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How to Deal with a Narcissist

Three Parts:Dealing With a Narcissist Long-TermDealing With a Narcissist in the Short-TermStaging an Intervention

Narcissists can be difficult people to deal with. Their minds are limited in a way that prevents them from truly looking outside themselves, and their worlds are limited entirely to the internal while excluding the external. There are many circumstances that could have caused someone to develop into a narcissistic personality, and many forms of narcissism, but there are also a few basic practices that you can implement when dealing with just about any narcissist.

Part 1
Dealing With a Narcissist Long-Term

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    Learn to identify a narcissist. Before you start tossing the word around, you need to remember that a lot of people have some narcissistic tendencies but aren't necessarily narcissists. By learning what makes a narcissist you'll be able to better avoid them and deal with the ones already in your life.
    • A narcissist lacks empathy. This is the big indicator that someone is more than simply self-obsessed. A narcissist simply cannot understand another person's point of view and cannot feel what other people feel, which means that they act only to help themselves. For example: someone at work gets a big promotion; instead of congratulating that person, the narcissist has to turn the spotlight back onto themselves, by talking about why they should have gotten the promotion instead, or simply about something really good that happened to them.[1]
    • A narcissist also has little or no insight into their own actions. They need to be constantly admired and feel entitled to the best treatment and to unquestioning compliance from everyone in their life.
    • To know whether or not you are dealing with a narcissist, ask yourself a series of questions. Does the suspected narcissist behave as though the world revolves around them? Do they need to be complimented before giving you their attention? If you disagree with them, do they attempt to shut you down? Are your own feelings minimized? Are your conversations always redirected so they become about the narcissist? If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," you might be dealing with a narcissist.
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    Figure out your own needs.[2] If you are in need of someone who can provide mutual support and understanding, it is best to limit the time you spend with the narcissist in favor of others who can provide you with more of what you need. On the other hand, if the narcissist in your life is interesting or vibrant in other ways, and you do not need additional support, the friendship or relationship can work for the time being.
    • You need to make sure that you're not harming yourself by staying in contact with the narcissist. This is especially true if you have a close relationship with them (such as that of spouse, or parent), because your time will be more taken up by them.
    • If you find yourself exhausted by their neediness (they need constant validation, praise, attention, and unwavering patience), then you need to rethink your relationship with them. If you are being abused by them (manipulated, constantly talked down to, treated like you have no value) you need to get out immediately, because they are dangerous for your health.
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    Accept their limitations. If this person is truly important to you you will need to accept his or her narcissism. Stop asking or demanding support or attention from the narcissist that he or she is unable to provide. Doing so will accomplish nothing but making you feel more frustrated and disappointed, which will only damage the relationship more.
    • For example, if you know that your friend Bob is a narcissist, don't keep trying to bring up your own troubles with him, because he simply will not be able to empathize and will quickly turn the conversation back to himself.
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    Define your own self-worth by other means.[3] Ideally, self-worth is built from the inside rather than being dependent on outside support, but for many, self-worth grows stronger when others affirm their existence by valuing them as individuals. Do not go to a narcissist when looking for this type of support, though, since a narcissist will not be able to provide it.
    • Understand that even if you confide in that person, he or she will be unable to truly value the weight of what you've shared. They may, in fact, use this knowledge as means to manipulate you, so be careful what you tell a narcissist.
    • Remember that the narcissist's motto is "Me first." When dealing with them you will have to operate under their motto.
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    Try to have compassion. This might be easier said than done, but remember: in spite of all the supposed self-confidence the narcissist displays, deep down, there is a severe lack of true confidence that requires the constant approval of others to subdue. Moreover, the narcissist does not have a full life because he or she shuts down a wide range of emotion.
    • This doesn't mean letting them do whatever they want with you. It means that you remember that the narcissist is a human being who has been turned into somebody who can't connect with other people. This often happens as a result of narcissistic parents.
    • Also remember that narcissists have no understanding of unconditional love. Everything they do comes under the purpose of how it best serves them, which is a terribly lonely way to live.
    • It may help you to have compassion if you can remember these negative behaviors are projections of their own self-hatred and feelings of inadequacy.

Part 2
Dealing With a Narcissist in the Short-Term

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    Avoid the mind games. A lot of narcissists play mind games that force you to constantly be on the defensive and which shore them up. The best way to deal with these games is to recognize the game and to stop playing. To deal with a narcissist you have to keep your ego out of the running.[4]
    • Get out of playing the "blame game." A narcissist, obviously, cannot do any wrong in their own mind, which means they need someone to blame for any failures. At some point, it's going to be you. Instead of trying to argue, or explain how it's their fault, or get emotionally invested, you have to set boundaries. You have to keep track of what they've been doing, so you can say (in a non-accusatory tone) "Hey Dan, here's the inventory count which shows we do need more paper."
    • Narcissists tend to be really good liars. If you remember something very differently from them (especially if it puts them in a bad light) don't start doubting yourself. Don't try to argue it, however, unless you have absolute empirical evidence that you're right. Even then, a narcissist will manage to turn the whole thing around to reflect well on them.
    • The most important thing to remember is to cultivate a non-responsive attitude towards them. If you have a narcissist in your life, there will be jabs, put-downs, and lies. Don't respond. It's like a game of catch, only you don't need to catch the ball and throw it back. In fact, let the ball (the insults, mind games, etc.) sail right on past.
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    Do not expect to please a narcissist. Since the narcissist has a large ego and thinks overly well of himself or herself, they will likely see you as someone who is, in some ways, inferior. You might be able to win the narcissist's favor on a short-term basis, but you should never expect to be able to satisfy or impress a narcissist in the long-term.
    • Be prepared to fall short in their estimation, often. You will never be able to live up to what they expect you to be, which is someone who dances complete attention on them.
    • Try not to take their criticism to heart, by reminding yourself that it comes from a very off-balanced world view. Likewise, don't try to argue your merits with the narcissist, because they will be unable to hear you.
    • If they're constantly belittling you (whether a spouse, a parent, a boss) find someone you trust to talk over what they say (a trusted friend, a counselor, etc). If you can, get some space from the narcissist for recovery purposes.
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    Listen a lot. If you have to engage with the narcissist, the best way to deal is to simply listen. The narcissist will demand your attention and your ear, and will likely get angry or cold with you if you neglect to provide it. Everything has limits, of course, and if the narcissist in your life is demanding your attention at a time you cannot provide it, you should not cave in. If you plan on being in a friendship or other relationship with a narcissist, however, you should be prepared to do a great deal of genuine listening in regards to that person.
    • If you find your mind straying, ask them for clarification on an earlier point that you remember, so that you find your way back into the conversation. For example you might say "I was thinking about what you said about X and didn't hear what you just said. Could you repeat that?"
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    Be as genuine in your praise as possible. In all likelihood, there is some quality about the narcissist in your life that you admire. Build the majority of your praise around that quality. It will seem more sincere, which will keep you in the narcissist's good graces, and it will also be a constant reminder to yourself about why you keep this person in your life.
    • For example, if your narcissist is a really good writer, make sure that you tell them that. Say things like "You're really articulate. I love the way you manage to get your ideas across so clearly." They'll recognize your honesty and they'll be less likely to try to attack you.
    • If you really want to get into their good books you can say something like "You are so much better at writing than me. I never quite got the hang of expressing myself clearly." You build them up in opposition to you (and the world) which makes them feel better about themselves. Do not do this to the point that you start believing they do everything better than you.
    • Compliment them often on the personal attributes they are most proud of. Narcissists need much more affirmation and attention than most. They will bask in the compliments, and value the relationship. However, they are still likely to try to find ways to undercut and control you, due to their deep insecurities. Their methods can be very subtle and sophisticated, so be on-guard.
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    Smile and nod. If the narcissist in your life is someone you cannot choose to avoid contact with, and you find yourself unable to tolerate flattering that person as often as is necessary, the next best option is to keep quiet. You will not gain any favor with the narcissist by keeping your mouth shut, but by not disagreeing with that person, you passively give the impression of agreement.
    • Since a narcissist demands constant attention, smiling and nodding is a good way to give that to them without having to commit yourself to further interaction. This method works particularly well for those narcissists who aren't inextricably intertwined in your life (like a coworker or a friend you aren't super close to).
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    Persuade the narcissist that what you want benefits them. If you need something from a narcissist, the best way to get it is to frame the request in a way that suggests to the narcissist that there will be some benefit to him or her in providing it.[5]
    • For example, if you want to persuade your best female friend to go to a new restaurant with you, and her narcissism revolves around her social standing, say something along the lines of, "I hear it's the best place to go if you want to rub elbows with all the influential people in the community."
    • As another example, if you want to see an exhibit with your best male friend, and his narcissism revolves around his intelligence, you could say something like, "They say it's especially intriguing for clever people with quick minds."
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    Present constructive criticism in docile terms.The narcissist will never accept blatant criticism. He or she will probably assume that you are either jealous or simply ornery, and will devalue your opinion even more as a result. Avoid inflicting humiliation, even though it might be tempting to do so. Frame things in a way that invites the narcissist to believe that he or she still has the upper-hand.
    • For instance, if you need to remind a narcissistic client to pay you, gently remind that individual by asking them for a reminder of the agreed upon pay period rather than directly stating that the payment is late.

Part 3
Staging an Intervention

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    Consider an intervention. Sometimes, especially when the narcissist is someone you love (a significant other, a parent, a child), you may want to consider staging an intervention. This can be very difficult, as a narcissistic person can be very difficult to convince that there is something wrong.[6]
    • The best time to stage an intervention is after something very life-changing has happened to the narcissist (like an illness, a job loss, etc.) where the things that are feeding their ego are damaged or removed.
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    Get the help of a professional. You'll need a neutral and experienced party, as things can get emotional and stormy during the intervention. They can also help you plan the intervention and give you some idea how the intervention might go.
    • A professional can discuss with you the different options for therapy that you might try to convince your narcissist to undertake. Individual psychotherapy and group therapy both have their benefits and have been shown to help narcissistic individuals regulate their individuality and build their ability to see people as individuals who are as important as they are.[7]
    • Look around in your area and ask some people whose opinions you trust who they might recommend. You want to make sure that you have the right person for the task.
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    Recruit about 4 or 5 people. These people need to be people who are close to the narcissist in some way or who have been hurt by the narcissist but are willing to see them get the help they need.
    • Make sure that these people aren't going to warn the narcissist ahead of time and aren't going to spread gossip around about what is going on.
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    Plan the intervention. You do not want to do this as a spur of the moment thing. You'll need to plan out where and when and what you all are going to say and do. The professional can help you here with some of what you might expect from the intervention.
    • You'll need to develop a couple talking points. These are the main points that you want to stick to during the intervention. They can be things like how the narcissist's issues are hurting the family (give specific examples) and why you're having the intervention (they've become abusive, or they have stopped contributing to the family; again you want to be specific).
    • You need to have some sort of consequence for their actions is they refuse the intervention. This could be anything from ending the relationship, or not participating in activities that are important to the narcissist. This gives you a sort of leverage for them to change.
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    Make it clear how the narcissist is hurting themselves. It's important that you use your compassion during the intervention since the reason you're doing it is so that they have a chance to get better.
    • Use "I" statements. "I feel ignored when you constantly turn the conversation to yourself," or "I feel that you expect me to constantly be emotionally available without providing me with emotional support in return." Again, use specific examples of the times that they hurt you.


  • You can't win an argument with these types of people, even if you do win... you lose. Best advise is to keep clear and keep conversation to a minimum.


  • It is really important to be aware of your own mental health when dealing with a narcissist. If your quality of life is diminishing because of them, you need to get away even if they're a parent, a spouse, or a boss.
  • Remember that if you do stage an intervention, it doesn't mean that the narcissist will actually do what they need to do to get better. Likewise, therapy for narcissists does not always work, so be prepared for any outcome on that score.

Article Info

Categories: Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions | Antisocial Borderline Histrionic and Narcissistic Disorders