9 Toxic Deflection Tactics Used by Narcissists

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Arguing is a narcissist’s forte, especially the antagonistic or argumentative narcissist. The only problem is when a narcissist isn’t in the mood to argue, they will deflect. 

Narcissist deflection is just as toxic. The tactic is nothing more than a way to worm their way out of trouble.

Any type of narcissist can employ deflection strategies, including those who deal with disagreements in passive ways. For example, stonewalling or using the silent treatment.

Getting through to the deflector is highly frustrating since they keep turning things back on you. Deflecting is their way of launching a counterattack and making you (or someone else) out to be the villain.

The narcissist’s fragile ego cannot take even perceived criticism or the thought of being wrong.

You will learn what deflection means, why narcissists deflect, the importance of recognizing the behavior, and nine ways to tell it is happening. 

Developing awareness of deflection strategies empowers you to assert yourself whenever they try to shirk responsibility.

More importantly, I’ve included a “take action” step to give you ideas on how to respond when the narcissist deflects.

What Is a Narcissist?

Narcissist’ is the term used to describe someone who shows a persistent pattern of traits identified as those seen in people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) outlines the nine traits of someone with NPD. They must consistently display at least five to receive an NPD diagnosis from a clinical psychologist.

The deflector in your social circle may be a narcissist if they manifest the following NPD traits in everyday interaction:

  • Self-centered and attention-seeking behavior
  • An excessive need for admiration and validation
  • Sense of superiority over others
  • Act as if they know everything (arrogance)
  • Exaggerate their self-importance and achievements (grandiosity)
  • Expect and demand special treatment (self-entitled)
  • Have a lack of care for the feelings of others (low empathy)
  • Manipulate and exploit people in their close social circles
  • Envious and jealous of others or believe others feel the same way about them

Note: Exhibiting one or more of the traits does not always mean the person has narcissistic personality disorder.

Types of Narcissists

As if one type wasn’t enough, narcissists come in different varieties and flavors. There are broadly two types. The overt or classic narcissist and the covert or vulnerable narcissist. 

The overt type openly acts out their narcissistic characteristics. The covert narcissist has a passive personality.

Consequently, they’re able to hide their narcissism long enough for them to manipulate and exploit others. The phrase “wearing a mask” applies mainly to covert types who typically show their toxic traits mostly in close relationships.

Other variations or basic types of narcissists include:

  • Antagonistic narcissist. Get validation and an ego boost by creating drama and making you angry.
  • Communal narcissist. Feel validated by helping in the community and receiving praise.
  • Malignant narcissists. Has a high lack of empathy for others. This type is more prone to manipulating and exploiting people for personal gain.

Why Is Having a Narcissistic Personality a Problem?

At the core of a narcissist is someone who feels a deep and chronic sense of low self-worth. The individual developed a false self or ego in order to cope with the discomfort of feeling inferior.

In the case of overt or grandiose narcissists, they tend to fake high self-confidence. They appear superior as a result.

The vulnerable or covert narcissist gives off a sense of easy-going, reserved confidence. Underneath all of it is a person who is deathly afraid of negative judgment, feedback, or criticism.

Even positive feedback hurts the false ego narcissists create of themselves. Telling narcissists something about themselves that does not align with their false self-image creates what’s called a narcissistic wound or injury.

They usually become enraged when your image of them contradicts their self-image. At that point, they may activate defensive strategies, such as narcissist deflection.

What Is Narcissist Deflection?

Narcissist deflection is a form of psychological manipulation. The tactic is generally defined as a psychological defense tool frequently used by narcissists to distract you from their misbehavior. 

They shift the blame in the process toward you or someone else they make their scapegoat. Covert narcissists may adopt this manipulative tactic more than others.

Why Do Narcissists Deflect?

Pretty much all narcissists deflect. Rather than accepting criticism or blame, they blame someone else for weaknesses, flaws, and shortcomings.

The narcissist takes this route to preserve their distorted self-image. They honestly believe they know everything, do not make mistakes, and are beyond reproach.

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By denying, the narcissist does not have to deal with unpleasant feelings that surface when someone recognizes their flaws.

According to psychiatrist Gail Saltz, M.D., the person may be aware of their mistake “and very specifically, consciously, does not want to have to defend themselves, make a change, or deal with conflict.”

Regardless of why they do it, deflection has negative effects on their relationships and the mental health of those on the receiving end of the toxic behavior.

The Importance of Recognizing When a Narcissist Deflects

Narcissists are generally difficult to deal with because of the dysfunctional way they behave. Deflecting only adds to the frustration. On top of that, it causes emotional distress and leads to a lack of trust in relationships.

More importantly, using deflection to manipulate their way out of unpleasant situations is regarded as a form of emotional abuse. Knowing what deceptive strategies to look for can change the game.

Recognizing the pattern of deflecting has these important benefits:

  • Help you to understand why discussions go awry. You’re never really able to have a fruitful conversation with the person without it turning into a competition of ‘who did it first’.
  • You’ll discover why problems are not getting solved. Therefore, you can arm yourself with skills to overcome this hurdle.
  • Protects your mental health. Knowledge of narcissist deflection helps reduce frustration, anger, guilt, or shame. Now you know the source of the problem and can address the situation more confidently.
  • Protects your self-esteem: You will finally see why you keep leaving the conversation feeling insecure. You will no longer feel you’re wrong for thinking, feeling, or responding the way you do.

9 Toxic Tactics Narcissists Use to Deflect

An easy way to recognize narcissist deflection is to think of it as avoidance and defensive strategies. Even though narcissists deflect to cope, it is nonetheless unhealthy and emotionally abusive.

Here are NINE ways to tell a narcissist is deflecting to avoid responsibility. The person can be a friend, intimate partner, family member, boss, or co-worker.

1. Denying

Denial is a way to avoid accepting what they’ve done or the truth about a particular situation.

By denying, the narcissist does not have to deal with unpleasant feelings that surface when someone recognizes their flaws.

Take action: Focus on the facts and repeat them if needed to drive home the idea that they are responsible. Use evidence such as email or text messages to prove the point.

2. Blame-shifting

People with narcissistic egos suffer a narcissistic injury when others identify their flaws.

By passing the blame to you or a third party, called the scapegoat, the narcissist escapes feeling threatened, attacked, or hurt. They also get to avoid the undesirable consequences of their action.

Take action: Stay calm. Inform them you will not accept the blame for something you didn’t do. Use evidence to let them see they are solely responsible for what happened.

3. Ridiculing or devaluing

Usually after trying other narcissist deflection tactics that failed, they’ll end up feeling cornered. This is where things can get a bit ugly. The person is in full defensive mode and may resort to ridiculing or devaluing you.

They’ll use this counter-attack to criticize your personality or put you down. For example, “Are you serious right now? You’re not even that smart” Here’s another example; “You’re not even on my level to speak to me on this matter.”

Take action: Keep your emotions in check. Otherwise, the narcissist will feel empowered to get under your skin more. Do not engage in a battle of insults. Let them know their current attitude isn’t helpful in solving the misunderstanding.

4. Fudging the issue

‘Fudging’ is a deceitful way to avoid dealing with a problem or answering a question. The narcissist will ‘fudge’ the issue by giving a broad or unclear response. In effect, they dodge addressing the subject.

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By passing the blame to you or a third party, called the scapegoat, the narcissist escapes feeling threatened, attacked, or hurt.

When a response of some sort is provided, it fails to address the specific issue or the larger problem. In the end, there is either no solution or the details are unclear.

Take action: Bring attention back to the issue after they’re through deflecting. You could request a direct answer to the question or a solution to the problem. You may find it tempting to tell them to “Just answer my question and don’t fudge the issue!” However, they will only get more defensive or shut down.

5. Derailing the conversation

I can’t tell you how irate I get when the narcissist I’m dealing with tries to throw me off track. However, narcissists will use this tactic to avoid confronting their wrongdoings.

They derail by introducing unrelated details into the discussion. If not, they’ll interrupt right when you expose them. Interrupting turns attention away from them and may cause you to forget your thoughts.

Take action: Immediately remind the narcissist of the subject you’d like to focus on. Ask them to stick to the issue and avoid cutting you off. You may say, “I understand you to say X. This is what it means to me (explain). Am I correct?” This helps bring them back on track.

6. Changing the subject

The individual sometimes changes the topic to evade tough conversations or uncomfortable feelings. Their timing is perfect–right in the middle of the discussion when you question their conduct.

Here’s an example statement they may make. “I don’t mean to cut you off, but did you move my car keys?” They intended to cut you off and move on from the current subject.

Take action: Respond to their distraction question and return to the subject at hand. If they use the tactic again, say you’re willing to talk about other matters once you’re through with the present issue.

7. Guilt-tripping

You may hear something like, “I can’t believe you are bringing this up after all I’ve done for you. You really don’t care about me.” 

They’re trying to make you feel guilty and ashamed. Instead of focusing on the narcissist’s wrongdoing, you begin to worry if you’re acting ungrateful. They, then, get the perfect opportunity to escape culpability.

Take action: Thank them once again for their help. Next, let them know it’s not okay to use it as a weapon to mistreat you or get away with what they’ve done.

8. Bringing up the past

Bringing up the past to remind you of the times you made a mistake is a classic narcissist deflection tool. The tactic is similar to projecting their flaws onto you. Usually, they’ll refer to something similar you’ve done.

If they can’t find dirt on you, they’ll twist the details of past transgressions to prove you messed up the same way. In this instance, they’re not passing blame to you. Instead, they’re letting you know you have dirt on you too.

Take action: Accept your mistakes. Remind them that you owned up to it and apologized (if you did). Next, tell the narcissist, “I’d like to return attention to what you’ve done (or said).” Reassure them that bringing up the past won’t protect them from the consequences of their action.

9. Triangulation

If getting defensive and possibly abrasive toward you doesn’t work, the person may decide to triangulate you. Narcissistic triangulation is the act of bringing a third party into the conflict.

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Bringing up the past to remind you of the times you made a mistake is a classic narcissist deflection tool.

This shifts your focus away from them and onto the individual. The narcissist may something like, “Jane doesn’t feel that way about me.” Usually, the third person is an ex or someone they know you’re not fond of.

Take action: The triangulated person is not usually present to defend themselves. You can take advantage of this by saying “Okay, let’s call Jane and get to the bottom of this.” Rest assured the narc isn’t calling anyone, as they will only expose themselves further.

Final Thoughts on Narcissist Deflection

Narcissist deflection is really a coping skill – unhealthy as it is, to avoid feeling criticized or inferior. Even though they may be aware of what they’re doing they are powerless to do differently. In some ways, you can empathize.

However, blaming or guilt-tripping you, denying facts and truths, and attacking your character are forms of emotional abuse.

Do not condone these types of behavior. Remember deflection and other narcissistic manipulation tactics are emotionally abusive. You owe it you yourself to take steps to protect your emotional and mental health.

Don’t be shy to assert your healthy boundaries to protect your feelings. Sometimes, the healthier thing to do is walk away than try to get a narcissist to take accountability.

For more on narcissistic behavior, see 19 Weird Things That Narcissists Do to Manipulate People.

And if you're looking for articles about narcissists and narcissism, be sure to check out these blog posts:

Finally, if you want to identify YOUR personality type, then take one of these 11 personality tests to better understand what makes you tick.

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