The Complete Guide to Handling the Narcissist in Your Life
Repeat after us: You don’t deserve to be treated this way.
You’ve seen it all before and, frankly, you’re sick and tired of the drama. Blame-shifting, reality distortion, name-calling, gaslighting, and — when confronted on the above — extreme bursts of anger. Yes, these are the all too common pages of a narcissist’s playbook.
Having a narcissist in your life can be a real rollercoaster, only worse. Because you didn’t buy a ticket for this ride and you’re not quite sure how to get off. Whether it comes from your boss, your partner, a friend or a parent, dealing with narcissistic behavior feels impossible. However, you don’t deserve to be treated like this and, luckily, there are ways to combat it.
Don’t get sucked into their games. Stop, breathe, and read on. In the following guide, we have enlisted the help of two renowned psychology experts to share their advice on how to deal with narcissistic behavior and the importance of putting your own needs first.
What is a narcissist, anyway?
You’ve heard the term a thousand times, but are you familiar with its origin story? The psychological word comes from Greek mythology, deriving from a tale in which the vain Narcissus falls deeply in love with his reflection in the springs and pines after himself.
In a darker and, honestly, more satisfying version of the story, he falls into the water and drowns.
Fast-forward to today, and the word is liberally tossed around to mean anyone who happens to exhibit egotistical traits. However, according to Sarah Frankfurt, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, the term generally refers to “traits that include exaggerated self-importance, grandiosity, a lack of empathy, feeling superior, and feeling better than others.”
That covers the broad brush strokes. But, for some, it can run much deeper than that. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a recognized, complex personality disorder affecting between 1 and 15% of the American population. In addition to lacking empathy and having an inflated ego, individuals who have NPD may also experience “aggression, reduced tolerance to distress, and dysfunctional affect regulation.”
In this guide, we will be focusing on narcissistic behavior and those who exhibit it in general, rather than diagnosed cases of NPD.
Narcissistic behavior: the red flags
Narcissistic behavior can come in a variety of forms. However, it’s important to know what the red flags are so that you can spot them early on. Let’s take a look at the traits that may indicate a person has some underlying narcissistic tendencies.
Narcissists tend to put themselves on pedestals. They are the top dogs, the creme de la creme, the big shots. And, since they think that they are better than everyone around them, they have a habit of looking sharply down their nose at us mere peasants.
“Grandiosity impairs judgment and the assessment of negative consequences,” explains Frankfurt. “And it feels good — it feels good to feel like you are one up and better than others, even though it destroys intimacy and relationality.”
When a narcissist is in the room, you will know about it. Chances are, they are the person running the show. Yes, this individual will employ a range of subtle tactics to make sure that they are the center of attention and that everyone else does exactly what they want.
Make sure that you know what you’re looking for here. “This commonly shows up as being dominating in conversations, speaking over others, controlling others behavior or feeling entitled to tell people what to do,” says Frankfurt.
Lack of empathy
One of the main traits that narcissists exhibit is a lack of empathy. For that reason, you will rarely find someone with this personality who cares or understands the emotions of others.
“Because grandiosity impairs judgment, narcissists often feel like they are in the right. As a result, they won’t apologize or feel remorse for their behavior that hurts other people,” explains Frankfurt. “It can be extremely painful to be close to someone who is not working on their narcissistic traits because they lack accountability for their imperfections.”
Sense of entitlement
We’ve already talked about narcissists believing that they are better than everyone else. So, it should come as no surprise that these individuals feel like they deserve more than others.
“This could show up as feeling they are owed opportunities or special treatment,” says Frankfurt. “For example, this could be expecting rewards without putting in work or effort, or flouting rules and expectations because they feel they are above them.”
How to handle narcissistic behavior
The red flags are stacking up. If you recognize someone close to you in the above descriptions, you may well be dealing with a narcissist. In some cases, you can simply walk away from this person and make a clean break. However, if that is not possible for you, there are ways that you can manage their behavior. The first step is understanding it.
“Narcissists often employ a variety of manipulative and harmful tactics, which can have severe psychological impacts on those around them,” says Niloufar Esmaeilpour, MSc, RCC, SEP from Lotus Therapy & Counselling Centre. “Understanding these tactics is crucial in learning how to effectively deal with such individuals.”
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what you can expect from a narcissistic person and what you can do about it. Here are some of the most effective strategies you can use.
1: Set firm boundaries (and stick to them)
Spoiler: Narcissists will try to pull you into arguments. They might even thrive on them. Whether they’re blaming you for something or rewriting history, it may be tempted to sink to their level and debate the facts. Don’t make that mistake.
“It's important to avoid engaging in arguments or trying to outsmart the narcissist, as this can escalate the situation,” explains Esmaeilpour. When you start arguing with this person, it will only fuel the problem. Instead, you need to protect your own peace.
“Maintaining emotional distance and approaching interactions with a sense of detachment can help in preserving one's mental health,” continues Esmaeilpour. “Seeking support from trusted friends, family, or a mental health professional is also beneficial.”
2: Use the “Gray Rock Method”
Let’s say that this particular narcissist always has an opinion on your life. Let’s imagine for a second that they take every nugget of information you share with them and twist it. Or, worse, they store it for a later date when — out of the blue — they will use it against you.
Unclench your jaw. There’s a way to deal with this problem. Enter the Gray Rock Method.
“Since narcissists thrive on the emotional reactions and attention from others, this method involves making oneself emotionally unresponsive, bland and virtually invisible,” says Esmaeilpour. “This doesn’t mean becoming rude or ignoring the person entirely, but rather engaging in a very limited, unenthusiastic way, giving brief and non-engaging responses.”
“This method can be highly-effective in deterring a narcissist's interest and reducing their manipulative behavior,” she continues. “However, it should be used cautiously, as some individuals with strong narcissistic traits might escalate their behavior when they sense they are losing control.”
3: Walk away and protect your safety
Have you ever confronted a narcissist? If you’ve dared to question them, you may be familiar with the whirlwind informally known as narcissistic rage.
“Narcissistic rage is an intense, often explosive, anger or aggression resulting from a narcissist's perception of being threatened or slighted,” says Esmaeilpour. “It can be triggered by criticism, disagreement, or perceived lack of admiration.”
The rage storm can come in a variety of forms — verbal, physical, or passive-aggressive. Whatever you’re faced with here, the most important thing is to protect yourself. You must prioritize your safety and, should the situation escalate, remove yourself from it ASAP.
When it has passed, you have the opportunity to decide what to do next. “After such an incident, evaluating the relationship and considering the need for professional advice or potentially distancing oneself from the narcissist are crucial steps,” says Esmaeilpour.
4: Keep your own sense of reality
Narcissists often live in their own fantasy world, and they want you to join them in it. Of course, you don’t want to do that. If you feel like the person is distorting your sense of reality, you need to do something about it. Don’t allow them to change the way that you see things.
“Keeping a journal or record of events can be helpful in maintaining a clear sense of reality,” advises Esmaeilpour. In doing so, you will have a record of events as you saw them. Armed with that, you can be clear on your experiences.
Should the narcissist try to twist your memory of what happened, you can refer back to your own records and not waver from them. “Firmly but calmly standing your ground and refusing to be swayed by the narcissist's distortions is essential,” says Esmaeilpour.
5: Reach out to others for support
You’re not alone. Some narcissists will attempt to isolate you and make you feel as though you are. However, maintaining strong social relationships with other people is the way to go. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those who care about you and tell them what’s going on.
“It’s also imperative to seek support from people who validate your experiences and emotions,” advises Esmaeilpour. “Professional help from a therapist or counselor skilled in dealing with narcissistic abuse can provide strategies to manage these situations and rebuild your confidence in your own perceptions.”
6: Go limited or even no-contact
Should all else fail, you might have to do the unthinkable. Seeing less of the narcissist or even completely going no-contact could help you to protect yourself. If you are thinking of taking this step, it may help to work through it with a counselor before you do so.
“In some cases, limited contact or complete disengagement from the narcissist might be necessary,” says Esmaeilpour. “Remember, setting boundaries is not selfish; it's a necessary form of self-preservation and mental health maintenance.”
When a narcissistic person in your life uses the tactics we’ve spoken about in this guide, you have every right to protect yourself. Unfortunately, you can’t change another person’s behavior – nor is it your job to try. What you can do is use the approaches we’ve shared to deal with their behavior. As always, it’s important to remember that you need to put your own health and happiness first.