Last week I discussed 10 signs of narcissistic behavior that can be very detrimental to others, primarily those who have grown to trust the narcissist. That article was written with the goal of stimulating discussion (and even disagreement) to help broaden our lens about the topic. As you know, narcissistic behaviors are often inflexible, self-centered, vain, and egotistical. No matter how nice or caring some narcissists may appear, it is important to understand that this facade is likely to fade if you challenge these narcissists, go contrary to them, or do not give them what they want when they want it. Relationships with such emotionally unstable individuals are often one-sided. This week I will look at ways to protect yourself from the narcissistic behavior that we have all encountered at some point in our lives.
It’s sad to admit that my own field is divided on the topic of narcissism. One side believes that there is hope for the narcissistic individual and that a narcissist should be shown love, compassion, and understanding. While part of this is true, we cannot ignore the fact that love, compassion, and understanding are often foreign to the narcissist. The other side of the “clinical spectrum” believes that there is absolutely no hope for the narcissist and that treatment will likely result in little to no progress. There is certainly no in-between. Just read some of the posts on Facebook or other social media sites about narcissism and you are likely to see a great divide in opinions. Everyone has something to say about the narcissistic personality.
Despite the various opinions, it is essential to remember that the ultimate goal of narcissists is to increase their status, perceived power, or to gain something in some way. These individuals are incapable of true love and affection, and struggle to understand reciprocity. Relationships with a narcissistic person almost always become controlling, emotionally damaging, psychologically draining, and even traumatizing. Sadly, many of my former adolescent girl clients have experienced short-term relationships with a narcissistic boy. These relationships included domestic violence, rape, an introduction to substance abuse, and/or frequent engagement in partying that resulted in negative consequences such as one-night-stands or pregnancy. Many adolescents are also susceptible to becoming victims to narcissistic boys who prey on innocent female girls online in hopes of getting them to “sext” or send nude pictures. For adults, relationships with narcissistic individuals almost always results in a loss of finances, emotional stability, housing, or relationship.
Narcissism is a bigger problem than we realize. As a result, it’s important to understand how to protect yourself from individuals who are incapable of being reciprocal and understanding your feelings and needs. A few things you can do to protect yourself include – but are certainly not limited to:
- Having appropriate boundaries: Narcissists hate boundaries because the “the world revolves around” them and everyone should listen to them. Boundaries make the narcissist understand that there are other people in the world who have feelings, expectations, goals, and dreams as well. Boundaries remind the narcissist that you are not blinded by their so-called “charm” and that you respect yourself. When you feel manipulated, used, mistreated, or exploited, stop participating in the problem. Back away and figure out how to erect boundaries. Think of boundaries as your personal “stop sign.”
- Being realistic. Not fantasizing or romanticizing: Some narcissists are so charming that they can have you feeling angry one moment and completely mesmerized the next. Their charm, intelligence, attractiveness, people skills, “intuition,” and social mannerisms can all be appealing and distracting. But keep in mind that these very traits you admire will most likely become the same traits that will hurt you. An important thing to remember about narcissistic individuald is that they lack insight into their behaviors and how they affect others. They operate in a world of “me only.” Someone who lacks insight can also be someone who lacks empathy. They are incapable of putting themselves in your shoes and imagining how their behavior is affecting you. In cases such as these, protect thyself.
- Expecting the worst: It’s unrealistic to go into a relationship with a self-centered person believing that your needs will be met, because they will not. You are only setting yourself up for disappointment or heartache. It’s not uncommon or “abnormal” for you to desire the love, care, and attention of someone you thought you could love. But once you understand just how little you mean to the narcissistic person, you will be better able to make healthy decisions for yourself. Sometimes the decision you have to make includes separation.
- Moving away: Don’t feel guilty for having to move away or put space between you and the narcissistic individual. Also be mindful not to get sucked into the idea that “I am not being compassionate or caring” if you have to protect yourself. Narcissistic individuals can be very detrimental to your life and emotional well-being. Protect yourself. Protecting yourself involves recognizing when it is time to move on or move away so that you can reassess the situation and figure out if the relationship is working or worth keeping. Be mindful of the fact that a narcissistic individual is likely to attempt to charm you or guilt-trip you if you try to move away. Know why you need to separate and stand your ground. Remember that narcissistic people are often pursuing certain things for their own gain.
- Understanding their emotional void(s): Although you would be putting yourself on the line if you were to feel sorry for the narcissist and fall back into a pattern of being taken advantage of, it’s important to have some understanding of why the person is the way he/she is. Educating yourself to the person’s personality traits can help you better “navigate” this person in your life. For example, if you understand that a narcissistic person has a combination of environment and genes at play, you may be better able to control your emotional reactions to the person. Once you recognize that the person is often highly incapable of seeing their own flaws, you won’t become so angry with the fact that the narcissistic person cannot understand you. Another example may be learning about the narcissist’s emotional needs in order to protect yourself from being exploited. If you recognize that the narcissist is insecure and needs to feel approved of, you will be less likely to lash out if this person boasts or strokes his or her own ego.
- “Catering” to them: As angering as this suggestion may be, it can be helpful (especially if the relationship is unavoidable) to find ways to make the narcissist feel your approval. If you can get the person to trust you and respect you as a person, you may be more likely to get “closer” to the narcissist. Although narcissists are emotionally void and selfish, they crave approval and attention. If you approve of them in some ways and respect certain things about them, let them know and find ways to build your “relationship” based on their strengths.
It can be difficult to understand and even spot the narcissistic personality. But with knowledge and open eyes, you will be able to spot some of the behaviors that often characterize an emotionally void and self-centered person. Education truly is power. Once you understand that you are dealing with a narcissist or someone who is incapable of empathy, you will be better able to determine how you want to respond and protect yourself. I encourage you to try the above 6 tips in your own life.
Can you think of other things we should consider doing if we are being manipulated by or harmed by the narcissist?
For more information on this topic, check out this interesting article written by psychiatrist and author Judith Orloff: How to deal with narcissism.
As always, I wish you well
Caprino, K. (2015). How extreme narcissism wrecks havoc on your life and what to do about it. Forbes. Retrieved online from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2015/07/06/how-extreme-narcissism-wreaks-havoc-on-your-life-and-what-to-do-about-it/.
Psychologytoday. (2011). Do narcissists know they are narcissists? Beautiful Minds. Retrieved online from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201103/do-narcissists-know-they-are-narcissists.
Psychologytoday.(2011) How to spot a narcissist. Retrieved online from https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201106/how-spot-narcissist.