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How to Translate Narcissist-Speak

People with narcissism use words as tools or weapons more than as communication. That is one reason dealing with narcissists can be so frustrating and confusing.

The following examples of common phrases used by narcissists, along with a translation, can help you recognize what a narcissistic person in your life may really be saying beneath his or her words.

  • You’re crazy   =   I don’t take you seriously or respect you. If I can make you doubt yourself, you will be easier to control.
  • You are completely wrong   =   I have no idea whether what you said has any merit but I don’t care. It’s too much work to listen.
  • Stop psychoanalyzing me   =   I have no idea what you are talking about but it makes me uncomfortable. Introspection terrifies me. Either tell me something great about me or shut up.
  • I never said that   =   I very well may have said that but I don’t like the way it makes me sound. If I stonewall, maybe you will back off or get confused.
  • I think of you as an equal   =   I hope you believe this because you won’t see how little I really think of you and then I can use you more.
  • We’ve gone over this a million times before   =   I won’t listen this time either.
  • I’m sorry you got upset   =   I am not apologizing. It’s your fault you got upset, not mine. Maybe this will sound enough like an apology that you will forget it and get back to your real job, which is gratifying me.
  • You’re too needy   =   Your needs are bothersome to me. Don’t expect me to do anything about them. Your job is to attend to my needs, not vice-versa.
  • You only think about yourself   =   Stop trying to steal my spotlight. Everything is about me. You don’t deserve attention.
  • You are too sensitive   =   Your feelings are inconvenient for me. I don’t know how to have empathy. Even if I did, I’d have no interest in empathizing with you. Maybe if I shame you, you’ll stop bothering me with your feelings.
  • You can trust me   =   You’d be a fool to trust me, but if I can get you to believe this lie then I can keep using you. Plus, even if it’s not true, it makes me feel good to say it about myself.

Recognizing the true meaning behind a narcissist’s words may bring up many feelings: grief, anger, relief, sadness, freedom, shock and more. As feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

Translating a person with narcissism’s words is important because narcissists live in reverse. Feeling empty, they compensate with a persona of bigger and better. To avoid appearing flawed, they must be the best. To avoid appearing ignorant, they must be certain. To avoid feeling weak, they act all-powerful. Their words reflect this endless shell game.

If you have been taking a narcissist literally, you may have exhausted yourself trying to make sense of it all. If you have tried to change your behavior in response to a narcissist’s criticisms, you may have found that the criticism continued anyway.

Freedom around narcissists comes from paying attention to the “man behind the curtain,” and from seeing that “the emperor has no clothes.”

© Copyright 2017 Dan Neuharth PhD MFT

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How to Translate Narcissist-Speak

Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT

Dan Neuharth, PhD, is a marriage and family therapist and best-selling author based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has more than 25 years’ experience providing individual, couples and family therapy. Dr. Neuharth is the author of If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World. He writes two blogs for PsychCentral: Love Matters and Narcissism Decoded. He is licensed as a marriage and family therapist in California, Florida, Texas and Virginia. His website:

Please note: Dr. Neuharth's posts are for information and educational purposes only. These posts are not intended to be therapy or professional psychotherapeutic advice, and are not a replacement for psychotherapy. I cannot give psychotherapeutic advice about your individual situation outside of a therapist-client relationship. The posting of these blogs and the information therein does not constitute the formation of a therapist-client relationship. Please consult your physician or mental health provider for individual advice or support for your health and well-being. If you are in crisis, please call your local 24-hour crisis or mental health hotline or dial 911.

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APA Reference
Neuharth, D. (2017). How to Translate Narcissist-Speak. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 May 2017
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