Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Response Options to an
Egotist or Narcissist

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Expert's Council

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/egotist.htm

Updated  01-18-2015

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      This brief YouTube video offers perspective on what you'll read in this article:

      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior. An effective response occurs when you (a) get your primary needs met well enough, and (b) both people feel respected enough.

      This article offers useful responses to the behavior of someone you experience as egotistical or Narcissistic." It assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • basic options for all responses

  • how to give effective feedback to someone

  • overviews of effective assertion and empathic listening skills.


      Egotism and Narcissism are related, but have different traits.


      Ego is the Latin word for "I." How would you define egotism to an average preteen? What traits do the egotists you've met display? How do you feel around someone who is egotistical? How do you respond to them - with annoyance? Irritation? Repressed or overt disapproval? Scorn? Compassion? Amusement? Tolerance? Avoidance? What needs in you are not met well when you encounter an egotist - specially one whom you're forced to relate to, like a boss, in-law, or co-worker?

      Commonly, egotism refers to...

  • often focusing on yourself and ignoring or minimizing other people, without guilt or apology,

  • valuing your talents and achievements above other people's, and...

  • minimizing or ignoring other people's needs, talents, and gifts.

      Grandiosity is a form of egotism where a person needs to distort reality and see themselves and their actions as significantly superior to other people.

      Egotists can over-react to criticism, becoming angry, defensive, contemptuous, belligerent, and/or blameful. They may have trouble listening to opinions that differ from theirs, and acknowledging other people's personal rights as being equal to their own. They may or may not be rigid and prejudiced about some ideas or people, preach and moralize, and/or may interrupt to focus on themselves. If egotists monolog about themselves, they may be boring, and they may have an irritating sense of entitlement.

      Paradoxically, egotism is often an unconscious defense (protection) against a profound feeling of worthlessness (shame). Three common personality subselves causing "egotism" are a Shamed Child, an Entitled One, and a Magician (reality distorter).

      In my experience, egotism is an undeserved pejorative label. Typical egotists are psychologically- wounded people with no concept of their wounds, what they mean, and what to do about them. They were probably shamed as young kids, or excessively praised and spoiled by insecure, shamed parents. Notice the difference between "S/He is an insensitive, arrogant egotist" and "S/He is psychologically wounded and unaware."


      Narcissism comes from the mythological Greek Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool. Both Narcissists and egotists focus mainly on themselves. The former says "I really adore myself! The latter says "I am better than you,"

      The media and the Web generally demonize "Narcissists," depicting them as menacing predators who are conniving, controlling, selfish, dishonest, arrogant, manipulative, insensitive, and abusive - i.e. asserting that they are bad people meriting scorn, hostility, criticism, and disgust. This pejorative (1-up) attitude blocks effective communication with these injured people and amplifies relationship problems with them.

      Narcissistic traits are real. They stem from inherited psychological wounds and unawareness from early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse (trauma). Typical survivors are unaware of this toxic inheritance or deny it. Because Narcissistic traits are caused by distrustful false selves, the person cannot willfully change his or her attitudes and behaviors any more than an addict can intellectually decide to quit a toxic compulsion. "Will-power" is useless.

      Implication: people whining that they are "victimized" by "a Narcissist" are denying that they are half the problem because of (1) their judgmental (superior) attitude, and (2) their ignorance of inherited psychological wounds and how to communicate with wounded people.

      If "egotists" and "Narcissists" stress you, what can you do?

Response Options

      Compare these options to your usual responses to on overly-egotistical or Narcissistic person:

      Learn about "Grown Wounded Children" (GWCs), and what it means to be  a GWC. Then assess yourself for inherited wounds and unawareness. If you are a GWC, you have bigger problems than egotists and Narcissists. If you ignore this step, your wise true Self is probably disabled.

  • Check your attitude. If you're critical or scornful of the person, (a) your face, voice, and body will broadcast that and hinder communication, and (b) you may be ruled by a false self.

  • Check your terminology. If you think or speak of the person as "egotistical" or "Narcissistic," you risk unconsciously broadcasting an "I'm superior" R-message which will degrade your communication. A more compassionate term is ''wounded and unaware.''

  • Be aware of your feelings around the person. They point toward what you need. Dig down to identify your primary needs related to the person's attitude and behaviors. Common needs are (a) to feel included and respected, (b) to be heard and validated as an equal person, and (c) to assert your needs and opinions respectfully and effectively.  

  • Stay aware of your conversational awareness bubbles . If the person maintains a 1-person bubble, consider telling her/him that as constructive feedback, not criticism. If you have a 1-person bubble, suspect a false self controls you.

  • Review your personal rights as a dignified, valuable person. Affirm that your needs and opinions are just as important as the other person's. If you don't feel this, suspect a false self dominates you.

  • Avoid feeling you have to fix, save, or rescue the wounded person. You're responsible for filling your needs, and they are responsible for satisfying theirs. Worrying about "hurting their feelings" is enabling them, not helping them.

  • Acknowledge that if you don't assert yourself with this person, they will probably continue their behavior and limit your relationship with them (and others).

  • Compose a two or three-part ''I''-message (assertion), and get clear on why you want to assert - e.g. to vent, to honor your own integrity, to set a respectful boundary, to provide useful feedback, and/or something else..

  • Ask if the person is willing to hear some personal feedback. You'll probably get "Yes" from either curiosity or politeness. If you get "No," suspect their distrustful false self is guarding them.

  • When you both are undistracted, state your assertion calmly, with steady eye contact. That might sound like...

"(Name), when you constantly focus on yourself, I feel ignored and dis-respected..." Option - "and I need you to want to include me in our conversation." Option - "If you can't or won't, I'm going to end our conversation / call you on it / put my fingers in my ears / (or some other non-sarcastic consequence.)"

      If the person understands communication awareness bubbles, you can say something like...

"(Name), are you aware of your awareness bubble with me now?"


"(Name), when you choose to maintain a 1-person bubble focused on yourself, I feel ignored, hurt, and resentful."

If s/he doesn't know about these bubbles, you can describe and illustrate them and then use the response above.

  • Expect the person to disagree, whine, apologize, explain, laugh, criticize you, or give you some other "resistance" to your response. Use empathic listening to say back what you hear, without explanation or apology. Then calmly restate your original assertion. Repeat this assert > listen > reassert > listen... sequence until you (a) fill your need, (b) shift to problem-solving, or (c) run out of time or patience.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect. How do you feel about these response options to an egotistical or Narcissistic adult or child? Can you imagine trying them? How do they compare with your normal responses?

      If your inner voices are saying things like "Too complicated!" / "People don't talk like this." / "It won't make a difference." / "This is just psychobabble." / "Better just shut up and avoid a conflict." - that's probably protective subselves who fear risking new behavior. Do you want to let them to run your life?

      For more perspective, see this article on relating to Grown Wounded Children (GWCs).


      This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting effective ways to respond to common social behaviors. This article offers ways to (a) understand and (b) respond effectively to an egotistical or Narcissistic person. The ways are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a mutual-respect attitude and a two-person awareness bubble

  • clarity on your feelings, needs, and mutual rights. and...

  • fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, assertion, and empathic listening.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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