Never Argue with a Narcissist


Don’t waste your time trying to win an argument with a narcissist because you never will. Not only are they always right, but you are always wrong.

My father once challenged me to explain my mother to any shrink in less than one hundred hours. That poor lady (now deceased) visited many psychiatrists, took lithium and Valium throughout my childhood and never divulged her diagnoses. (She went to the grave denying that she’d ever been diagnosed with any mental condition.)

The therapists I’ve spent hundreds of hours explaining my mother to over the  years agree that she was bi-polar. One  believes that my mother had borderline personality disorder. At one point, she was hearing voices. At another one, she was cutting up her own clothing with a razor blade and then blaming me (age 10) for the shredded garments.

I digress. At any rate, my mother certainly had severe mental illness. Her mental illness has taken center stage in my memories of her. However,  the strongest underpinning of her personality was extreme narcissism.

My life experience hours spent arguing and trying to reason with my mother would easily number into the thousands. You could not argue with her because you could not even begin to get her on the same page to begin the argument.

Here’s a stunning example of what it was like to try to argue with my mother.  Towards the end of her life, we took a family vacation to Maine. (She stayed in one room and I stayed in another room with my three children and a friend whose sole job it was to run interference when my mother became impossible, which was several times a day.)

Not surprisingly, one day during our vacation, my mother upset my teenage daughter with a stunning display of lack of boundaries combined with manipulation and aggressive coercion. She wanted my daughter to pay attention to her (the dying, overbearing grandmother) instead of spending time with kids her own age at the beach.

I managed to drag my mother away from my daughter and into my hotel room. Exasperated and ready to scream at this woman- my poor, belligerent, combatant, mentally and physically ill mother- I managed to calm myself down and sat her at the table in the hotel kitchenette and poured us each a cold drink. 

I decided that once and for all, I would get this straight with my mother. She was dying and time was short. If she wanted a better relationship with her only granddaughter, then she would have to listen to reason.

I picked up a paper plate off the table  and sketched a diagram representing personal boundaries in order to illustrate how my mother’s behavior and speech were offensive to my daughter. My mother watched me draw the diagram but as soon as I began to explain what I was drawing, she grabbed another paper plate and began drawing her own diagram.

“Here.” She shoved her diagram under my nose, cutting off my explanation about appropriate personal boundaries between overbearing, controlling grandmothers and teenage granddaughters who want to be left alone.

I looked, amazed. Her diagram had absolutely nothing to do with the subject at hand. It was a diagram of her personal finances, which were quite dire, given her manic spending modes and her unemployment due to illness.

She had heard absolutely nothing of what I’d said. She had no interest or no intention of listening to me, being reasoned with, or forced to understand why she needed to allow her granddaughter to act like a normal teenager.

Staring at me intently with her beady little eyes, she began to explain, (copying my mannerisms,) her finances. “This is not related.” I said and tried to steer the conversation back to boundaries and why she was such a pain in the ass and her granddaughter couldn’t stand her and how her actions were only driving her away even more.

She kept staring at me and kept repeating her finances. I believe that her intent was to make me feel sorry for her because she had so little income. I guess that was her intention. I’ll never know now. But I realized then that there was absolutely no way that she would ever listen to me or admit wrong, even if it meant changing the entire subject into something unrelated and even nonsensical. She was behaving as if she believed her behavior, drawing her diagram on the plate, to be reasonable, because it was what I had done. She was taking my own tactic and turning the tables on me, proving that she could play my game.

From there on, she seized the narrative in a long torrent of how badly we all treated her. I didn’t take the bait and went out to gather up my kids. It was time for dinner. I continued to ignore her.

Enraged, she left the next day and didn’t speak to me for several months afterwards, until hospitalized towards the end of her illness.

Looking back at the paper plate ‘argument’ on that day, from my mother’s point of view, she (the narcissist), was not getting what she wanted and deserved (constant attention from her granddaughter.) She was unable to hear or acknowledge that she had driven her granddaughter away after years of her aggressive, controlling behavior because she (the narcissist) was never wrong. If she behaved in a certain way towards her granddaughter, then her granddaughter must have deserved it for not treating the narcissist in the way that she deserved.

Despite the many years of growing up with and dealing with my mother and her impossible behavior, the paper plate incident was epiphanal in my understanding of what it was like inside her head. She was absolutely incapable of being wrong. We were the problem because we werent’ treating her properly. For me to step in and try to discuss her behavior with her rationally was simply more familial mistreatment of the narcissist. Her inability to take responsiblity for her actions, or the consequences of them, indicates a strongly wired narcissistic personality base, regardless of other mental illness issues.



15 thoughts on “Never Argue with a Narcissist

  1. Wow. Great post. Lots of clarity. You just described exactly what it was like to try and hold a genuine productive discussion with my own mother (now deceased as well). I think many women just beginning the healing journey will benefit from this post.

    • Thanks for your response. I am amazed at how many of us survived these crazy mothers and lived to tell the story. It’s unbelievable that I was still trying to reason with her at that point. I’m wondering how much having a Cluster B type parent predisposes us later in life for relationships with narcissists and psychopaths. As if we are conditioned by the crazy making experience to be victims to more crazy makers.


  2. Pingback: Feeling Like Spilling Your Guts to the Narcissist? « Phoenix Rising

  3. Pingback: Idealization, Devaluation & Discarding- Being Put on a Pedestal and then Dumped by a Narcissist « Phoenix Rising

  4. That’s every personality disordered individual I’ve ever had to deal with. Any attempt to get them to take accountability for their actions or take a look at their character flaws and they either abruptly change the subject or turn it back around on you. Yet, even after I realized that I could NOT ever have a rational conversation with an irrational person, it didn’t always stop me from trying.

  5. It’s a dilemma. A rational, reasonable approach gets us nowhere. Restricting our actions to what we regard as ethical maintains our self respect, but gives an advantage to the bully, who has no such limits. Is it foolish to stick to principles, knowing that it makes us weaker in the eyes of the aggressor, and easier to abuse and exploit?

  6. Wow. I just turned 40 years old and as of TONIGHT I realized why I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with my mother! I googled “narcissistic mother” and boy was it eye opening. I’ve always known she was self centered and manipulative but I had no idea it was a real disorder! I have a lot of research to do but I feel so free learning this. I have never been to counseling but have always wanted to (felt too guilty, big surprise). But now I feel empowered and am ready to try and heal myself, if at all possible and at least hope to not pass it along to my own kids and put them through that same hell. If it weren’t for the fact that I have her only grand kids, and for my victim of a father, I would probably cut ties with her completely. She is that toxic to me. But now I want to figure out how to cope and get through her “eposides” without guilt. Wish me luck as I’ve never been able to do it before…

  7. Your article describes my mother who I strongly suspect has BPD. She could care less if she hurt someone’s feelings, believing that they somehow deserved her rages, insults, etc. I don’t EVER remember hearing her apologize for anything that she said and/or did that was hurtful – she had the right to always act as she did. I remember once trying to tell her something that she said and/or did (I don’t remember exactly what I was trying to bring to her attention), and she responded by saying to me, “so, you’re not lily white either.” That was all she said, and went on her way. My mother never had any remorse over her words and/or actions.

    • Thanks for your comment. Your description of your mother reminds me of my own mother, who was a narcissist. She passed away several years ago and happily I have been able to construct a positive palette of her more endearing qualities to remember her by.



  8. After reading your article, it makes me realise how little people know about the effects mental illness can have on a family.It was good that you had your father there to help, but even then I expect it was very hard.

  9. Hi,

    I was researching behaviours related to antisocial personality disorder for a story that I’m writing and I’ve spent most of my day reading these blog posts and crying. You see, I have a narcissistic mother and sister. As a result of long term exposure to various emotional abuse and physical and psychological abuse, I am trying to live my life with PTSD. The story that I am writing is a true story – about how my sister made everyone’s life including her husband’s, 2 kids and mine one massive train wreck. Her husband has made the choice to go back to her, but I have cut all ties with her since 2010. The emotional hurt and agony remain. But I am thankful to this blog for showing me that I am not alone; that it wasn’t personal. I remain ever grateful for the strength to say no when my sister wanted to get back in touch. I ignored her because I learned the hard way that nothing I said was ever right. Often my mother would join forces with her because my sister is definitely a master manipulator (and so is my mother). Mum has been abusing my dad just like my sister has been abusing my brother-in-law. I have only recently told my dad about my PTSD because after a fight with dad, my mother wanted to spend time with my sister in NZ and then here in Australia. I was not going to open myself up for more hurt.

  10. WoW can’t you just appreciate that you still have or had your mom’s? At argument #3, how did you not get that her brain was not working ‘normally”. So much for empathy for the mentally ill……

  11. The idea of a two-way conversation was just never in the cards for us (my mother and I), either. Her way or the highway…frightening as a child, exasperating as an adult until you have revelations about what it’s all about. Great post!

    • Thank you. It was only when I realized that my mother was mentally ill and also miserable inside that I could have sympathy for her and forgive her. Good Luck to you !

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