How to Deal With a Narcissist (and What Doesn’t Work)

These techniques are aimed at dealing with while interacting with a narcissist can help you get started on regaining your sense of self and sanity. Just like with anything this also takes time and practice. It is also helpful to learn and practice these techniques with someone you trust and have a well-established relationship with.

Practice does not have to be scheduled; it can simply be just reminding yourself of your intentions regarding your words and actions in natural interactions with others, especially starting with the people that you feel most comfortable with.

Do not give too much

Adopt the saying “Give to yourself without shame”. When around a narcissist one finds themselves relating what they say in a way which would be appealing to the narcissist, making it all about them. This is giving them exactly what they want. Don’t be ashamed to state your own opinions or needs. Give that clearance to yourself to do that. A better option is to make sure one is giving skillfully and not walking on eggshells.

  • Examples: doing extra unnecessary work for a narcissist that is really supposed to be their responsibility. Lavishing them with compliments, sympathy or praise when the situation does not call for it.

Do not give in

Know that it is within your power and right not to take everything and anything that is given to you. You don’t have to give into a projected image or characteristic of yourself. Narcissists can be very persistent; take this as good practice to solidify who you know who you are or where you stand on a topic or issue.

Do not fill space

Part of being around a narcissist is noticing the way they have trained others to anticipate their needs. Watch for ways in where you may be egging on their behavior to use you for their wants.

  • Examples: one can fall into doing favors for a narcissist so consistently that they start to expect that person to do those said favors without even asking anymore to see if they are available to do them or not.

Neutralize

Responding with neutral comments allow you to set space with you and the narcissist and not engage. You might feel the pull of the narcissist try to take you in the direction of their interpretation but it is important to just acknowledge that you are a calm and collected person thus that is the place your response is coming from.

  • Examples: “That’s interesting.” “I guess that’s how it goes.” “Take the good with the bad.” “Everyone’s different.” “That’s fine.” “Oh, well.”

Set boundaries for yourself

If any kind of abuse is happening to you it can be helpful to think about how and why that is being directed and allowed. It is vital to remember to do this without blame. Accepting responsibility is very different from blaming. There is the famous saying that goes “We teach others how to treat us”. Some reactions or thoughts that one is having can lead to instability in that person’s mental state and emotional world and with their relationship with others. Examples of those actions are apologizing for something that you are not responsible for, offering explanations and excuses when they are not necessary, and beating yourself up with toxic thoughts such as I am bad, stupid, and mean. Set boundaries for yourself to not fall into self-incriminating and self-defeating responses or actions that can perpetuate abuse from others.

Set boundaries for others

This is a very big topic. Generally speaking, when thinking of boundaries, remember that no one defines what you do, think, say, or feel. The narcissist will want things from you. Ask yourself: What do you authentically want to give or take and how do you want to give it or take it in (if take it in at all)? Follow this link to the separate page that will help with examples of boundaries and how to set them. Draw the red line and never let a narcissist be physically abusive to you. Call local authorities or someone you trust to get help if that situation arises.

Detach/Disengage

This is a very important tool. Once we have a good understanding of how a narcissist works as well as how we get trapped into their web we can then disengage from falling prey to their tactics as well as our internalized habitual responses. A narcissist is only as good as their audience allows them to be. The first step to disengaging is to get a good sense of you. Persistent exposure to narcissists results in losing sight of our identity, intentions, and worth to their projections and judgments. When you interact with a narcissist ask yourself: What words and intentions do I want to own and how do I want to own it? This draws the line between you and them.

Get professional help

This can be your first step in having someone to talk to. There is no shame in seeing a therapist; they are more equipped with knowledge of this issue than we are. A lot of therapists offer free consultations to see if you both are a good fit for each other. Check with your medical insurance to find a provider in your area. If your insurance does not cover mental health be aware some therapists also offer sliding scales of what they charge for an appointment. Find someone that not only has experience in the issues that you are looking to deal with but also someone that is easy for you to get along with, feel a secure sense of understanding between the both of you, and that you trust. It is okay to shop around. Click on the Resources Page to find out how.

Level the playing field

Cultivate the belief that you as a human being are equal, worthy, and valuable. No one person is better than the other. Once you have that inner dialogue you can approach matters from a balanced point of view as opposed to an inferior one.

Question

By asking the narcissist questions this directs the spotlight back on them. If ever you may be confused by why the narcissist is asking a question (looking for someone to blame, wanting to insult) ask them a simple “Why?”

  • Examples: Depending on the situation one can elaborate with “Why does that matter?” “Can you explain what you mean by (so and so).”

Silence/Ignore

Silence speaks when words can’t. This tool can also be useful to create space to give you time in figuring out if those types of comments which were said are ones to raise and stand up against or let go. This can also be used if you are just tired and just don’t want to respond; that is okay too.

Say No

Narcissists are known for their ability to use others. It is our own right to decide what we want to say yes or no to. The more no’s you can say to someone, the more yes’s you can say to yourself. If you cannot do something or do not want to do it, do not feel guilty, and do not feel like you have to provide an excuse or reason each time you say no.

Stay on the outside of a topic

Remind yourself that it is not about you. It is hard sometimes, especially when feeling vulnerable, to remember that your opinion of something does not reflect negatively on It is another perspective in this rich world. You can use facts, speak around or about a topic, and not say I but instead it to engage in conversation.

  • Examples: Instead of saying “I think not recycling is bad” say “Recycling (it) has been very beneficial to reducing waste in landfills.” This gathers information on the world from your own belief system and intelligence and does not allow easy access to someone attacking your belief system solely.

Assert

This should never be confused with wanting to fight or be a fighter. The narcissist will make you feel like that is the case. They are judging you that way because they want you to continue to be small and not stand up for yourself.

  • Examples: let’s say your spouse knocks your cooking. Though, you do not think there is anything wrong with what you are doing so you can respond with “At least I’m cooking.” This was not in reference to them being a poor cook but more a statement of that you are happy with the fact you are cooking no matter how.

Throw it back

Find words to say “This is not my problem; I hope the best for you in figuring it out.” This is a helpful tool to allow an issue to stay with them and not be projected onto you or leave you with blame.

  • Examples: “I’m sure you will figure it out.” “Good luck with that.” “I’m sorry you feel that way.” If you find a narcissist is being critical of your trait, manner, or the way you perform a task, let’s use the way you dress as an example, one can respond by throwing it back in their court by stating “Oh, it seems like what you are saying is appearance is important to you.” Essentially, it is what the narcissist is trying to say yet they are less tactful about the matter.

Go on the offense

In any type of sport players are usually playing defense or offense. Similar approaches are seen in presidential debates. At times being defensive is perceived as weakness, especially around a narcissist because they feel like they got you. Instead, try going on the offense when discussing issues. That way you are not arguing their point but stating ones of your own and making them play your way. Remember, the best defense is a good offense.

Own what you know

There are times when the narcissist will try to make another individual feel stupid. In their world, they are always right. In times when a narcissist is explaining or telling someone something that they already know you can respond with a “right” to confirm that you also know what they know. It is not a battle; it is a way to make you recognize your own intelligence.

  • Examples: “That was exactly what I was just going to say.” “That’s true.”

Do not attend every argument you are invited to

The Buddha once asked a young man “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?” The man responded with “Well, the gift belongs to me because I bought it.” The Buddha agreed with him and expanded on the theory by asking if someone tries to offer you a “bad” gift such as an insult, negative comment or attack, whose gift is it still? Theirs.

View them as if they are a child

The narcissist in a lot of ways is a victim of arrested development. Many times, their responses are very similar to that of a child’s. It is helpful to think of yourself as a teacher, narcissists have not been taught healthy coping skills in their lifetime and thus, you run into a lot of teachable moments together. Remember, this is different from trying to change or trying to solve their problems for them.

Let go of control

You cannot control or change quickly how a narcissist is. It is also not your fault for how they are. Let go of who they are not and work with the reality of who they really are.

Stand up for yourself

This much different from being defensive. The difference is when you stand up for yourself you are showing who you are with self-love and authenticity not trying to dispute or prove something is already not true. The more you show strength in yourself the less the narcissist sees you as a target.

Laugh it off

Let’s face it; some of the things that narcissists say are amusing. Once we are able to not internalize what they say we can give ourselves space from it by laughing. This is also a good response to some of the statements that narcissists say. They may be being serious but laughing is a light-hearted way to create space and neutralize an uncomfortable topic.

Make it about them

If you should find yourself in a situation where you really need something you can try to appeal to them.

  • For example, you can make it seem like something was their idea, or use how it would benefit them instead of saying how it would benefit you also.

No contact

This is a powerful solution to giving yourself space to deal with and/or heal from a narcissistic relationship. There is no shame or guilt in leaving a relationship, friendship, workplace, or even a family member if that is what you need to do to take care of yourself.

What Doesn’t Work

A narcissist should be held accountable for his or her actions. It is our right to stand up for who we are and what we believe in. Because a narcissist functions much differently that who we are it is wise to acquire techniques that work. It is also wise to look into what doesn’t work.

Reasoning

A narcissist is rarely swayed by reasoning. They have made up their minds and see no other way of doing anything. Instead of reasoning find out what you have control over in a situation and what you do not. Then work with what you have and set hard lines or boundaries in a situation to where a narcissist has no choice but to budge on issues. It is also important to remember to be consistent and not feel guilty for making those decisions that might upset them.

Appealing with emotion

A narcissist has little to no emotional world thus when one tries to explain to them that something hurt their feelings or they did not like a particular comment it can either fall on deaf ears or the narcissist will take it as narcissist injury.

Accusing or blaming

Again, this tarnishes their idealized image they have of themselves. When you point a finger it leads to narcissistic injury which can lead to narcissistic rage.

Fighting

A narcissist loves a fight. It is almost necessary to their survival, a way to protect their grandiose image they have created of themselves. They will win, not because they have valid points, but because they can continue arguing longer than most people have energy for.

Being defensive

This shows weakness. When you are being defensive you are appealing to the other person and looking for their approval in what you are saying. Instead, try going on the offense. Don’t get caught arguing their point, create ones of your own.

Trying to beat them at their own game

You will fail. First of all, you are not a narcissist so that will not come naturally to you. Secondly, not only will those techniques not work effectively for you but, in the end, leave you exhausted from all the work you exerting putting on a show and prolonging the battle.