A narcissist has an inflated self-image, constant need for praise, and lack of empathy.1 They are often deceptive and have profound insecurities. It’s estimated that about 5% of the population has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD),2 so it’s likely that you’ve had to deal with one, whether a family member, friend, or coworker. It’s often best to remove yourself from a relationship with a narcissist, but sometimes that’s impossible.
7 Signs You’re Dealing With a Narcissist
A narcissist can leave you feeling worthless, devalued, and unappreciated. Dealing with a narcissist, whether it’s a family member, friend, or boss, takes a toll on your self-esteem and can leave you broken and dismayed. It’s a never-ending cycle of manipulations that get worse over time.
Someone might be a narcissist if they:
- Attempt to isolate you
- Tell you how to feel or act
- Challenge your reality or gaslight you
- Blame you for everything that goes wrong
- Monitor your friends and whereabouts
- Project their imperfections onto you
- Discount your opinions and needs
Here are 13 tips for dealing with a narcissist:
1. Determine What Type of Narcissist You’re Dealing With
There are two major types of narcissists: grandiose and vulnerable.3 The grandiose narcissist is highly confident, attention seeking, yet flexible. The best way to deal with grandiose narcissists is to get them on your team early and give them a key role.
Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, are passive aggressive and have low self-esteem. Grandiose narcissists are outgoing while vulnerable narcissists are more introverted. Provide reassurance to vulnerable narcissists to keep them on task and their emotions in check.
2. Respond Instead of Reacting
It is tempting to react to the narcissist’s manipulative tactics with shock, disbelief, anger and even pain, but these reactions give much needed supply to the narcissist.
In responding to narcissists, focus on the issue at hand and do not allow for deflection or projection. Bringing the attention back to the issue removes the narcissist’s ability to monopolize the conversation or change the subject. Be intentional and mindful of your words when responding to a narcissist, and learn about phrases that can help disarm the narcissist when they try to engage.
3. Avoid Direct Confrontation When Possible
Since narcissists are hyper-sensitive to criticism, calling them out is rarely helpful and can often lead to them spiraling out of control. You may even trigger their narcissistic rage. Instead, if you do need to give any negative feedback, try to frame it as much like a compliment as much as possible and only inject small doses of feedback.
4. Demand Action Over Promises
Narcissists are great at making plans for the future but rarely keep their promises. The best method to hold narcissists accountable is to confront the deception head on. Remind them of their promise and how everyone will be looking forward to seeing them (playing to their ego). Do not fill any request until your request is met.
5. Put Your Attention Back on Yourself
Narcissists thrive on attention—no matter how much you give, it will never be enough for a narcissist. But you can break the spell by focusing on your needs, goals, and desires. Remember that you are not defined by their perception. Take note of your strengths, use self-affirmations to boost your confidence, and make sure you have time for self care.
6. Keep the Conversation Brief
Narcissists are very good at over-talking and controlling the conversation. This form of manipulation gives them leverage, as they don’t leave time for you to get your point across.
Whenever possible, keep the conversation brief and focused, and redirect the conversation as much as possible. When you see that the conversation remains one-sided, end it and move on. In the end, it’s important to recognize that most situations with a narcissist remain unresolved.
7. Ask Them If Their Request Sounds Responsible
Narcissists can appear out of touch with reality, display abnormal and sometimes dangerous behaviors, “play games” with your emotions, or make suggestions that seem ridiculous and far-fetched. For example, they might ask you to co-sign on a car although they are unemployed, or buy a house with them even though they only work part-time. The question “Are narcissists dangerous?” can be a legitimate concern, so appropriate caution should be considered.
When responding to these irresponsible requests, ask the narcissist if what they are saying or doing makes sense. Create similar scenarios and ask how they would respond, or remind them of a time when they disagreed with a similar situation or request. Sometimes, giving a reasonable suggestion or alternative can persuade the narcissist to rethink their irrational requests.
8. Set & Maintain Firm Boundaries
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are habitual boundary-crossers. They have no problem bending and breaking rules because rules don’t apply to them. However, they hold their own boundaries near and dear.
When involved with these individuals, make sure that you set boundaries and vigorously maintain them. State what you will and will not accept and don’t falter. Any crack in your foundation is an invitation to violate and push your boundaries. Stand up for yourself, restate your boundary, acknowledge their unacceptable behaviors, and push back against their violations.
9. Remind Yourself That You’re Not at Fault
A narcissist may try to blame you for anything that they view as not going their way. Remember that your boundaries are important, including limiting what you are responsible for in their life. When they try to push the blame onto you, you don’t have to accept it.
10. Gently Point Out Their Behavior
Narcissists are usually unaware of the hurt they inflict on others. To them, their behavior is normal, and they will blame others for their failures and mistakes.
Gently point out and draw attention to the undesired behavior. As narcissists do not like to be seen in a negative light, they will quickly adjust their behavior in order to be perceived as positive.
11. If You Have to Be Around Them, Act Interested
If you’re dealing with a narcissistic boss or authority figure, sometimes it’s best to pretend that you’re fascinated. You do not have to agree or disagree. You can respond with “That sounds interesting,” “Tell me more about that,” or “How do you plan to implement that?” If it is a narcissistic coworker, you can tell them you are extremely busy, or say, “I would love to talk but I must get this done by the end of the day.”
12. Recognize When You Need Help
Because narcissistic abuse can be subtle, it can be hard to determine if you are a victim. It can be easy to fall into a cycle of narcissistic abuse and feel trapped without a way out. Signs that you may need to seek professional help vary from relationship to relationship, but if you are experiencing self-doubt or you question your worth, you may need to seek therapy from someone who is trained in identifying and helping those who suffer from narcissistic abuse.
Recovery can be a long process, and finding a mental health professional can take time, but it is worth the effort to start your healing journey.
13. Know When It Is Time to Leave
Narcissists are skilled manipulators and masters of deception. Tactics such as gaslighting, belittling, love bombing, and projection are tools used to narcissistic relationship patterns to try to maintain and control the relationship even when you’re working to end it.
If you feel out of sorts, confused, or can’t find the words to explain what is happening, it may be time to leave the relationship. It is not worth losing sight of yourself or your self-worth to stay in a relationship that is not meeting your needs. Narcissistic abuse syndrome is real and can have lasting impacts on a person – avoid it by knowing when to leave.
Not every relationship with a narcissist has the same dynamics. Those can change depending on the situation…
- If you’re in a romantic relationship with a narcissist, they may leave you constantly feeling like you’re “not good enough” and may gaslight you into staying in the relationship
- If you have a narcissistic mother or mother-in-law, she may compete with you, compare herself to you, or constantly present herself as a victim
- If you’re dealing with a narcissistic boss, they may act entitled and demanding, and never give you any positive feedback (but expect it from you)
- If you know a communal narcissist, they may believe themself to be the best listener and most giving person, while really keeping the attention on themself as much as possible
What NOT to Do When Dealing With a Narcissist
Figuring out how to handle a narcissist can feel like preparing for battle. You can never get your point across without an argument. If you do make a valid point, it is met with criticism or they will blame others.
Here’s are five things to avoid when dealing with a narcissist:
1. Telling Them They’re Wrong
Narcissists are never wrong. They will hold their stance even when presented with facts that discredit their point. They will find ways to poke holes in your evidence. However, you can tell a narcissist they are wrong without saying “you’re wrong.” For example, “You make a good point, but I see things differently” or “I don’t recall that.”
2. Giving In When They Push Your Limits
Remember your boundaries—but know that they won’t be respected by the narcissist. Be prepared for them to ask for more than what you’re willing to give, and be prepared to hold your ground.
3. Calling Them a Liar
Narcissists love telling tall tales regarding their accomplishments. Any challenge of their actions or attempts to deflate their ego puts them on guard, and pressing your point will only escalate the situation. Instead, try my personal favorite phrase: “It’s your story to tell.” Using humor is also a useful method.
4. Asking, “What’s the matter with you?”
Let’s be honest, no one likes to be asked this question. It is off-putting and throws you into defense mode. Even more so for a narcissist as they are “perfect in every way.” Their fragile egos and low self-esteem are at the heart of their narcissism.
Narcissists truly want to be understood and loved, so choosing your words carefully will go a long way in this situation. Be compassionate. Ask if they need to talk or vent.
5. Telling Them How to Do Something
Narcissists view any form of criticism as a personal attack. What they hear is that you are better than them. A narcissist will shut down, tell you to do it yourself, or say, “Don’t ask me for anything.” They will feel like they have done something wrong – which crushes their self-esteem.
Teamwork is your greatest asset in this scenario. Do not suggest that there is a better way but a different way. You can also say, “I didn’t know that you could do it that way. I usually …”
Final Thoughts on Dealing With a Narcissist
Dealing with a narcissist can be overwhelming and life changing, but understand that you are not alone and that there is a community of survivors of narcissistic abuse. It is crucial that you seek professional help if the abuse is extensive and long-lasting or if you feel that you are unable to recover and move on. Your ability to recover is dependent on understanding what you have experienced and finding ways for healing, self-care, and self-love.
Infographic: How To Deal With a Narcissist