How To Respond To Different Types Of Narcissistic Behavior

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated December 4, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

"What is a narcissistic personality?" is a question that can be answered by noting that some of the most common characteristics of narcissism include a lack of empathy, a sense of entitlement, and a need for control. If someone in your life displays narcissistic qualities—whether they’ve been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or not—knowing how to respond to them can be challenging. Let’s address some of the different types of narcissism and what you can do if someone in your life displays these qualities.

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Narcissism Vs. Narcissistic Personality Disorder

First, it’s important to note that a person who exhibits narcissistic behaviors may not necessarily have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Someone with some of the personality traits will occasionally show signs of these tendencies. However, a person with NPD has a clinical mental health condition that can affect their daily functioning in a variety of ways over the long term. Someone with a narcissistic personality disorder may show symptoms such as:

  • An exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • A pervasive sense of arrogance
  • A need for excessive admiration
  • Not hesitating to take advantage of people to get what they want
  • Dreams of being dominant over or better than others
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Failing to understand or consider the needs or emotions of others
  • Feelings of superiority  

Only a licensed mental health professional can diagnose someone with NPD. However, there are a few signs you might be able to spot that could indicate a person only has narcissistic tendencies rather than the clinical narcissistic personality disorder. These include the ability to take accountability for their actions and the ability to cultivate stable, loving relationships. Again, the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder or NPD will usually be sustained and pervasive over time, whereas narcissistic personality traits can be apparent in some situations or at some times but not at all in others.


Types Of Narcissism

Over the years, different researchers have come up with different ways to categorize the types of narcissism. One of the more recent classifications breaks it down into two types: grandiose and vulnerable. A few traits are common among both types, like a sense of entitlement, a disregard for the feelings and needs of others, and a sense of self-centeredness. Beyond that, they differ in how they present.

Grandiose Narcissism

The name gives an indication as to the defining qualities of this type of narcissism. Grandiose narcissists tend to have an inflated self-image and higher than normal self-esteem. They often feel a deep need to be admired, and their sense of entitlement leads them to expect it. They may have no trouble exploiting others to get what they want or need.

Vulnerable Narcissism

Vulnerable narcissism manifests quite differently. It takes the form of insecurity, defensiveness, and hypersensitivity. A vulnerable narcissist likely has low self-esteem, which can result in avoidance or anger and hostility when it comes to their relationships with others.

Tips For Responding To A Narcissist

If you’re experiencing any type of abuse, you have the right to defend yourself by leaving the relationship and seeking help. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse of any kind, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

As long as you’re not experiencing abuse, you can take steps to preserve your own wellbeing while in relationship with a person who shows narcissistic behaviors. This is especially true if they’re a long-term figure in your life, such as a close family. Here are some strategies you can try.

Set Boundaries

Someone with narcissistic tendencies or NPD will likely often choose to put themselves first and prioritize their needs over yours. Setting thoughtful boundaries may help you defend yourself and your needs in situations like these.

For instance, you might carve out regular alone time for yourself or ask that they don’t push back when you say no to something. Be prepared for them to try and change your mind or convince you that the lines you’re drawing are unreasonable, and do your best to stand firm.

Don’t Succumb To Negativity

A person exhibiting narcissistic traits may blame you for their own actions or project their insecurities on you. They may tend to blame you or others when things don’t go their way. Anticipating these possibilities when interacting with this person can help you be prepared to let them roll off your back without internalizing them. 

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Try Not To Take It Personally

If the person with whom you’re dealing has the clinical condition of NPD, remember that it’s a mental health disorder that they did not choose. They may also be resistant to the idea or suggestion of seeking help, which can mean that their behaviors may not change. While some of their actions may feel like personal attacks on or criticisms of you, remembering that it’s the condition talking and continuing to take measures to defend yourself will generally be key. Again, remember that if you’re experiencing abuse, you have the right to exit the situation or relationship.

Cultivate Healthy Self-Esteem

Dealing with a narcissistic person on a regular basis can take a toll on your self-esteem over time. They might wear you down in order to build themselves up, and constant criticism or pushback on your boundaries can cause you to doubt yourself. Working to build your own sense of confidence and self-worth can help you defend your mental health. Plus, research shows that a healthy sense of self-esteem correlates with “success and well-being in life domains such as relationships, work, and health." so the benefits can be far-reaching. Some ways to work on building self-esteem include doing mindfulness meditation, saying daily affirmations, setting and reaching achievable goals, and starting therapy.

Connect With A Therapist

Working with a therapist can be a helpful tool for those who regularly interact with someone who exhibits narcissistic behaviors. They can provide a neutral, third-party perspective, help you build your self-esteem and communication skills, and assist you in setting boundaries to keep yourself safe and healthy. If you prefer to get this kind of treatment from the comfort of your own home, consider an online therapy platform like BetterHelp. You can get matched with a licensed counselor with whom you can meet via phone, video call, and/or online chat to work through the challenges you may be facing. Since research suggests that virtual therapy offers similar benefits to in-person sessions, this format is a viable option for those who prefer it for comfort, accessibility, or cost-effectiveness. 


Having a person in your life who exhibits narcissistic behaviors—whether it’s a personality trait or a clinical disorder—can be challenging. The tips in this article can help you preserve your own energy and mental health when interacting with them.

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