to thwarting their attacks, effectively avoiding the original subject and leaving you feeling frustrated and unheard.

13. Weaponized incompetence.

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Narcissists will resort to cluelessness–they’re that desperate to avoid being the bad guy. They’ll pretend they genuinely had no idea their actions were wrong and, more importantly, that they are literally incapable of doing any better. This absolves them of being held accountable and makes you look unreasonable for expecting them to know better.

14. Feigning ignorance.

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This is another narcissistic way of “playing dumb.” They act like they don’t understand what you’re talking about, eyes wide with faux innocence. It’s an easy way to get you to be on their side while they refuse to see yours since they ‘just don’t get it.’ They paint themselves as the confused victim in need of your understanding.

15. Seeking external validation.

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To keep up with their grandiose bravado, narcissists need constant validation. If you’re not feeding their ego, they’ll look for admiration elsewhere—and they’ll threaten you with the prospect of doing so. That could mean texting other people, fishing for attention on social media, or seeking hollow solace in someone they know will make them feel special again. When anyone dares to puncture their perfect image, they need to fill that void with an ego boost. That way, they don’t have to sit with themselves and the parts of them that need work.

16. Charm offensive.

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When cornered, narcs have a knack for becoming overly charming as a distraction or quick fix. They’ll shower you with compliments, give you fake apologies, and make promises they have no intention of keeping. It’s all smoke and mirrors—a carefully crafted performance you can’t help but eat up. Unlike genuine remorse, which involves introspection and a desire to be better, narcissists lack the ability to reflect constructively, especially in moments of confrontation, according to “Surviving Narcissism.” Thus, if you are truly dealing with a narcissist, these charming reconciliations are not born of genuine regret but are instead strategic and manipulative maneuvers.

17. Long-winded responses.

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What should be a direct, simple conversation will turn into a bombardment of verbal acrobatics. A narcissist will spin elaborate tales, talk in circles, and go off on tangents in order to confuse you and wear you down. This form of communication serves two purposes: it digresses from the main point of the conversation, and it allows the narc to maintain control of the narrative. It effectively shuts down any attempts at meaningful dialogue. If you find yourself drowning in their verbosity, remember to stay focused and keep your wits about you—don’t let their barrage of words derail your quest for clarity.

18. Overrationalizing.

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Narcissists are masters of rationalizing their behavior, conjuring up a never-ending stream of excuses to justify their actions. What’s more, they often genuinely believe in these justifications themselves. They don’t just want YOU to feel their behavior is acceptable—they need to convince themselves, too. It’s a way for them to soothe their conscience, allowing them to continue their problematic behavior without guilt or consequence.

19. Mocking.

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Narcs can have a cruel streak when it comes to belittling your emotions. If your concerns poke at their insecurities, they’ll make it their mission that you feel it even worse. They’ll mock and ridicule you for being sensitive in order to invalidate your feelings, dismiss your concerns, and undermine your confidence. They might resort to name-calling, labeling you in ways that reinforce their sense of superiority while breaking down your self-esteem.

20. Bait-and-switch.

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Narcissists will deliberately provoke you to elicit an emotional reaction. Once they’ve successfully pushed all the right buttons to get a rise out of you, they’ll suddenly switch gears, adopting a calm and collected demeanor. It’s a move to make you appear unhinged in comparison. Once you’ve fallen into the trap and are in full-swing outrage, they’ll call you crazy and irrational and might even go as far as recording your reaction to use against you later. It serves as evidence of your instability, painting themselves as the innocent victim of your outburst.

I am a 29 year old writer from Milwaukee, WI. Currently living a life of freedom in Tucson, AZ. Virgo, wine-drinker, lover of bad dancing. Insanity and getting into trouble are my fortes. Writing is my medium.