Q: I have a friend that I think might be a manipulative narcissist and we definitely aren’t on good terms right now. They’re part of a larger group of friends that I hang out with pretty often. Basically, they tend to monopolize all of our conversations, and usually only talk about themselves. For hours. At dinner the other night, I finally called them out by making a joke about it—and they completely shut down.
They wouldn’t speak to anyone for the rest of the evening. But now I see on social media that they’re making plans with everyone else without me. They’ve even made new group chats on social media that exclude me. Could they be turning my other friends against me?
A: It sounds like you’re picking up on your friend’s tendency to center conversations on themselves. And that is a narcissistic personality trait—one that affects you and your ability to connect with them and your other friends, too. But as to whether a manipulative narcissist can turn people against you, it is sometimes possible, often through a narcissistic technique known as triangulation.
Manipulative narcissists can turn people against you by bringing one or more additional people into an argument, spat, or disagreement that was originally just between you and the narcissist. The manipulative narcissist may try to convince the other person that you (and not them) are the one who’s behaving irrationally, or that you’re the one who’s motivated by selfish, inconsiderate behavior. They might succeed in swaying the other person, especially if you don’t get a chance to tell your side of the story.
If they do succeed, they’ll have gained an ally, and in their mind, they’ve won an imaginary battle against you. Remember that narcissists often have very low self-esteem. One of the easiest ways to feel better and avoid self-reflection (if only temporarily) is to cut others down if they can’t control them. Especially those who point out their harmful, often immature behavior.
Suppose the relationship with this friend is truly valuable to you. In that case, you might try reaching out to them—but be aware that they’re unlikely to settle for taking responsibility for their selfish behavior. What’s more likely to happen is that they’ll demand you apologize for the joke and will deny any indication that their behavior was wrong. On the other hand, you can’t assume what your other friends think. If the joke you made at dinner wasn’t offensive, they’re probably aware that the manipulative narcissist is overreacting, and they aren’t going to cut you out.
If the manipulative narcissist succeeds in turning your friends against you, don’t second-guess yourself; their behavior was immature and you don’t have to tolerate it. But: A joke at their expense may have not been the best way to approach their narcissistic behavior. Self-centered individuals often have incredibly low self-esteem. The joke you made, as light as it may have been, probably cut them deeply. And if your friends follow suit in cutting you off, they probably weren’t your friends.
In the future, you could avoid people who tend to make events, conversations, or relationships all about themselves. Or find a private, more appropriate time to address their behavior. If you’re close enough to them, you might even consider friendship therapy as a possible way to bridge the distance between the two of you.