8 clever phrases to turn the tables on a narcissist

We all occasionally come across narcissists, whether in the workplace, our communities, or our family units.

The best way to respond to a narcissist is to ignore them. However, sometimes this is not possible. 

In these cases, opt for a short, direct phrase that makes it clear you’re not engaging further in this toxic behavior.

Here are my eight go-to phrases I use to shut down and turn the tables on a narcissist. 

1) “Ok, I hear you.”

As narcissists lack emotional intelligence (sometimes caused by overprotective “helicopter” parenting), they have trouble understanding their emotions. 

Because of this, they always feel that no one ever listens to or gets them.

Some people may also develop narcissism because they received a lot of neglect or criticism as a child. As a result, they seek admiration, attention, and validation from others. 

That’s why, sometimes, letting a narcissist know you hear them (in a short and direct way) is enough to prevent an argument and defuse the situation.

Note that this is not backing down and agreeing with them but simply making them feel heard. 

If you want to clarify that you disagree with them but will not pursue the matter further, you can follow “Ok, I hear you” with this phrase…

2) “We’ll have to agree to disagree on that.”

I get how tempting it can be to argue back with a narcissist, but this is precisely the reaction they want from you.

Instead, it is much better to be clear that you disagree with them but won’t engage in an argument.

When you say, “We’ll have to agree to disagree on that,” the narcissist will be stumped, as there is not much they can say back to that phrase. 

It shows you are the bigger person, yet it doesn’t make it look like you are backing down or showing weakness. 

3) “That’s not how I remember it.”

Gaslighting and projecting are common behaviors among narcissists. 

They try to twist the truth, alter facts, or even deny reality, all with the intention to control and dominate others.

They also accuse you of doing what they are guilty of, such as getting angry or overreacting. 

Over time, this can affect the victim’s confidence and self-esteem and make them question themselves and their sanity.

Because narcissistic people can become highly aggressive when you argue back, you may be tempted to just agree with them to keep the peace.

However…

Standing up to a narcissist when they are trying to gaslight you is vital.

So if a narcissist accuses you of doing or saying something you didn’t do, respond with the phrase, “That’s not how I remember it.”

The narcissist will then probably comment on your mental state, telling you that you’re going crazy or insane. 

At this point, if you have evidence to prove the truth, such as screenshots of a text or a recording of a conversation, this is the time to present it and truly turn the tables on them.

If you don’t have any evidence to support the truth, Harvard psychologist Dr. Cortney S. Warren suggests saying something like…

 “It’s ok that we don’t agree; this is what I believe to be the truth, and that is enough for me,” and then walk away.

4) “I know what you are doing and I won’t put up with it.”

Sometimes, the best way to handle narcissists is to call them out. They may be shocked and back off if you let them know you are on to them.

This is because narcissists prey on vulnerable people who they can dominate easily. 

The phrase “I know what you are doing, and I won’t put up with it” shows that:

  • You are aware of what they are doing 
  • You are setting a boundary to prevent them from harming you

You immediately appear much more challenging to dominate, which will ruffle the feathers of the narcissist. 

As a result, they may back off. But if they keep pushing, be sure to keep reinforcing your boundaries to show you won’t back down.

5) “I’m not doing this right now.”

If you encounter a narcissist on a day-to-day basis, such as at work, dealing with their behavior can become very draining.

Rather than constantly trying to turn the tables on them or call them out on their behavior, the simplest thing might be to say, “No, I’m not doing this.”

This phrase immediately shuts down the conversation. But if the narcissist continues to push, simply ignore them until they leave you alone.

6) “I’m not engaging with you until you speak to me in a respectful way.”

have narcissistic personality 1 8 clever phrases to turn the tables on a narcissist

Narcissists, especially those with grandiose narcissistic personality disorder, can be downright hateful and vindictive.

You do not and should not have to put up with anyone who calls you names or makes spiteful comments. 

Therefore, the only way to handle aggression and anger from a narcissist is to set firm boundaries.

Saying something like “I’m not engaging with you until you speak to me in a respectful way” makes it clear that they are not allowed to speak to you in that manner.

It also doesn’t close off all future communication, as you imply you will continue the discussion once they calm down and show you respect. 

7) “I appreciate your perspective but I’m capable of making my own decisions.”

One trait of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is the belief that they are entitled to unlimited power and importance.

Because of this, narcissists try to take away their victim’s independence and gain control by telling them what to do

They will give unsolicited advice and use manipulative tactics to influence your decisions. 

Let them know firmly that they cannot change your perspective with a phrase like “I appreciate your perspective, but I’m capable of making my own decisions.”

8) “I’m not responsible for how you feel.”

Narcissists often try to gain control by making you believe you are responsible for their feelings.

If a narcissist succeeds at this, you’ll feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells, afraid you will do or say something that upsets or angers them.

However…

No one is responsible for the emotions of another person. You are not responsible for their anger, nor is it your job to calm them down.

Telling a narcissist this sends a clear message that they cannot brainwash you and shows you are setting a boundary. 

You can increase the power of this phrase by saying it without emotion. 

Why?

In malignant narcissism, sadism is inherent, so these narcissists enjoy seeing their victims emotional and wound up. 

So, by acting like you don’t care (showing no emotion), the narcissist cannot take any pleasure. As a result, they will be less motivated to continue blaming and belittling you.

What NOT to say to a narcissist 

Now that we’ve discussed some clever comebacks to use against the narcissist in your life, I want to touch on the things you should avoid saying.

Narcissists want to see you annoyed and defensive, as this allows them to turn the conversation into an argument. 

While it may be tempting to try to hurt them back, remember that criticizing them will only cause them to react with anger (or even rage) and give them more ammunition.

Retaliating sets them up perfectly to reinforce their argument, saying something like, “See, you’re overreacting again.” 

What’s more, narcissists are impossible to reason with. 

Research has found that people with NPD cannot understand their own mental states or the mental states of others, nor can they feel empathy. 

All they know is that they must win at all costs. That’s why arguing with a narcissist never works. 

Instead, respond with one of the above phrases, where you make it clear you are not playing their silly games while shutting down the conversation simultaneously. 

Final thoughts

Have you used any of these phrases on a narcissist before? If so, how did it go?

As there are many types of narcissism, these phrases may not always work as well as you would like. 

However, no matter how much they try to bring them down, remain strong and do not accept their behavior. Rather than retaliating, stay calm and act unaffected by them. Then, set and maintain firm boundaries to keep your distance. 

And lastly, remember that you are never to blame for a narcissist’s behavior!

Gemma Clarke

Gemma Clarke

I am a certified yoga and mindfulness teacher and an experienced content writer in the spirituality and personal growth space. I’m passionate about sharing my expertise through the power of words to inspire and guide others along the path of personal and spiritual development.

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.

0:00
0:00