Women's Journal

Dealing With Narcissists: An In-Depth Guide

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Narcissists can be extremely challenging people to have in your life. Their exaggerated sense of self-importance, lack of empathy, and exploitative behaviors often wreak havoc on relationships. Learning how to effectively deal with narcissists is essential for protecting your mental health and well-being. This comprehensive guide provides research-backed strategies for setting boundaries, coping emotionally, maintaining self-esteem, and communicating with narcissists.

Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and a need for excessive admiration. According to the DSM-5, the official diagnostic criteria for NPD includes:

  • Grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, brilliance or beauty
  • Belief they are “special” and should only associate with other high-status people 
  • Need for excessive admiration
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally exploitative behavior
  • Lack of empathy 
  • Envy of others or belief others are envious of them
  • Arrogant attitudes and behaviors

People with NPD often come across as arrogant, haughty, selfish, and uncaring. Underneath their bravado lies profound insecurity and vulnerability to even the slightest criticisms. Their behavior patterns directly relate to their personality disorder.

Setting Clear Boundaries

Firm boundaries are essential for managing narcissists’ self-serving behaviors. According to addiction specialist Dr. Louise Stanger, “It is important to set and strongly maintain your boundary with this individual.” 

Be explicit about what behaviors you find acceptable. For example, tell them, “I feel demeaned when you insult me. I won’t tolerate name-calling.” Then, clearly state the consequences if they cross boundaries, such as withdrawing from the conversation. 

Remember that narcissists may try to convince you your boundaries are unreasonable. Stay resolute in upholding them. You know best what makes you feel comfortable and respected.

Emotional Coping Strategies

Seeking emotional validation from narcissists is typically unproductive. You’ll need coping strategies to maintain self-worth despite their indifference or criticisms. 

Self-care activities like exercising, journaling, pursuing hobbies, and spending time with supportive loved ones can help stabilize your mood. Building resilience takes time when dealing with narcissism, but making your needs a priority will help you cope.

Maintaining Self-Esteem 

Narcissistic people frequently demean others to feel powerful. Their words can deteriorate your self-image if you internalize them. To maintain self-confidence:

  • Remind yourself your worth exists apart from the narcissist’s commentary.  
  • Stand up for yourself when they are dismissive or critical.
  • Seek positive feedback from non-narcissists.

Also, practice self-compassion when you feel hurt. Acknowledge the narcissist’s behaviors were unjust, then engage in uplifting self-care activities.  

Communication Strategies

When communicating with narcissists, be clear, calm, and consistent. Since they often ignore subtleties and project their own interpretations onto others’ words, directly state your perspective using simple language. 

For example, if they frequently complain about a mutual friend, say, “I disagree that Amanda has been a bad friend. She’s supported me a lot this year.” They may still argue, but unambiguous communication allows less room for misrepresentation.

It also helps to disengage when conversations become unproductive. As Dr. Stanger notes, “If the conversation remains one-sided, end it and move on.” Preserve your time and energy for interactions where you feel respected.

Leaving Toxic Relationships

If the narcissist in your life is your romantic partner, leaving the relationship may be the healthiest decision for your well-being. According to one study, partners of narcissists are more likely to develop PTSD symptoms due to chronic stress and emotional abuse.

Before exiting the relationship, discreetly work with a counselor to build the confidence needed to leave. Secure alternative housing and enlist trusted friends to help you move out quickly. Give the narcissist a little advance notice about your departure to avoid prolonged conflict.

Therapeutic Support 

If you must maintain a relationship with a narcissist, working with a therapist can help you implement boundaries, process feelings, and communicate effectively. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to help people detach from narcissists’ distortions and demeaning appraisals. Group therapy also provides solidarity and coping strategies.

Outlook Moving Forward

Dealing with narcissistic people necessitates vigilance in caring for yourself, upholding boundaries, and communicating clearly. With time and practice, you can effectively handle the challenges narcissists present while protecting your self-worth and mental health. Reach out for professional support whenever needed.

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