Throughout the years that I’ve spent researching emotional abuse as a self-help author, I’ve communicated with thousands of survivors of narcissistic individuals as well as many manipulation experts. I have learned that there are certain things you should avoid doing with a narcissist in order to practice harm reduction if you are currently in a relationship with someone you believe lacks empathy. Narcissistic individuals follow certain patterns of behavior that thankfully are predictable enough that we can establish some general guidelines for people who may be encountering one for the first time, or for people who suspect they have been entrenched in an abuse cycle with a manipulator.
A narcissist’s arsenal of manipulation tactics include behaviors such as:
Love-bombing, devaluation and manufacturing love triangles as well as pitting people against one another. As therapist Andrea Schneider writes, love bombing is when “the narcissistic person may smother the target with praise, courting, intense sex, vacations, promises of a future together, and designation, essentially, as the most special person ever.” Narcissists later devalue their targets as they push them off the pedestal. Dr. Dale Archer explains that, “Devaluation becomes a tool to keep the victim isolated and dependent…Each time, the devalued partner has to work harder to get back in the love bomber’s good graces, usually by sacrificing something that competes with him for attention.” Narcissists can also create triangles in families and the workplace, pitting people against one another to get a sense of power, validation, and control.
Lashing out in narcissistic rage when they are exposed in some way or confronted, or when they perceive a slight to their grandiose sense of self. When narcissists feel like you are questioning their false sense of superiority, they “suffer” what is known as a narcissistic injury, and subsequently, narcissistic rage and attempt to punish the target who speaks out against them. As Dr. Mark Goulston notes, “Hell hath no fury or contempt as a narcissist you dare to disagree with…What is at the core of narcissists is not what is often referred to as low self-esteem. What is really at the core of narcissists is an instability in their ability to feel and sustain feeling bigger, larger, smarter and more successful than everyone else which they need to feel stable. “
Ruining special occasions because it takes the focus off of them. Narcissists need to be front and center and need to turn the focus back on them. This means they will actively try to sabotage celebrations and holidays just so they can take center stage. As Dr. Sharie Stines notes, “Narcissists have a tendency to practice seasonal devalue and discard during the holidays, focusing these abuse tactics on their nearest targets and closest partners. Why do they do this? Because they have no empathy and cannot handle intimate relationships and are compelled to do what it takes to destroy them.”
Based on these behaviors and more, here are eleven things you should never do with a narcissist if you can help it:
1) Never travel with them or go on a promised “dream vacation.” Narcissists are notorious for abandoning their victims in foreign countries and making dream destinations a trip to hell. I’ve even heard from survivors who’ve been devalued on what should’ve been one of the most special times in their lives – their honeymoon. Vacations may initially serve as a platform for love bombing, but they later disintegrate into sites to isolate and degrade the partner. Be wary of any partner who exhibits any of the red flags of narcissism asking you to a romantic get-away – whether it be to Italy or California. They are looking for ways to get you alone so there aren’t any witnesses to their abusive behavior – whether that be grooming or verbal and psychological abuse.
2) Never spend holidays, special celebrations, or your birthday with the narcissist. They are infamous in sabotaging events which would make you happy and take the attention off of them. Do not disclose when you are meeting an important deadline or have an interview. They will try to ruin it. As Dr. Ramani Durvasula advises, “If you have that partner that doesn’t listen, if you have that boss that’s sabotaging you, if you have that friend who is chronically not compassionate, when you have something good happen to you or something you want a sounding board for, don’t take it to them.”
3) Attend get-togethers with their friends or large groups (unless you do want to learn how they interact with them). Narcissists use these activities to create love triangles and to flirt with others in front of you to get you to vie for their attention. This is known as “triangulation.” The trauma of this type of triangulation and knowledge of their harem can be devastating. If you can, refuse invites to attend social gatherings with the narcissist. It will only cause more pain and a sense of alienation as the narcissist charms the crowd while devaluing you.
4) Attend activities that involve your family or the narcissist’s family. Again, this is a prime site for triangulation. In addition, narcissists can provoke you behind closed doors to make you appear unhinged or emotional to their family and friends while they play the calm, collected partner. Don’t give them the opportunity to depict you in this manner. If you do have to attend a family gathering of theirs for any reason, make sure you remain calm and only speak the facts.
5) Give into their love-bombing attempts. As we talked about before, love bombing is a way for the narcissist to fast-forward emotional and physical intimacy. Don’t let them. Slow down interactions with them as they try to speed up intimacy and manufacture a connection. Never allow them to overwhelm you with the intensity of love bombing or constant contact by responding to every text, phone call, or request for in-person meetings right away. This will ensure you have enough time and space to yourself to remain detached.
6) Do not give them loans, accept any financial “help” from them, or sign contracts with them. Do not sign a lease with them or cohabitate. Do not get a pet with them and avoid having children with them if possible. Do not make large purchases with them. Do not accept large gifts or depend on them. Having any financial ties to a narcissist will only work against you in the long run. There is no such thing as a “free gift” with an abuser. You will always pay, in more ways than one.
7) Let them speak freely without documentation. If in any kind of business deal with a narcissist or you are experiencing any kind of manipulation, stalking or harassment from a narcissist, don’t let the narcissist contact you through phone calls. Instead, stick to e-mails, texts, voicemails, and in-person meetings if the laws in your state permit recording individuals or you can bring a witness. Documentation is very important should you ever want to bring a legal case against an abuser or if you want to simply resist their gaslighting attempts.
8) Don’t attend couples counseling with them or tell them what you’re up to – especially if you plan to leave them. As I wrote about in a previous article, there are many reasons why couples counseling with a narcissist is sure to fail – including the fact that they use everything you say in the therapy room against you and use the therapy space as a site of further gaslighting and triangulation. It’s best to go to individual trauma-focused counseling instead and prepare behind the scenes to leave your abuser rather than disclosing what you feel like doing or will do. Giving the narcissist information about what you will do next only gives them the ammunition to derail you. If you plan to divorce a narcissist, for example, don’t tell them right away until you’ve gathered all the necessary paperwork, made a safety plan for you and any children you have, consulted with a divorce lawyer well-versed in high-conflict personalities, and managed all your finances. They will try to sabotage your attempts to leave them.
9) Never confront them with the fact that they’re a narcissist if you can help it. If you try to tell a narcissist they are a narcissist, they will inevitably lash out in rage as they are prone to do, or worse, punish you for exposing them. They will resort to major gaslighting and more love-bombing to win you back and make you think they’ve changed. This only keeps you stuck in the abuse cycle. Instead, focus your energy on detaching from and exiting from the relationship safely.
10) Disclose your deepest wounds, insecurities, traumas, and fears. Self-disclosure is a healthy part of any relationship, but with a narcissist, it becomes ammunition in a battleground. Narcissistic individuals will use everything and anything you disclose to them against you. That means everything you shared with them will inevitably be thrown back at you to paint you as unstable, “crazy,” or “losing it.” Instead, take your time to build a sense of organic trust with someone and let their actions and patterns tell you whether they are even trustworthy enough to have the privilege to hear your life stories.
11) Ask them for help in a crisis. As we know, narcissistic individuals lack empathy and demonstrate entitlement. In past articles, I’ve written about some of the horror stories survivors have experienced as they were callously abandoned by or bullied by narcissistic individuals during some of the worst moments of their lives in times of grief, loss, and life-threatening illness. If you are lucky to have a support network outside of the narcissist, or can find one in your community, rely on them during times of crisis. Do not let the narcissistic individual know what you are going through if you can help it – they will only make the situation worse and terrorize you.
The Big Picture
If you have been targeted by a narcissist, know that it is not your fault. Narcissists enjoy bullying those who evoke their pathological envy and associating themselves with those they deem “special and unique.” If you have been targeted, there are ways to practice harm reduction as you find ways to detach from and ultimately exit the relationship. Learn about the red flags and the associated behaviors of these toxic types, and you can hopefully prevent some emotional damage as you pave the path to freedom.
Archer, D. (2017, March 6). The Danger of Manipulative Love-Bombing in a Relationship. Retrieved November 18, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201703/the-danger-manipulative-love-bombing-in-relationship
Durvasula, R. (2018). Speaking of Psychology: Recognizing a narcissist. Retrieved November 18, 2019, from https://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/narcissism
Goulston, M. (2012, February 9). Rage-Coming Soon From a Narcissist Near You. Retrieved November 18, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/just-listen/201202/rage-coming-soon-narcissist-near-you
Schneider, A. (2015, March 25). Idealize, Devalue, Discard: The Dizzying Cycle of Narcissism. Retrieved November 18, 2019, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/idealize-devalue-discard-the-dizzying-cycle-of-narcissism-0325154
Stines, S. (2018, December 26). When the Narcissist (or other Such Emotional Abuser) in Your Life Ruins the Holidays. Retrieved November 18, 2019, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/recovery-expert/2018/12/when-the-narcissist-in-your-life-ruins-the-holidays/