Dealing with the narcissist in your life is difficult for many reasons – but the most difficult is not one that you would expect.
Most of us simply don’t know when we’re faced with a narcissist or when people we know intimately display signs of narcissism. We want to think that our close circle has our best intentions at heart, but unfortunately that’s a false assumption.
In order to deal with narcissists, it’s of utmost important to understand them so you can confiscate their ammunition and beat them.
What is a narcissist?
The most common definition of a narcissist is someone who is extremely self-absorbed and selfish.
However, that definition is the source of many misunderstandings that prevent us from seeing the emotional manipulator before us.
The more pertinent definition is the characterization of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) offered by the Mayo Clinic:
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
This description might hit a little closer to home.
The narcissist puts their need for validation and protection of their ego above all else – including their significant other. They’ll do anything to feel good about themselves.
In fact, for most narcissists, feeling good about themselves is the actual purpose of having a relationship. They use their partner to boost their own self-esteem and confidence through whatever means possible – with little regard for how their partner feels about it.
Frequently, this means controlling or using you in whatever way they can, and manipulating your emotions to make them feel superior and intelligent.
It’s important to remember all of their acts are a result of how negatively they feel about themselves, although they might not understand that on a conscious level.
They will take advantage of you, manipulate you, and show extreme arrogance in an attempt to prove to themselves and others that they are who they believe themselves to be.
They are like bullies who protect themselves through aggression, power, and control. If the narcissist had to choose between averting a small threat to them and inflicting massive pain to you, they would choose the latter without even thinking.
Narcissists view the world through a “me first, me second, you never” lens, and to view them otherwise will just create more heartache for you.
- You will never be seen as a priority or equal to them.
- You will never feel in control with them or like you matter.
- You will never feel like they understand you because they simply don’t care to.
You will never win because the narcissist has been defending himself (or herself) for years and is an expert at using defense mechanisms and rationalizations.
Their power comes from the fact that you are a normal person with normal feelings, while they are trying to compensate for one major shortcoming, imaginary or not. They do not understand how normal human relationships function, and they are not with you for normal reasons.
So how do you deal with a narcissist?
You have to disarm them.
Remember that the narcissist is driven by one selfish need.
All they care about, even when being charming and sweet to you, is making themselves feel more secure, powerful, and superior. They are deeply insecure and therefore need to control their surroundings and the people around them to compensate for that negative feeling.
That’s why they insult you, criticize you, and emotionally manipulate you in dark ways. You exist as a tool to make them feel positive, validated, and praised.
Any positive feedback you receive from them is to further this feeling.
The first way to disarm a narcissist begins with you. You must adjust your expectations.
You’re only useful to them when you can make them feel good. Keep this in mind, because it should influence how you approach them.
If you can give them something positive or make them feel superior and intelligent, you will see a positive behavior change with your narcissistic partner.
In other words, if you can tell them how smart and great they are, you will condition them to treat you better because you’ve given them exactly what they are seeking.
However, you must recognize that the relationship isn’t about support, emotional intimacy, or sharing. It’s about you making them feel good about themselves. Change your expectations and adjust accordingly.
Reframe your needs.
Frame anything that you want in terms of how the narcissist would benefit from it, and how it would make people like them more.
Remember, narcissists just want what they want. If what you want conflicts directly or indirectly with that, it’s going to be an easy choice because they don’t want to compromise or humor you. Therefore, you must be able to spin and sell things to them in a way that makes them feel good about it.
Essentially, you have to make them feel like it would be a win for them too. You can do this with your needs as well – instead of making it about you, make it about them and how fulfilling or satisfying a need of yours would be for him or her.
Stating your needs clearly won’t work, and getting angry or hurt definitely won’t either.
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Once you speak to what benefits them, you’re speaking their language. You can even remove yourself from your request and make it about all the ways that they will benefit in the present and future.
You are stroking their ego, shifting your needs so they seem to be a priority and a win for the narcissist.
Third, get what you want upfront and don’t rely on promises.
Don’t give narcissists credit, the benefit of the doubt, or your trust. Why?
Because they will violate it and never come through for you. Once they get what they want, it’s on to the next thing, leaving you holding the short end of the stick.
It’s the ultimate one-sided deal – they will promise you the world in return for something, and once they receive it, they’ll go into hiding and refuse or neglect to follow through on their end of the deal.
They will make promises and bargains they don’t ever intend to keep. Sometimes they simply forget to uphold their end because they place so little priority on you.
Whatever the situation, do not bargain with a narcissist without getting something immediately in return, and even then, don't rely on them to come through for you.
Expose their insecurities.
Narcissists are deathly afraid of being exposed or that other people will confirm their worst fears.
They have a deep fear of shame and embarrassment. They need to look good in front of others, they can never be wrong, and they need to be seen as superlative in everything.
They might be willing to expose their dark side to you, but if the circle extends beyond you, that’s when they start to get uncomfortable and filter their actions and words.
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If you want to disarm them, simply ask them what other people would think about their actions, and allude to the fact that you might talk to a host of other people about this situation, including people that they know or mutual friends. This will spark some action from them.
They will frantically tell you to keep matters private and between just the two of you so their true nature won't be revealed. But you absolutely have the right to discuss your issues and life with your family and friends.
You are not prohibited from airing your dirty laundry with others as long as it isn’t a falsehood – and it certainly isn’t.
Your narcissistic partner knows it’s not false, and that’s why they try to prohibit you from discussing the situation with others. They are acutely aware of what they are doing to you, and they worry about others might judge them if you share the truth.
The narcissist wants to control the spin entirely. They need to control the narrative and what the future holds. But when they lose control of the spin and narrative, they fear their entire world might crash down on them because people will think poorly of them.
Don't be reactive.
Narcissists sometimes just want an emotional reaction.
They are okay with hurting you because it allows them to exert their power and feel superior to someone.
The best way to disarm your narcissist is to be non-reactive. He or she will try to push your buttons and will grow frantic and frustrated when you don’t react.
Some people might view this as a healthy challenge, but it’s not. They’re just provoking you versus helping you grow.
Remember, if you ever take the bait, they have you right where they want you.
Establish your boundaries.
Ironclad boundaries need to be drawn with a narcissistic partner.
It's possible that your lack of personal boundaries is the reason you’re in such close proximity to a narcissist.
Logically, we understand that we shouldn’t allow others to take advantage of us. We know we need boundaries that help prioritize our own needs over those of others.
So how do we end up in a relationship with a narcissist, no matter how hard you try to communicate and enforce boundaries?
The simple answer is fear. It's hard to stick to your boundaries when you feel deep-seated, soul-wrenching fear.
You fear that you aren’t good enough for your narcissistic partner. You fear they will abandon you and withdraw their love if you enforce your boundaries.
You fear backlash and punishment if you don’t bend to your partner's will. You fear rejection on a massive scale, afraid of being being alone and abandoned, never good enough to deserve love and affection.
You’ll do anything to prevent those fears from coming true. You prioritize easing those fears by placing your partner's demands over your own needs, self-worth, personal rights, and happiness.
Once you adopt this mindset, your narcissist has you exactly where he wants you. He or she will use your sense of guilt and fear against you to get exactly what he wants.
If you say “yes” to others asking for your time and energy, and you haven't filled yourself up first, you are giving from a place of lack and fear that undermines the relationship further.
Please don’t try rationalize why you break your boundaries for your narcissistic partner. Your situation is not different or unique. It is exactly as your friends tell you it is, and you are not the exception to the rule.
The narcissist did not violate your boundaries accidentally. They are not ignorant or innocent. There is no valid reason for violating your boundaries. Your partner simply doesn't care or respect you enough to honor your requests.
Because of your partner's lack of concern for your needs, you must learn how to say,“No” in response to a boundary violation. You don’t have to provide a reason or justification for why you don’t want to do something. If your partner respected you and cared about your needs, he or she would accept that answer.
But they don’t. So they keep pushing back and reinforcing your position, even though you've already given them your answer.
Create a list of true boundaries – non-negotiables, deal breakers, unacceptables. Essentially, spell out exactly what you will never tolerate or be subject to.
Make sure to create this list while you’re away from your partner and can think with a clear, logical mind so you're not emotionally affected or manipulated by them.
We teach others how to treat us, and these boundaries must become your ironclad rules for how people can treat you.
On a final note, realize that a relationship with a narcissist can't be a real relationship. It will always be one-sided, and more than likely you will always feel compromised in some way.
A healthy, loving relationship requires emotional intimacy, mutual respect, empathy, trust, and compassion. These are qualities that are difficult for a narcissist to embrace.
Ultimately you will have to make a difficult choice. You can stay in the relationship and continue to try to deal with your partner's selfish behaviors, or you can leave the relationship and seek out a more health-minded, loving partner.
Whatever you decide, it's important to be armed with information and a realistic view of how to manage your situation as long as you are in it.
Pamela Kole fought her way out of an abusive relationship and knows firsthand how destructive they can be. She used to be a lawyer, but now spends her time trying to inform as many people as possible that they do indeed have the choice to be happy, loved, and valued.
For more on defeating and disarming narcissists and psychopaths, read bestselling author Pamela Kole’s new book Break Free: Disarm, Defeat, and Beat The Narcissist and Psychopath – Escape Toxic Relationships and Emotional Manipulation.