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Why You Should Never Call Out a Narcissist—And What to Do Instead, Therapists Say

Experts warn that labels could lead to more harm than good.

At the end of the day, all anyone wants is to feel seen, heard, supported, and respected in their relationships, whether that's at work or with family, friends, or romantic partners. But achieving that type of open communication can be easier said than done when talking to someone with a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or who has narcissistic tendencies.

According to Laura Bonk, MA, PLPC, a therapist at Heartland Therapy Connection, the narcissistic personality is "comprised of the following core traits: lack of empathy, selfishness, deceit, manipulation, exploitation, entitlement, and a grandiose sense of self-importance."

These tell-tale signs are often coupled with other red flags such as a superiority complex; being overly charming at the start of a relationship; having a thirst for compliments; gaslighting; and denying blame. Similarly, you may notice that they utilize deflection to control conversations, become aggressive during arguments, and frequently play the victim card.

RELATED: 8 "Small But Toxic" Things to Stop Saying to Your Partner, According to Therapists.

If you've been scorned by a narcissist in the past, you may have contemplated calling them out. Though it may bring you solace in the moment, experts warn that labeling a narcissist as "a narcissist" outright will only add flame to the fire. After all, no one wants to be called a narcissist—especially a narcissist.

"You'll get yelled at, guilt-tripped, told that you are judgmental or mean, and probably be given a list of reasons that they think you are a narcissist," Chelsey Cole, a psychotherapist and author of If Only I'd Known: How to Outsmart Narcissists, Set Guilt-Free Boundaries, and Create Unshakeable Self-Worth, recently told USA Today.

It doesn't matter how softly you approach the topic, either. A narcissist will not react warmly, even if you come to them out of love and concern, Cole reiterated. And because narcissists tend to lack self-awareness and empathy, they likely won't change their ways despite what you say.

"A lot of people think if they could help the narcissist see who they are and see how harmful their behaviors are, then the narcissist would change, or at least wouldn't be able to deny that what they're doing is harmful," Cole said. "But narcissists already know what they're doing is harmful. They just don't care."

Stephanie Sarkis, a psychotherapist and author of Healing from Toxic Relationships: 10 Essential Steps to Recover from Gaslighting, Narcissism, and Emotional Abuse, told USA Today that alerting a narcissist to their hurtful behavior could actually come back to bite you.

"They will punish you by turning things around on you," Sarkis said. "They may also punish you with rage. They may also punish you with silence, like stonewalling, which is acting like you don't even exist."

So, what's the best way to handle a narcissist? Rather than calling out a narcissist outright, Ramani Durvasula, a psychologist and author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist, suggested to USA Today to take inventory of your safety and health first. Then, take stock of their narcissistic tendencies and how they directly affect you.

"Now you know how to deal with them," Durvasula said. "You know how to have more realistic expectations of their behavior, of how to interact with them, to know what they are and are not capable of."

If you still want to speak up, it's better to call out specific behaviors rather than labels, experts say—just don't expect real change to be made.

"You're much more likely to have a productive conversation if you point out a behavior than if you ever said someone was a narcissistic person, and even the odds of having a productive conversation by pointing out their behavior is pretty low," Durvasula noted.

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Emily Weaver
Emily is a NYC-based freelance entertainment and lifestyle writer — though, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to talk about women’s health and sports (she thrives during the Olympics). Read more