Please note: I am using the words ‘narcissist’ and ‘narcissistic’ to indicate a person who would qualify for a narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis.
To make it very, very brief: no. It doesn’t work. Using fire to fight fire just means you’ll both end up getting burned. In the process, you become a mean person, and you don’t want to become like your abuser. That’s not the goal.
Speaking specifically to people in a relationship with a narcissist, sometimes it seems right, and justified, and what any normal person would do, to abuse them right back.
You want to show them a turn of hand, to demonstrate that you won’t take it anymore. You can fight fire with fire. Unfortunately, this is the worst possible relationship to do this in, because you will not win.
The narcissist is committed to coming out on top, always, and this could have dire consequences for you. Potentially even deadly consequences for you.
Fighting fire with fire is not the way to go here.
Much of the time the abuse stems from issues that you just played off as normal “relationship issues”. Stage one (Shock and Denial) of a relationship with a narcissist looks a lot like this: at first, it might be a comment about something relatively minor: your word or phrase choice or something of the like.
The problem is, instead of having a minor disagreement about it, the narcissist blows it up into a massive fight and you end up literally begging for forgiveness because
- you’re clearly not going to win and
- it’s not that important to you but
- the narcissist will absolutely not give up. Ever. No matter what.
So you end up in this place post-fight where you’re dazed, thinking, did that really happen?
Then because you love your partner you minimize it and use denial to excuse it away, paving the road for the next stage of loving a narcissist.
Stage two is marked by frequent fights, often about seemingly banal things. Every little thing about you that can be criticized is, and your partner wastes no time figuring out which of those things are hardest for you to handle. Suddenly it’s flipped from being mostly good with a little bit of bad to almost all bad almost all the time. Oh, and you’ll also be blamed for a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with you or that you both created, like a messy house or your partner having a bad day. Somehow these things are entirely your fault, not your partner’s.
If you haven’t left by now, stage three is marked by punishment. You have become the enemy. If your partner is a physical abuser they might hit you or throw a cup of coffee at your head, slam you into a wall or yank you to direct you somewhere instead of simply telling you or indicating where to go. If they’re a psychological abuser they will start using manipulations such as gaslighting to throw you off kilter and make it seem like you are the crazy one.
Emotional abuse -withholding, withdrawing, manipulating wilfully- can sometimes be harder and more painful than physical abuse.
Note: the physical abuse will only get worse; please get out or if that has become difficult for you seek help and assistance in getting out.
Stage Four is when you begin acting like them. Infuriated by their treatment of you, you begin mimicking their behavior right back. You’ll show them! Except…you can’t. There is no “showing them” and trying to do so hurts you, not them. They see it as a challenge, a power grab. They will not let you win no matter how bad it gets. Only one thing matters to them, and it’s coming out on top. Period. You and your feelings might as well not exist, unless you are bolstering theirs. IN fact, unless you are pretty much constantly stroking their ego and fluffing up their insecurities, after awhile, you don’t matter at all.
The only thing you can do for yourself at any stage of your relationship with a narcissist is to get out, the sooner the better. You might think you can fix them; you can’t. Narcissists rarely get therapy for their condition and when they do it takes years of work to get away from their narcissism. Get out as fast as you can, and don’t look back.
As Rumi said: “The Universe is not outside you. Look inside yourself. Everything you want, you already are”.