(An earlier version of this article was first published on the narcissism Daily Mirror and then at: www.thelovesafetynet.com.)

Narcissist looking surprised and pointing to himself as if to say "who me?" Isolated on white.How to Hold a Narcissist Accountable

One of the most frustrating aspects of living, loving and/or working with a person with the Signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is certainly dealing with their lack of accountability.

Anything that goes wrong is always someone else’s fault. No matter how logically you argue, if they have to swear the grass is blue and sky is green, they will continue to twist and turn their way out of owning up to any responsibility.

No wonder some experts feel wise proclaiming that holding a narcissist accountable is impossible.

An easy problem to tackle this isn’t, but today I will share what I have learned first hand.

Part of the answer is that when you want to hold sway with someone (not only a person with narcissistic tendencies) the equation works something like this;

The more positive the connection between you = the more likely they will be to listen.

As narcissistic people hate it when anyone tries to get them to admit to their mistakes or shortcomings, unless you have a some rapport with them it is probably better you don’t even try.

This doesn’t mean you need to give in to their bad behaviour. Instead of attempting to hold this person accountable, consider making them face the consequences of their mistakes!

Get on the Same Level

No matter how superior you may feel your position to be, talking down to a person is rarely persuasive.

So rather than you playing judge and jury (or mother superior) instead try some humility with a dash of grit . . .

Example 1:

I don’t know how to sort out our finances and can’t figure out where our money is going and so I have opened a separate bank account and hired an accountant to come in and see if they can sort out the mess.

Example 2:

I am worried about you, but I don’t know how to help you (with your porn addiction) and am scared it is hurting our sex life and putting our marriage at risk. So unless you’ve got some ideas – I don’t know what to do except to talk to our doctor and see if they can help.

Example 3:

I can’t be late for work again today and so I am sorry I can’t drop you off.

Example 4:

I don’t know how to handle you when you get so angry with me, and so from now on I am going to need to get someone who knows know how to handle angry people (the police?) here to come and talk to you when you lose your temper. I don’t want to get you in trouble, I just don’t know what else to do.

Or there may be situations where there is nothing to be said – you simply need to stop protecting them.

A narcissistic person will most probably still get angry when you use these kind of scripts, so use your own judgement and play this carefully. These type of conversations are usually safer held in public places, such as a park or restaurant, and you need to make sure the consequences are not a bluff!

They won’t like what you are saying, but if you show genuine concern for them and let somebody else play the bad guy, you can keep your connection while at the same time making them face the consequences of their own acts.

If your warning has no effect, then step out of the way and let life teach the lesson they have coming!

Better Scripts for ‘Next Time’

If you are trying to hold a person accountable for events that have happened in the past – I suggest you make the decision to forget it instead.

If you didn’t know how to set a boundary back then, rubbing a person’s face in it now is not going to do anything but make them resent you.

If they owe you money, hire a debt collector (if you need to) and step away from the adversarial role. Otherwise be kind to yourself by forgiving them, but make sure you are prepared – with better scripts – next time.

New to Our Work? Please come and visit our homepage. We have been online helping couples for 10 years and hope we can help your family too.

References:

Psychology Today – https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201308/narcissists-are-not-accountable (They copied the image from my original post!)

Psych Central – https://pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2016/05/7-tactics-narcissists-use-to-escape-responsibility/

https://plus.google.com/+kimandSteveCooper/posts/C2pKDoL44QG

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/basics/definition/con-20025568

This Post Has 20 Comments
  1. I am currently legally separated from my narcissistic husband. This article could not be more true. I have gone round and round with him for years. Finally, found the best therapist for this man – Dr. David Hawkins from the Marriage Recovery Center in Seattle, Wa. I am losing my desire to try any more. Letting go and I think it is for the best. What an unbelievable experience of learning. At least I’ve learned and grown. I can not say the same for him. The most stubborn man alive. I get him, I have compassion, but I can not live with him anymore. Even Dr. Hawkins advised me to not have “magical thinking” his character issues are very deep. My “magical thinking” has been praying for a miracle. I will be 100 yrs old and still in therapy with this man. He just does not see himself and the blaming, shaming, projection and gas lighting is just plain crazy making.

    1. This is exactly why we don’t advise therapy (check out the front page of this website). Who would pay to go to a mechanic every week that was only there to tell them their car couldn’t be fixed?

  2. Good article! I swear your emails come through at the exact moments I’m needing them. It makes me feel like I’m suppposed to keep the faith that things will get better. It seems I reach a point every time that I’m just about to commit to leaving him and I get an email of one of your new articles that relates exactly to the situation I’m in.

    I liked the above examples as alternatives than to just giving in to their behavior and accepting it. When it comes to my fiancé, he does EVERYTHING in life really well (i.e. finances, work, schooling, cleanliness/housework, cooking, handyman, etc.) so there isn’t much I have to “threaten” him with, although using the police option in one of his irate tirades is something I’ve never tried.

    He’s already opened up to seeing a therapist and knows I’ll be honest with her about everything that happens. Another example I could think of though is “I don’t know what else to do to work through this with you, so I think I’m going get some outside support through our family and friends”. What is your opinion on that? His family is well aware of his NC personality and he talks to no one about our issues so he may feel particularly worried if I do that. I’m going on Day 5 now of silent treatment from him, following a big blow out we had. Hopefully I can gain some more knowledge and confidence in reading your articles again. There’s no way you could have known I needed this right now but thank you for sending the emails. It’s a reminder to me that a positive future with him is possible.

    1. Hi Rebeccah, I cannot promise your future with him will be positive, but I can promise if you keep using the stuff he throws at you as challenges to increase your emotional intelligence and people skills – you will be better off down the line either way.

      I had a lot invested with Steve – we had 3 kids and a business together for starters. If you are not even married yet you may want to consider your options if after working through the steps in our books his pride does not come down.

      You can see my opinion of using counselling to deal with this on the home page of this website. Rather than face his problems he is more likely to try and convince the therapist that the problems in your marriage are all your fault.

      As for the consequence you suggest – I think that may be OK but I think you should choose one person rather than be as general as you suggest. There is an exercise in The Love Safety Net Workbook called “Your Personal Bill of Rights” which outlines this process in detail.

      I would also suggest you reframe your thinking around this and not see this as a threat. What is being suggested in this article is more of a passive act than an aggressive or violent one. The idea is that what you are really wanting is for him to listen and take notice of the importance of your request. Next comes the limit and then the consequence or warning of what you will feel forced to do if he does not respect that request. Framing that as you giving up as you don’t know what else to do will also make that less pushy or dominating.

      I know Steve resisted learning this for a long time because he felt that by setting limits and consequences he was in some way “threatening” the kids. Once he finally gave in and learned this process (expectations, limits, consequences) he was amazed at how fast it worked and how much happier the kids were as a result. After years of him fighting with my son to get to breakfast on time he said, “I expect you at breakfast at 8.10am (expectation) if you are not there by 8.15am (limit) I won’t be giving you lunch money but make you a sandwich instead.

      To Steve’s amazement, first shot at this our son was not only at the table on time but also with a smile on his face.

      Steve uses this with everyone now including his co workers and even his boss. He will be talking to everyone about this soon and even hopes to work on an expectations, limits and consequences practice drill for dads.

      As for the silent treatment there is an article on dealing with that in my Protect Yourself From Verbal Abuse series you can learn more about here: https://thelovesafetynet.com/

  3. I finally have cut my Marc out of my life. He tried to get full custody of our son just to avoid paying child support. And, all the woman he was sleeping with or flirting with behind my back and telling me they were just friends was a lie. He bought a woman up from another country moves her in with him and were married 3 months after we separated. Talk about getting stabbed in the back. I realize he is beyond help so, I just have to help myself heal and give it over to God (the whole situation), only he can help him and I deserve better.

    1. Hi Carita, Sorry to hear that, that must have been really tough on you. If your husband shares custody you may still have a battle in front of you. Make sure you play that battle smart for you and your son.

  4. Kim,
    Thanks for the great reminder to not bring up the past. Setting boundaries for the present and future is key. Writing out response scripts and practicing saying them has been very helpful to me.

  5. I have been following you guys for quite sometime.I have learned a lot and have to say I managed to limit the amount of arguments in my house,I became more confident and in control of my emotions most of the time.But of course things still escalate from time to time.My husband has become depressed since he lost control over me and started eating his way to obesity (almost there),he is hypocondriac and can`t quit smoking eiher.Luckily I no longer feel responsible for his behaviour,either good or bad.Thank you Kim.
    Anyway,what brought me here is exactly how to make him pay for having insulted me and offended in front of the kids.It was the first time he did that but I cannot forget it.It basically ruinned all, for me.He appologised, the way only a person with narcissistic tendencies can appologise,by always ading the “but I did because YOU did,YOU said”…I feel like making him pay for it but not in a revenge way , but only for him to learn not to ever do it again . What do you think I should do?This happened during our family holidays a week ago.So when he asked me what we were supposed to do for our next holidays ,I answered him ,in front of the kids,that we will all go on holiday together only if we are all willing to make it a nice and relaxing holiday for everyone.Free of insults,arguments and disrespect towards each other.Otherwise that will be our last holiday together.I saw the anger in his eyes and before he buffered a word I said the warning was for all of us and added that if one of us does something the other doesn`t apreciate we should aproach each other with respect and let him/she know.
    And I am willing to go ahead with it.Should he misbehave again,I wont go on holiday with him anymore.Same goes for family outings,groceries,etc…The kids heard and know what I mean so they will not be asking themselves why is mum not coming.Do you think this was the right reaction to his behaviour?I am so done with this man,but we have children together and I am afraid of him manipulating them if we separate.While I am here,I can still see what goes on (to a certain extent of course).

    1. Hi Eva, I never suggest losing ground as a best first option for limiting abuse. Leaving yourself out of a holiday doesn’t sound like much of a consequence for him. Personally I would be thinking closely about what it was that he did or said and coming up with a better response for the next time it happens. I have a great article on comebacks to deal with people putting you down in my protecting yourself from bullies series (The Friendship Cult) you can check out on the page here: https://thelovesafetynet.com/ Look for the box with the smiling cartoon dog. As for getting even – I would not suggest that. The reason is that by hanging on to your hurt you are really just giving him power over you. Get better prepared for next time and rise above it. Don’t let harboured animosity sour your home.

      1. Hi Kim,

        Once again thank you for your wise words.
        You really made me think.Problem is I was and guess still am so hurt by his behaviour that I could not rise above it yet.Specially because the kids had to witnessed it all.But unfortunately it is not something I can undo!
        Regarding not going on holidays wiht him you also right when you say I will lose ground.But it would also be not good for him since he loves to show off his “happy family” to everyone.Me not joining him would make him look like the not so lucky,happy man,people think he is.And he would have to explain himself to family and friends.But now that I think about it he could easily portray himself as the poor victim to them.
        I will follow your advise and prepare better come backs for the future. 😉

        1. Hey Eva, Once the hurt has passed you will be in a better place to start preparing the comebacks you need to deal with this better in future. The problem is that once the hurt is passed we usually don’t want to think about it again! Because of this maybe you can put a reminder in your diary for a few days from now. That way you can allow yourself to forget it and think about things that make you happy 🙂

          1. Thanks once again.I will definitely make a note in my diary.
            Big hug and keep up the good work.You cannot imagine how much you helped me fo through it all.

  6. I to am leaving my narcissistic husband of 20 yrs. we lived apart for 10yrs after being asked to come back and try to save us it has been a disaster. It’s my fault we are not further,what are my financial intentions for the marriage, and he dose not support me financially since I left him. Refuses any and all suggestions to help us grow because all I have to do is be the wife god intended. Glenn

    1. Hi Glenn, People with narcissistic tendencies usually fear rejection and abandonment above all else and so please be warned that leaving can escalate the emotional, mental, physical and financial abuse. Because of this I would suggest you make sure you have a solid plan in place before you leave. Our best selling title Back From the Looking Glass – 13 Steps to a Peaceful Home (now in it’s 11th edition) has two strategies at the end of how you can leave in a way that will give you some closure and keep yourself safe.

  7. Please don’t have an ounce of magical thinking about narcissists. They are ill and you will waste so much of your precious life on them. They are volatile when confronted and no amount of dancing around them to avoid or even using psychology to trick them will ever work. Get away and save yourselves from years of torture.

    1. I am sorry Trish but I would say that you stating “getting away” is the easy answer you pretend it to be is in fact magical thinking. I wonder how exactly you are meant to “get away” if you share children or don’t have control of your finances? None of our advice includes anything about dancing around or tricking anyone and none implies a quick fix easy answer. Suggesting that cutting people off and losing ground is the only means of dealing with difficult people or resolving conflict is short sighted and defeatist at best.

  8. My husband cheated on me for over two years, and I found out Monday or Tuesday. I was crying asking him, why did you ignore me on our honeymoon and spent time with her but not me. He rudely answered while his eyes were closed, why does it matter?

    I think i’m going to leave him. i’m going to talk to our icm and if she isn’t able to convince him, i’m moving in with my Mom until I can get back on my feet.

    Two years and our whole marriage, doing things for him, rushing to the emergency room for him, calling the police because he didn’t have his anti – seizure medication, my Mom and I driving around for him, because he kept going on dangerous walks late at night, and he cheated on me the whole time.

    ” Why does it matter? ” I told him he broke my heart and his eyes were closed, and wouldn’t look at me. he wasn’t sleeping but I was annoying him. he expected me to apologize for asking him questions! I finally asked him, ” are you a narcissist? ” I said who did I marry? you tricked me into marrying you. crying and screaming, and he didn’t open his eyes once. He was NOT sleeping. What do I do?

    1. There are no simple answers to the situation you are in but crying and screaming will not help. You need to take some time out and find your centre again before you decide what steps to take next.

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