How to Shut the Narcissist Down
Here is a strategy that can help you in your interactions with narcissists: responding vs reacting. Now, of course, we will preface these remarks by saying that it is always best not to interact with narcissists if that is possible. For the times when it isn't possible, there is a strategy you can practice that can help the interaction be less stressful.
Before implementing any strategies, it should be clear up front that the goal of these types of strategies isn't to control the narcissist's behavior. People often say things like, "Well, I tried the grey rock method, but the narcissist kept on." or "I went no contact, but the narcissist keeps bothering me." You cannot control the narcissist's behavior—or anyone else's—and you cannot do anything about the way somebody else acts. The only reaction and behavior you have control over is your own, and that's where your focus should be. Using these types of techniques will help keep you from getting stressed out and upset. Let the narcissist worry about their own feelings for once. It's their problem, not yours. This can be hard for some people to internalize, especially since the narcissist has made you responsible for their feelings since day one using guilt, manipulation, abuse, gaslighting, and a host of other nasty little tactics.
So write it down, if you have to, or repeat it to yourself until it sinks in: The narcissist's feelings are not my responsibility.
One of the most difficult things about interacting with narcissists is keeping your feelings out of it. They are hot-button pushers. They love to press those hot buttons and get people worked up and upset. And although understanding that the way narcissists behave toward others is really not personal can help in retrospect when someone is looking at the big picture and trying to understand so they can let go of their hatred and move on, it can be hard to remember in the moment.
That's what the narcissist wants. They want you to become upset. They want you to think it's personal, that it really is about you and how bad you are. This takes the focus off of them and how bad they are. It doesn't matter that you weren't saying that, weren't thinking it and don't feel that way. They feel that way, and if they do, you do. That's why it isn't personal. It's not even about you or your feelings at all. Knowing that goes a long way toward being able to deal with your feelings during your interactions with narcissists. On some level, they don't really believe you did these things, that you feel that way, or that you said those things. They are simply projecting their own feelings on to you so that those feelings are easier for them to deal with.
It's all subconscious, and by now, is an automatic reaction for the narcissist. Self-hatred is very hard to deny or defend against. Hatred from other people is much easier to deal with because the narcissist can claim it's unfair, unjust, they can deny it, they can attack back—it changes their position from defense to offense, which makes them feel less vulnerable. This is the crux of what they are trying to do. You are simply getting caught in the crossfire of a very old war that has nothing to do with you. It's within the narcissist completely.
Understandably, your reaction to this is confusion, outrage, anger, hurt, betrayal... the whole shebang. Why wouldn't it be? You've just been blindsided by an attack for no reason. That's what they want. They want you to become emotional and angry. They want to fight about how awful you are so they don't have to think about how awful they are. Well, that isn't fair. And you can stop them from forcing you to carry all of the emotions they can't deal with, like some emotional pack mule. You do that by not reacting.
This doesn't mean do not respond. Reacting and responding are two different things. Responding is talking. Reacting is emoting. If you are interacting with the narcissist, chances are it's because you have to for some reason, which means that not responding may not be an option. But not reacting is always an option. You don't have to get emotionally involved to have a conversation, and just because someone lays the bait out, it doesn't mean you have to take it. The narcissist is not going to change. These behaviors are so ingrained in them that they have become second nature, so you have to change your behavior.
Before the interaction starts, remind yourself again that the narcissist's feelings are not your responsibility. This is the truth. Everyone in the world is responsible for experiencing, carrying, processing and dealing with their own feelings. If the narcissist can't do that, that's their problem. They have no right to force you to do that for them, and to be perfectly honest, you have no right to do it. It's wrong and it isn't helping them. It's hurting them, and it's hurting you. It needs to stop, so repeat that to yourself until you understand. Once the interaction begins, the narcissist will likely try to bait you with insults, sarcasm, nasty remarks—all the things they do to get a rise out of people. They are trying to cause an argument so they can force you to be their emotional pack mule. Don't let them. Just don't react.
No matter what they say, no matter how crazy and insulting and disrespectful it is, just don't react emotionally. Don't yell, don't deny, don't explain, don't excuse. Just ignore it totally. Remind yourself that this person is only doing this because they cannot deal with the fact that they hate themselves and let it go. It's the truth. Count to 10 and take a deep breath, or try to distract yourself while you are talking to them. It isn't as hard as you'd think, especially once you interrupt your own automatic reaction of jumping to the defense and explaining or getting angry.
Once you start doing this, the narcissist is going to be confused and off-balance. More than likely, they will try to up the ante to try and get you to react. If they cannot get you to carry their emotional weight, they will have to deal with it themselves. This is very frightening and stressful for them, and they will react to that. Just keep ignoring their emotional bait. If the interaction becomes too intense or you don't think you can keep your cool, walk away or otherwise end it. Try not to let them see they've gotten to you if you can help it.
Once you start to see this behavior for what it really is, it starts to become much easier not to take it personally. These are miserable, immature and disordered people who cannot handle their own feelings and want someone else to take the weight. It doesn't have to be you.