How To Handle A Narcissist And Protect Yourself

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated September 2, 2022

Do you know a family member, friend, or co-worker who always wants to be the center of attention, who lacks any sense of empathy or compassion for others, and who doesn’t mind throwing under people under the bus to get what they want? If this sounds familiar, you may know someone who has narcissistic personality disorder. However, identifying this individual with this disorder should only come after a trained professional has given that diagnosis. Online therapy services can offer you guidance on how to interact with a narcissist. 

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is one of several types of personality disorders and is characterized by a need for excessive admiration, an inflated sense of self-esteem, and a total lack of concern for others. People with narcissistic personality disorder become easily bored with relationships and often have a path of destroyed or fragmented relationships that follow them, such as learning how to deal with a narcissist boyfriend. They also often experience narcissistic rage that can come with the condition.

Identifying a Narcissist

Talking With Narcissists Requires Building Boundaries

While having some of the following narcissistic characteristics does not automatically mean that someone will be diagnosed as having a narcissistic personality, the presence of more than one of these traits could indicate who may most likely have the disorder. These narcissistic traits are outlined by the American Psychiatric Association.

Some of the most common character traits of narcissists include:

  • They demand admiration from others. Narcissists are generally preoccupied with the opinions of others and are often easily offended if they are not given the kind of adoring recognition they believe they deserve.
  • A narcissist will exhibit confidence that seems to know no boundaries. They tend to believe they are unique and that only a person with the same superior qualities can begin to understand them. Their strong sense of self-importance and high self-esteem can cause them to get very upset by even the slightest criticism.  
  • People with narcissistic personality disorder are known to be rule breakers. They generally show little regard for people who are authority figures and show no remorse when they break rules. Many narcissists do not end up with a criminal history because they are so good at manipulating others and placing blame, they often talk their way out of accountability.
  • At the beginning of a relationship with a narcissist, it almost feels unbelievable, or too good to be true. If a narcissist is involved, it usually is too good to be true. A person with NPD is a charmer. They will say and do whatever it takes to get your attention and your affection (even if they don’t deserve it). Narcissistic behavior may not be immediately obvious as a narcissist can be very cunning and manipulative. However, the longer a relationship (personal or intimate) with a narcissist continues, the bolder they may become with the behavior.

In addition to individual differences in narcissistic traits between narcissists, there are also two different kinds of narcissism, grandiose and vulnerable. Grandiose narcissism is the type that is most recognizable and is what we usually refer to when we talk about narcissists. Grandiose narcissists are the type outline above—the ones who tend to lack empathy, consistently overestimate their abilities, and struggle to maintain healthy relationships.

Vulnerable narcissism is often less apparent and can be difficult for even a clinical psychologist to identify. While vulnerable narcissists also believe they are superior to most and tend to lack empathy, they are usually introverted. Like grandiose narcissists, vulnerable narcissists also typically do not respond well to even constructive criticism, which they could perceive as intended to damage their self-esteem. Because vulnerable narcissists are more restrained and subdued in their approach, vulnerable narcissism is also called covert narcissism. It can be extremely challenging to maintain a healthy relationship with a person who exhibits either type of narcissism.

It’s All About “Me”

Conversations with a narcissist may leave you feeling like nothing you say is important or of any value. At first, the narcissist may change the subject in such a subtle way that you don’t realize it. However, the more comfortable they become with you, certain behaviors will likely become more obvious, and the fact that there is no regard for your thoughts or empathy for your feelings will be very evident.

People with narcissistic personality disorder have a strong sense of self-importance that can lead them to believe that the world revolves around them. They expect constant, often excessive attention. Narcissists want things their way, even if it means violating your personal boundaries to accomplish that.

Ways to Handle a Narcissist

The most important thing to remember when you deal with a narcissist is the narcissist does not care about your feelings or motives. Unless you have something to offer that furthers their agenda, a narcissist will become easily bored and move on to a new target.

The first step in handling a narcissist and protecting yourself is to see them for who they are. It’s easy to get caught up in the charm and magnetic energy that seems to flow from a narcissist. However, if you suspect that something is “not right,” take the time to watch how they treat others. If you observe disrespect toward others, catch them lying or manipulating, it’s safe to say that the narcissist will do the same to you once they have gotten what they want out of your relationship.

Set Boundaries

As you learn how to deal with a narcissist, take the time to set personal boundaries. This means deciding what you are comfortable with and what you are not and making it clear to the narcissist. Remember, just because narcissists don’t care about boundaries when it comes to their own lives, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have them. Rather, that is even more reason why you should set personal boundaries when dealing with a narcissist.

Take the focus Off the Narcissist

Narcissists tend to be attention-seekers. Whether the attention is positive or negative, a person with narcissistic personality disorder will do whatever it takes to remain the center of attention. Because narcissists require so much attention, it is easy to neglect your own needs and wants. To protect yourself, you must take the focus off the narcissist and start practicing some self-care.

Expect Upset Reactions

People with narcissistic personalities expect everything in the universe to revolve around them. Therefore, when you take the focus off them, you can anticipate a strong reaction to happen. This individual may not do well with boundaries, so when you set them or when you speak up for yourself, expect them to push back with their own demands. During this time of transition, it is not uncommon for narcissists to use manipulation to try and make you feel guilty or to try to create self-doubt by convincing you that you are being unreasonable or unfair. This is a sympathy tactic; don’t fall for it.

Remind Yourself That This is Not Your Fault

People with this type of disorder do not readily admit a mistake and will not likely take responsibility for causing you grief or pain. On the contrary, they often project their own negative behavior onto others and get angry or act bewildered when things don’t go the way they want. Whatever you do, don’t take the blame for things that are not your fault. Making peace by accepting blame will only make the situation worse.

Have a Support System

Narcissists have no problem making others feel cut off from friends and loved ones. This is just one of the many reasons for having a constant support system is vital for your safety and well-being. Talk to a friend or family member, if possible.

However, if friends or family members are not an option, there are other ways to get help. Connecting with a counselor or other mental health professional can give you a safe outlet for talking about the abuse you are experiencing and can give you the opportunity to create a plan of action focused on getting you to a safe place where you can be free from the trauma created by narcissistic behavior.

When It’s Time to Move On

No matter how much you care about someone with narcissistic personality disorder, if the person becomes emotionally or verbally abusive, it is important to protect yourself.

Signs of narcissistic abuse may include:

  • Patronizing or humiliating you
  • Yelling at you or threatening you
  • Name-calling or using insulting language
  • Making false accusations or being possessive of you
  • Telling you how you should feel instead of listening to your thoughts and feelings
  • Belittling your needs or opinions

Additionally, if a person with narcissistic personality disorder blames you for everything, monitors your activities or attempts to isolate you, these are also signs of abusive behavior. Projecting their shortcomings on you and denying the truth in an attempt to confuse you or make you question your own sanity are other examples of emotional abuse.

Every relationship has periods of ups and downs. However, there are some things that are strong indicators that it is probably best to leave a relationship with a narcissist for your own protection. If you are being emotionally, verbally, physically, or sexually abused, you need to get out of the relationship to protect your wellbeing. If you feel controlled, manipulated, or threatened, protect yourself by getting out. Further, if your physical health or mental wellbeing is being negatively affected, it’s time to protect yourself and move on.

Finding Sources of Help

If you have a person with a narcissistic personality in your life, there are sources of help. While talking with friends and/or loved ones can be helpful, there are times when professional help may be necessary. This is especially true if you have experienced abuse or if you are having difficulty coping with a narcissist’s manipulative behavior. Despite what a narcissist will tell you, it is okay to protect yourself and make decisions that promote your own mental health. We recommend professional counseling for dealing with narcissism in your life. Talking to a clinical psychologist or other mental health professional can help you process complex emotions arising out of a relationship with a narcissist.

Talking With Narcissists Requires Building Boundaries

Most communities have a local mental health clinic where services are available without a referral. For some, the thought of meeting someone face-to-face can feel frightening or even unsafe. If you need to talk to someone but aren’t comfortable meeting with a counselor or therapist in person, online counseling is an accessible alternative to find help. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that online therapy is an effective method of providing care for a variety of mental health concerns.

One example of online counseling services is provided by BetterHelp. At BetterHelp, licensed, trained, and experienced mental health care providers will work with you to develop a plan of care that is tailored to your needs as you prepare to live a life free of abuse. You can connect with BetterHelp from home or anywhere else that you feel safe and comfortable. And treatment is private—you won’t have to discuss your treatment plan with medical reviewers or anyone else who isn’t your therapist.

Remember, you are not alone, and you deserve to live a life that doesn’t make you feel trapped. Reach out today. Help is always available.

Other Commonly Asked Questions

What to say to disarm a narcissist?
How do you get a narcissist to respect you?
How do you neutralize a narcissist?
How do you communicate with a narcissist?
How do you make a narcissist miserable?
How does a narcissist argue?
How do you beat a narcissist in a conversation?
How does a narcissist apologize?
How do you calm a narcissistic rage?

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