When you have a narcissist in your life, it’s often easier just to go along with their negative ploys for admiration and control because they can be extremely sensitive and may become angry when confronted.
However, continued exploitation by a narcissist can leave you feeling insecure, depressed, and questioning your own capabilities.
Understanding narcissistic behavior can help you to set and maintain clear boundaries while protecting yourself from the damage caused by the narcissist’s manipulation tactics.
1. Understand who the narcissist is
Pay close attention to the way the narcissist treats and talks to others. You’ll probably notice this person telling lies and using various forms of manipulation in a way that is disrespectful. Note the similarities in your own experiences with this individual, and understand that this is just who that person is. Nothing that you do or say will change that reality.
2. Don’t take it personally
While the narcissist will surely blame or shame you when confronted about negative actions, this is a defense mechanism that is used to protect the narcissist’s ego. This person will lash out at the person who is making that individual question his or her significance or simply the person who is closest to him or her. Narcissism stems from an inner shame or insecurity, and any conversation that triggers these feelings will be countered. When you understand this, it can make it easier for you to disassociate the narcissist’s manipulative words and behaviors against you from your own personality. This can help you to better maintain your own self-esteem and sense of self worth.
3. Avoid taking responsibility for the narcissist’s emotions or behavior
Because this person will blame you for the way that he or she feels or how he or she reacts, it’s important that you understand that this is just one of the ways that narcissists work. This person is unable or unwilling to take responsibility for his or her behavior, so he or she will often blame you. While it may be easier in the moment to agree with this manipulator, you need to know that it is not your fault and to stay firm in this conviction for your own mental health.
4. Know yourself
Gain a firm understanding of who you are, including your strengths and your abilities. Because the narcissist will try to undermine your self-esteem, you need to really get to know yourself so that you can maintain your confidence in encounters with this individual. That way, when the narcissist belittles you, you’ll have a clear understanding that those criticisms are not true. Additionally, when you can accept yourself for who you really are, you won’t need to rely on the narcissist for approval, which is part of what can keep you in an unhealthy relationship trying to please that person.
5. Acknowledge the source of your frustration
If a narcissist has been wearing away at your self worth, you may be experiencing negative emotions yourself, especially when you are around this person. Identify and acknowledge that this frustration is not you, but it is coming directly from the words or actions of the narcissist. Once you can pinpoint exactly where your source of negativity is coming from, you’ll be better able to address it and avoid letting it further negate your own sense of self.
6. Know the patterns
Certain events or situations may set off the person with a narcissist personality. This individual may act in predictable ways in different situations. When you know what to expect from this person, you’ll be better able to anticipate the type of response that you will get when you’re working on protecting yourself from the harm associated with the narcissist’s behaviors.
7. Manage your expectations
It can be easy to fall into a trap by believing that if you do everything right, the narcissist will change. Only the narcissist can change himself or herself and usually only with therapy. Understand that even if you make the appropriate changes to protect yourself from the behaviors of the narcissist, they may still act the same way toward you. When having constructive conversations with the narcissist, you should also know that he or she may not be receptive to your requests for change and may respond negatively to anything you have to say. Managing your expectations will also help you to avoid being let down, allowing you to maintain a sense of control over your situation.
8. Set boundaries
It’s important that you set boundaries of what you will and will not accept from the narcissist. There should be a clear goal with an established consequence of what will happen if this boundary is crossed. However, you must be willing to stick with any boundary that you make no matter how hard this person makes it for you. If you don’t, it will be harder to make boundaries in the future because the narcissist won’t take you seriously and may double down on any efforts you make to set additional boundaries.
9. Use a gentle approach
You probably already know that the narcissist in your life has a hard time dealing with criticism of any type. When you try to point out the wrongful behavior, this is seen as an attack on the perfect self image that he or she holds. You’re more likely to get through to this person if you stay calm and rational while focusing on how this person’s words or actions make you feel. If the narcissist lashes out or is otherwise unwilling to have a respectful conversation, it’s okay to walk away and try again at another time.
10. Don’t argue
You can’t win an argument with a narcissist. This person knows exactly how to push your buttons and will do so to try to get an emotional reaction out of you so that you lose control, making you out to be the one at fault. If the conversation appears to be headed in that direction, keep your cool, and leave the situation if you have to.
11. Remain calm
It can be especially difficult when dealing with a narcissist, but it’s important to remain calm, clear headed, and in control of your emotions during your interactions with this person. This individual will try to manipulate you to the point of anger and argument so that he or she has some reason to lay the blame on you. When you stay calm in a situation, this takes a way a large source of the narcissist’s power.
12. Expect changes
After addressing issues with a narcissist, you should know that things will probably get worse before they get better. This person may subtly or drastically change the way that he or she interacts with you. The narcissist will likely push back sine he or she is used to controlling you and does not want to relinquish that power so easily. The individual may manipulate you with negative tactics or may suddenly become charming and irresistible as a way to regain their standing over you. Don’t be fooled, and don’t give in.
13. Stand your ground
Because the narcissist is likely to resist your efforts or newly established boundaries, it’s important that you stand your ground no matter what. If you give this person an inch, he or she will expand on that opportunity to derail all of your efforts at establishing healthy boundaries. Don’t settle for words because a narcissist is good at making empty promises with no intention to follow through. When you don’t back down, this forces the narcissist to know that you’re serious about the matter.
14. Focus on your needs
You’ve probably spent a large portion of your time focusing on the needs of the narcissist in your life. Now it’s time to put the focus back onto you. Take the time to list the changes that you would like to see in your life, and find ways to make those happen. Learn new skills, and work to achieve your dreams and desires. Get rid of any false ideals perpetrated by the narcissist that may prevent you from reaching your goals.
15. Keep a positive mindset
It’s so easy to get dragged down into the narcissist’s negative way of thinking that you must do everything that you can to stay positive as you’re building back up your confidence and independence from this person. Because some narcissists find pleasure in the suffering of others, your positive attitude will take the wind out of his or her sails. Even if this person tries to upset you, stay calm and focused on where you want to be so that this individual will have nothing to attack in you or to use for his or her benefit.
16. Learn the signs of a healthy relationship
If you’ve spent a good portion of your life with a narcissist, you may not notice the dysfunction that exists. This sense of normalcy doesn’t make it right. When you learn what a healthy relationship should look like, you can set yourself up for more positive treatment and be better able to leave situations that make you feel bad or people that don’t reciprocate respect and concern for your desires.
17. Find your own meaning and purpose
You may have spent a lot of time trying to gain approval or acceptance from the narcissist in your life, which, as you know, rarely occurs. Instead of remaining in a close orbit around the burning sun of the narcissist’s personality, find ways to feel good about yourself on your own and away from the abuser. When you’re able to make use of any skills or talents that you possess to where you feel that you’re having a positive impact or making a difference, you’ll be able to rebuild your self-esteem for a more independent life.
18. Maintain other positive relationships
Spending time with other people outside of your relationship with the narcissist is a good way to maintain a good self image and to gain necessary feedback by way of a stable support system. Since narcissists often isolate their victims as a way to maintain better control, you might have to start over. Think about rebuilding relationships with estranged friends or family members. If necessary, you might need to make new friends. You can do this by volunteering, starting a new hobby, going to church, or joining a club.
19. Seek therapy
If you’re experiencing difficulty with depression or extremely low self-esteem as a result of narcissistic abuse, know when it’s time to get help. A nonjudgmental ear can help you by validating your feelings and your thoughts while providing you with some additional tools that can be useful in rebuilding your sense of self and giving you the needed leverage against the narcissist.
20. Encourage therapy for the narcissist
This is a touchy subject because most narcissists don’t think that they have a problem. If you’ve been successful in maintaining constructive conversations with this person and he or she seems to truly want to change and has shown you actions and not just words, you might want to suggest therapy. While it’s a long shot that this path will be accepted, it all depends on the individual narcissist and if he or she is willing to accept and change his or her problem behavior.
21. Accept that it’s not your responsibility to fix this person
Although it’s possible that the narcissist will agree to therapy, this person may stop going fairly quickly or may reject therapy altogether. If this is the case, know that it’s not up to you to fix that person. The narcissist is responsible for his or her own behavior, and there is nothing that you can do to change this.
22. Leave the narcissist
When all else fails, and if it’s at all possible, you may have to resign yourself to leaving the narcissist. Refuse to engage in any form of contact because this person will use this as a way to guilt you into returning to the way things were. You may need to get help to do this, and be sure to lean on your support system for continued confidence that you’re doing the right thing.
While this may be difficult if the two of you have children together or if the narcissist is your employer, you should minimize contact as much as you can, and try to have another person present anytime the two of you have to interact.