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3 Secrets to Outsmarting a Narcissist (By Not Trying to)


Is it possible to outsmart a narcissist? Perhaps, but only if you’re willing to downgrade your standards to act like one.

Admittedly, this post began with a trick question! The point was to say, first of all, why would you want to? And also, that taking that approach can be trap! (What a narcissist wants…) This post explains why.

The narcissist has a wounded ego, and the suffering they cause is a projection of their own inner suffering and wounds they avoid. Their greatest fear is to be thought of as crazy, weak, not in control, dominated, inferior, irrelevant, and the like. It explains why they take pleasure making others feel this way.

When you’re in the trenches with a narcissist — trying again and again to get through to them, to get them to stop hurting you, to get them to understand why this hurts you or the impact their behaviors have on others, and so on, is futile. To understand why, you must necessarily view the narcissist’s behavior patterns and responses from their worldview and vantage point. Only then do their tactics makes sense.

You may not be able to outsmart a narcissist, but what you can do, however, is far more powerful, and amazing for that matter, in that you turn the situation into an opportunity to grow stronger and smarter, more courageous and real, cultivating a more authentic connection to life in and around you, thus turning fear and pain you experience into assets. 

If the goal is to prove who will win, and be declared an impenetrable force, this article may not be for you. If your goal, however, is to grow and learn “what” you need to know along the way about the narcissist, and more specifically what this triggers inside you that needs healing, there are a few “need to know secrets” that can help you save your energy, and neutralize the toxic effects of the type of power a narcissist likes to negatively impact your emotional wellbeing.

Secret number 1: Only a narcissist finds sheer pleasure in competing to outsmart another in the use of cruel- or chaos-causing tactics.

Theoretically, it may be “possible” to outsmart them, however, why would you want to? To outsmart a narcissist, you’d have to play by their rules, in which case, you could find yourself stuck in a vicious game, or worse, a hellish war zone. And that’s the problem, a constant state of inner turmoil is precisely the trap a narcissist sets, all the while, making you think that “your situation” is as good as life gets. Not so!

Only another narcissist would really “want” to, and afford to do so! They can do so … without feeling depleted. In fact, the thought that someone is trying to outsmart them would totally energize a narcissist to go into battle. There’s nothing they’d enjoy more than a fight to prove who’s superior, who will ultimately outdo the other, conquer and dominate.

The narcissist has an arsenal of “crazy making” tactics, and wants nothing more than to see you out of control and acting “crazy.” They are ready to take full credit for how “right” they are about you, then turn around and accuse you of being “the” controlling, abusive, selfish one. Even worse, in the past, hasn’t this left you feeling even more confused, bewildered, not to mention exhausted?

What happened? Gaslighting.

In practice, if your primary goal is to learn to relate in healthy ways to yourself and others, to grow and protect your happiness in response to the narcissist’s tactics, your first step is to set an intention to disallow their tactics from wasting your energy and emotional resources. Why waste precious energy and time? Don’t even try!  Instead, identify the patterns that identifies narcissism, and learn to respond in ways that neutralize any power over your mind, sense of self and agency. In other words, learn how to repel rather than attract narcissism, by knowing how to protect your happiness, growth and wellbeing when you’re around him. Never compete to outdo them; leave this “thrill” to other narcissists.  Go for deep fulfillment in life, not addictive, cheap thrills.

Secret number 2: From a narcissist’s vantage point, like it or not, you are viewed as a fierce competitor — and your relationship is an ongoing competition.

If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, understand that, in their worldview, first and foremost, you are viewed as a fierce competitor, and the concept of “partnership” relations with a woman is foreign to them (though they may not say so). In their mind, there is no such thing. In a relationship, there’s a top dog and underdog, and the underdog is always trying to be the top dog, period. A narcissist is hyper-alert around the clock, looking for signs that you’re trying to take over, subvert their will, dominate, render them powerless, and so on. You’ve been repeatedly accused of being “controlling,” right?

They’re competiting at such high levels that they’d rather self destruct than have you beat them by giving in to even simple requests, such as holding hands. It’s like a battle between a team with squirt guns and a team with grenades. You’re trying to get them to partner and get close, and they’re strategizing to ambush, take over, render you powerless, get the upper hand, make sure they achieve a clear “win” — so that (in their mind) you acknowledge their superiority. Their ego is so monstrously big that it tells them their self-worth and existence depend on beating you down this way. This also explains why they compulsively look for evidence to diminish your self worth, esteem. (And they know how.) They depend, lust for this to get a rush of superiority, evidence that to them, validates their existence.

For sure, they’ve been listening and taking notes when you disclose your hurts, pain and vulnerabilities, but not for the reasons you’d want. They seek to know your weaknesses, what triggers your fears, your insecurities, your wounds, and so on, to hit them hard, and take you out of the game. That’s what a fierce competitor does!

To attempt to “outsmart” a narcissist means you’d have to go down to their low emotional frequency (fear), which would be akin to two apes fighting over turf. Unless your goal is to destroy another’s sense of worth, just for sheer pleasure, and you believe this is required to “prove” your superiority, stay out of that trench!

Only another narcissist would have something to gain from do-or-die competitions, which in effect cause suffering for all involved! The problem is: they see and relish their ability to detach from feeling their own or the other’a pain, regarding this as a strength that gives them superior status! That means that their ability to feel suffering in these contexts is zapped! (This is what makes them harmful to others.) You on the other hand, in contrast, are not numb — and that is a good thing. A healthy person aspires to grow an empathic connection to self and other, to feel their vulnerabilities alongside their strengths, and so on, and participates in these painful but vital processes.

If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist who has mere tendencies, and want the relationship to work, in practice, there are several things that may help. The narcissist needs regular assurance that you’re not competing, that you have no interest in proving who’s better, who’s right versus wrong, who has more power, etc. Simultaneously, you need to remind yourself to be totally aware and present, centered, authentic, confident when you’re around them. When assuring them, stay out of emotions of scorn, indignation (similar), and other low-level energies, such as scolding or lecturing them as if they are incorrigible children. This helps the person with narcissistic tendencies to relax and trust, stop fighting so hard to prove their worth based on superiority — and to view this as a limiting belief that needs to be discarded. It can take years to gain their trust, however. And, if they’re really lost, in other words, if they meet the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder — this won’t work. In any case, you must accept that it takes two to make a relationship healthy and work. You cannot do their part, any more than you can eat or breathe for them. The fact is, if they continue to relate to you as a fierce competitor, this will push you away, and harm your relationship. You can choose to do your part, keep putting the choice to do their part in their court.

Secret number 3: For a narcissist, use of tactics to crush another’s esteem or plans .. are the end game.

To a narcissist, the end and the means are the same. The game they’ve been conditioned to play is: to get you before you get them. Their game plan is to stay ahead and one-up you. Nothing energizes or moves them to action more than the thought that they’re in a fierce “unto death” competition. They’re in war-game mode, ready to fight to survive.

To outsmart a narcissist is emotionally taxing to everyone but a narcissist, who’s not likely to feel terrible about the things they said and did during a scramble to emotionally survive! To a narcissist, it’s a game of war, and in a war, you’re fighting “unto death” for supremacy rights over the other. In battle, staying in the fight is what grants you honor, and without honor, you have no image, thus, do not exist. In this mode, not only are they numb to their own pain and yours, the thought of taking down an opponent a notch or two, likely also releases pleasure and reward chemicals, such as dopamine in their brain and body.

This release is something they are hooked on like a drug. It is an addiction.

The narcissist feels no remorse! They feel pleasure! Breaking other’s balloons, simply because they can, feeling no remorse, brings sheer pleasure.

When you share details of what “hurts” you, they take good notes on what you disclose! Expect that they will hit every wound and vulnerability you expose or reveal. They may be drooling as they look forward to the next opportunity to hit where it hurts most.

This explains why, although you’ve tried, the narcissist does not seem to “get” what you’ve shared about something they did that “hurt” your feelings. Or, why they never engage in “real” talks about improving your relationship, emotional intimacy and closeness, etc. The narcissist sees this as your emotional “craziness stuff” — and views this as your attempt to trap, disempower or emasculate.

The means is their end goal. Keeping an opponent wounded, in their mind, keeps them safe. They are in survival mode when you’re around. From their perspective, it makes sense. From yours, this should give you good reason to never, ever compete on their terms.

In practice, this means the narcissist is not a “safe” person with whom to share vulnerabilities and hurts. If they use abusive words, for example, let them know, calmly and detached that, “it’s beneath them or you to go there” and take a “this won’t work for you” or “it’s unhealthy for both” approach. Then drop or change the subject. Letting them know your bottom line, and then guarding it closely, is your best chance of gaining their respect (a drop).

You cannot outsmart a narcissist without hurting what is human inside you. What you realize is infinitely more wonderful, and that is: You cultivate your ability to choose to consciously enrich your life, to let every experience grow you stronger and smarter, to identify and understand their patterns, and to allow yourself to see the world from a narcissist’s vantage point, so that you may neutralize the impact they attempt to have on your emotional state of mind and body.

Your real need is not to outsmart a narcissist. It is to awaken so that you no longer are impacted or hooked by the narcissist’s false self.

Save your energy. You’ll need it to keep a protective shield around your sense of self and security, one that allows you to keep reaching for high-energy goals and power, and to never succumb to a narcissist’s invitations to sling mud at each other, and enter any of their low-life, low energy, life-zapping, reactivity traps.

3 Secrets to Outsmarting a Narcissist (By Not Trying to)

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2020). 3 Secrets to Outsmarting a Narcissist (By Not Trying to). Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Jan 2020
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