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How to Deal With The Narcissist In Your Life, According To Relationship Experts

Krati Mehra
June 27, 2023
Krati Mehra
By Krati Mehra
mbg Contributor
Krati Mehra is an empowerment coach, host of Experible podcast, speaker, and writer. She has a Masters from University College London and a Bachelors in Psychology from Panjab University.

From your toxic boss to your emotionally unavailable ex, the term "narcissist" is thrown around a lot. While we all have the capacity to display some narcissistic traits, true pathological narcissism goes beyond that and is identified as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Here's how to spot a narcissist, plus expert-backed tips for dealing with them, so you can reclaim some peace.

What is narcissistic personality disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by grandiosity, entitlement, rage, and a lack of empathy. As psychologist Ketan Parmar, M.D., MBBS tells mindbodygreen, “Narcissism is a personality trait that exists on a spectrum, ranging from healthy to pathological."

Parmar also notes that healthy narcissism is normal and can even create a balanced sense of self-worth and confidence—but pathological narcissism refers to an excessive and distorted sense of self-importance and entitlement which can veer into abusive toxicity.

  • An exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • An overestimation of talents, skills, and abilities
  • A constant desire for praise, adoration, attention, and external validation
  • A sense of entitlement for special privileges and exceptions 
  • Pretentious, arrogant, disdainful, vain attitude 
  • Willingness to exploit, control, and manipulate others for personal gain
  • Grandiose fantasies of unlimited success, power, and beauty
  • Idealised self-image characterized by perfection, superiority, and ego
  • Strong feelings of envy and competition
  • A desire to make certain connections with the sole purpose of advancing one's own interests
  • Refusal to take responsibility and a tendency to shift blame onto others 
  • A lack of healthy boundaries and no regard for boundaries set by others
  • A lack of self-awareness
  • When criticized, an outsized angry and sometimes, violent reaction

It is crucial to point out that an individual can have some of these traits to varying degrees, but to meet the criteria for NPD, these symptoms should be severe enough to impair their functioning and interpersonal relationships.

How narcissistic personality disorder shows up in relationships 

According to existing research1 on narcissism, self-esteem, and love, while narcissists enjoy the attention and satisfaction provided by a romantic relationship, they are unable to truly care for another human being and don’t appreciate the emotional demands of a relationship. 

Their inflated sense of self needs constant validation from romantic alternatives, making them resistant to commitment and in some cases, prone to playing games as a tactic to create emotional distance. 

Another study2 exploring the lives of women in a long-term, intimate relationship with a narcissistic male partner revealed physical and psychological abuse, social isolation, and financial exploitation. The abuse had a deeply negative effect on their independence, sense of self, and mental and emotional wellbeing. 

Any challenge to the narcissistic partner’s superiority, sense of control, or their distorted perception of reality could lead to a violent response2. To avoid conflict, you may feel like you have to walk on eggshells and constantly subvert your own needs to accommodate their volatile nature.

This pattern may lead to hyper-vigilance and lasting emotional trauma. Despite the abuse, the complete loss of agency over time is why you may continue to stay in a relationship long past its expiration date. 

According to Parmar, narcissists also gaslight their partners, and while the relationship may begin with love bombing, it will eventually move onto devaluation. The narcissist repeats the cycle of rejecting and discarding, then love bombing again. 

“Narcissists may initially shower their partner with praise, attention, and affection, making them feel special and loved. However, this phase does not last long,” Parmar says, adding, “Once [the narcissist] feels bored or threatened by their partner's independence or achievements, they may switch to criticizing, ignoring, or demeaning them.”

Due to the unpredictability and controlling nature of the narcissist, and the lack of any real emotional intimacy in the relationship, you may feel anxious and depressed as the relationship goes on. 

How to deal with a narcissist


Educate yourself on the subject

Narcissists, with their surface charm and smooth confidence, often make a great first impression. Coupled with gaslighting and manipulation, when the connection turns toxic, you may find yourself confused and doubting your own judgment. For you to deal with a narcissist, it is vital that you understand the behavior and patterns they exemplify. 

Take the time to learn the signs of narcissism and the manipulation tactics employed by a narcissist. Understand the cycles of abuse you may get snared into—familiarity with how narcissism works may also help you get out of a situation before it’s too late. 

Something else that can also be immensely helpful is understanding what quality in your own character attracts narcissists and how to stop it from happening again. 


Stock up on your mental and physical reserves

Dealing with a narcissist can take a physical, mental, emotional, and psychological toll. So, before you wade into battle, make sure that your armory is fully stocked up.  

That means take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health and wellbeing. Get plenty of exercise and journal for self-reflection and to unpack your emotions. 

Grounding exercises can also help soothe and manage anxiety. You can also counter the emotional impact of a narcissist by shifting the focus onto your own dreams and ambitions. Actively nourishing yourself will keep you mentally healthy and emotionally engaged with something positive.


Strengthen your sense of self

Narcissists project their guilt onto others, manipulate, and gaslight—and when faced with criticism, they even resort to physical and mental intimidation. While engaging with a narcissist, it is essential for you to maintain a clear and strong sense of self. 

A clear self-identity will help you effectively deal with the narcissist's methods of persuasion and do so without losing your own self in the process. High self-esteem will also push you to stand up for yourself and confidently prioritize your own wellbeing, whatever that may mean for you.


Seek community and support

Even with a healthy sense of self, dealing with the abuse of a narcissist may leave you overwhelmed and exhausted. Creating a network of support (whether that’s seeking therapy, joining a support group, or simply confiding in friends and family) can help you cope better. Your loved ones can be your safe space and it can also be a reminder of what it feels like when you are around people who truly care. 


Create and enforce boundaries

Boundaries are important in every relationship, but when dealing with a narcissist, they can be the guardrails of your sanity. 

“Establish clear boundaries and communicate them assertively. Clearly define what behavior is acceptable and what is not,” suggests licensed marriage and family therapist, Marty Hosier LMFT. “Stick to your boundaries and be prepared to enforce consequences if they are crossed," he adds.

And as psychoanalyst, Lauri Hollman Ph.D., tells mindbodygreen, when talking to a narcissist, be a good listener and open potentially difficult conversations with compliments. When communicating your boundaries, do so calmly and with a gentle approach and be willing to listen.

Narcissists cannot stand to be criticized, so when they violate your boundaries, explain to them how your health and emotions have been impacted, but aim your words at their actions and not at their character. 


Don’t take their criticisms personally 

As aforementioned, narcissists have little to no insight into their own personality and how they are perceived by others. So, the negativity experienced in a relationship with a narcissist is really about them—not you. Their responses are about their skewed worldview.

They have a tendency to project their guilt onto others and deny accountability when confronted with the consequences of their words and actions. 

As painful as it may be when you’re on the receiving end of blame and baseless accusations, try to remain emotionally detached. When you know their projections come from an unhealthy place, it’ll be easier not to let such interactions impact your self-image. 

Remind yourself what a healthy, reciprocal relationship feels like as well—this can be the incentive you need to take appropriate action in your dealings with the narcissist.


Use the grey rock method 

According to Parmar, “Grey rocking is a technique that involves becoming as dull and uninteresting as possible to the narcissist. Avoid giving them any positive or negative reactions that they can feed on.” He further explains that responding with short, neutral and factual statements will help you avoid unnecessary drama and conflict with them.

If grey rocking fails to have the desired effect, don’t lapse into an emotional response. Licensed marriage and family therapist, Sara Sloan, says this will be par for the course with narcissists who will often try to change the narrative, which may create a feeling of emotional vertigo. 

“Narcissists will use emotional manipulations, such as gaslighting, to try to confuse what really happened in order to escape responsibility,” Sloan says. “So, the best thing to do in an argument with a narcissist is to continue circling back to the facts, over and over again.”


Make a clear plan of action

One of the ways narcissists like to bolster their self-esteem3 is by controlling others. It gives them a sense of superiority. They will try to provoke strong emotional responses, and as you feel less and less in control, the narcissist will use the situation to further manipulate you.

They may use the moment to shift blame, invalidate you, or to draw you into a long-drawn out fight that feeds their need for attention. 

So, don’t impulsively react to a narcissist. Instead, devise a clear plan of action, keeping in mind your expectations from the relationship. Pick strategies that will be best suited to your situation, the narcissist you are dealing with, and their chosen methods of attack. Develop skills that will help you assert yourself and engage in confrontation without spiraling. 


Consider terminating contact

Even with all your care, compassion, and support, you may not be able to heal a narcissist. Staying in such a relationship can break your spirit, which will serve no benefit to you. 

If you find yourself feeling drained and exhausted—and if it’s a viable option—consider walking away from the relationship and terminate all contact. If leaving is not an option, establish boundaries that limit contact. 

(Psst: Here’s an article that will help you do just that.) 


Seek professional help

It’s highly recommended that you involve a mental health expert when dealing with a narcissist. According to Hosier, “A mental health professional can provide guidance, support, and strategies tailored to your specific situation."

If possible, persuade the narcissist to see a professional too, but don't get hung up on it if they refuse. Devoid of empathy, narcissists don’t much care about how their behavior may be affecting others. They are also very resistant to any kind of self-reflection, and refuse to see themselves as someone less than perfect. All of this will make it very difficult for you to get them to seek help.

You, however, can use therapy as a tool to help you move forward even if they won't.


What is a narcissist’s weakness?

Narcissists blame others for their suffering and don’t accept responsibility for the state of their life or relationships. When someone suffers from grandiose or vulnerable narcissism, their inability to look inward becomes their greatest weakness.

How do you shut down a narcissist?

The best way to shut down a narcissist is through emotional detachment and unresponsiveness. If you do find yourself having to deal with a narcissist, adopt an indifferent attitude to their provocations. If caught in an argument with a narcissist, stick to facts.

What should you never do to a narcissist?

It is best to avoid behavior that feeds the narcissist and exacerbates the situation. Avoid emotionally fraught arguments and don’t challenge their self-concept or their beliefs about the world. Deny them the attention and admiration they constantly seek.

How do you mentally beat a narcissist?

Fighting will only feed the narcissist’s desire for attention. To mentally beat a narcissist, stay disengaged, prioritize your own wellbeing, and maintain your boundaries.

The takeaway

It can be difficult to even comprehend just how a narcissist’s mind works, let alone predict their actions with any accuracy. If you do find yourself having to deal with a narcissist, it’s best to manage your expectations and prioritize what truly matters, your growth and wellbeing. 

It will also be helpful to further understand a narcissistic relationship pattern, how to talk to a narcissist, and in the event of abuse, how best to break away from a narcissist.

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