How can a narcissist be given negative feedback without triggering aggressive behavior?

I've interacted with several individuals over the years that had narcissistic personality disorder. In particular, I find I have difficulty navigating their nebulous relationship with truth and find myself talking in circles when trying to provide them with information they view as negative feedback. After meeting someone that told me about their own experiences with their narcissist ex-husband I decided I should learn specialized behavior modification techniques that would be useful in home and business, should I notice someone exhibiting these behaviors.

What are methods that can be used to provide someone with narcissistic personality disorder with accurate factual feedback without risking triggering either outright deceit or a verbally aggressive reaction?

• Hi, welcome at Cogsci. Your question may be very interesting. However, could you share some initial research you have done yourself. And why are you interested in knowing? – Robin Kramer May 28 '17 at 15:21
• Behavior Modification is the branch of cogsci that you will find your answer in. I have studied basic behavior modification, but I have not studied it too far. I'll wait for someone more versed in behavior modification to chime in. If that does not happen, I'll try my best. – Spero May 28 '17 at 16:55
• There is a good practical book about how to deal with narcissists and generally difficult people : just listen by Mark Goulston. The methods described are not scientifically proven, but the author gives some practical advices that he acquired through many years of experience. – DesignerAnalyst May 29 '17 at 4:55
• Why do you think people get escorted out of the building by security when they get fired? Do you think psychologists have some magic bullet for such situations? – Fizz Jan 4 '18 at 12:36
• I'm not sure if this question is framed properly inside of psychology to be on topic on this site. It seems indistinguishable from "how do you deal with difficult people". I'm not sure how you've diagnosed someone with "narcissistic personality disorder" in the scenarios you've described. Are you a psychologist? Did they share their diagnosis with you from a psychologist? – Seanny123 Jan 5 '18 at 18:06

This is a very interesting question but the answer is very complicated, so I hope to clarify some general issues and perhaps be able to divide the question into more specific questions.

In the first place it would be advisable to differentiate between a markedly narcissistic personality and what might well be considered a personality disorder. From this differentiation we could focus more on the subject of the negotiation or therapy.

Cooperative negotiation. (It is not so much an explicit negotiation, can be considered a technique that pursues the influence) It is something that must be studied for a long time, and also practice through role-playing. It is important to take into account our own negotiation profile. This is a complicated topic because often the key is to lead the person to a negotiation or agreement perspective and this contrasts with posing clear positions that are not negotiable.

I not negociate                                                                 I negociate

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stance point, here and now


This is usually worked in the manuals under the terms negotiation profile, negotiation style. It can be consulted in Morton's books.

Personality disorder and violence (explicitly clinical). There are different professional specialization courses about: different personality disorders, for specific areas (schools, family, psychiatric context), focused on types of situations (bad news communication, psychology in emergencies, first aid psychological, and how to intervene in situations of violence.

In short there is no formula or conditions that warrant that providing feedback to a narcissistic person does not lead to a violent response, this is something that professionals must study for a long time, I think that the most appropriate is a professional to handle such situations.

• American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5). pg 667 and next.

Sources of cooperative negotiation:

• Morton Deutsch and Peter Coleman. (2000). The handbook of conflict resolution: theory and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

• Taylor, A. (2002). The Handbook of family dispute resolution: Mediation theory and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

• Lax, D. and Sebenius, J. K. (1986). The manager as negotiator: Bargaining for cooperation and competitive gain. New York: The Free Press.

Sources about Conflict in social psychology (conflict and violence are recurrent themes in social psychology manuals, so many manuals could be cited):

• Forgas, J. P., Kruglanski, A. W. and Williams, K. D. (2011). The psychology of social conflict and aggression. New York: Psychology press.
• Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – AliceD Jul 8 '17 at 5:56
• This answer ignores the core features of the personality disorder in question. – Regional Director Nov 4 '19 at 19:45

To want to have a normal relationship with another person is commendable. Unfortunately, they can't. Their inability to receive feedback is a part of their diagnosis. Attempts to do so will also cause them to escalate, as they are responding to the denial of their perception of reality, not the actual facts. How you communicate the facts won't matter to them, as the facts are disproving their view of reality. Merely having the facts presented to them is enough to trigger their escalation.

Most neurotypical persons have been conditioned by society to ask themselves if they may be in the wrong when someone responds in the ways someone with a narcissism diagnosis usually responds. Unfortunately, when interacting with a narcissist that isn't the case. Narcissists often blame others as a part of the narcissist's own maladjusted behavior, not because the other person is actually at fault. This reaction is actually a part of the diagnostic criteria used to diagnose the condition. To get around that quality would go a long way in helping clinicians treat the condition.

It is worth noting that narcissism, as a clinical condition, is so severe as to qualify as a personality disorder. The person's behavior will not be consistent with either your expectations or reality, but since narcissists go to elaborate lengths to conceal their own misconduct there is often no way to expect that at first. Since they stress their need to conform and to project success they often appear to be very well-adjusted. Many narcissists use their skills at deceit to advance professionally, and often become problematic for a formal environment to deal with. If you're encountering a narcissist in a professional environment be cautioned that they're going to be highly toxic to your career, as they will be willing to pursue you in a very vindictive fashion.

Unfortunately their inability to receive feedback is similar to the way a schizophrenic reacts when you deny their delusions. The narcissist's mind perceives themselves in an unrealistic fashion and is willing to tamper with records and evidence in an attempt to deny reality. If you contradict their perceptions of themselves and the context surrounding themselves the narcissist will escalate, as you are now evidence that their perceptions are wrong. They are responding to the denial of their perception of reality, not the actual facts. No statement that includes them in any way is going to be tolerated.