It’s only natural, after experiencing a relationship with a narcissist, to want to avoid another.
So what best guarantees a relationship will not turn into a dance of codependency and narcissism?
In part, success has to do with identifying certain red flags that help you understand what narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is, a few secret insights into a narcissist’s worldview, and what codependency traits unwittingly supply energy to narcissism.
What best repels another dance with narcissism, however, has to do with developing and healing yourself, and cultivating a practice committed to living and connecting authentically to life as an inside job. In effect healing yourself from socialized codependency norms for women that, quite intentionally, make it easy for narcissists to prey upon.
This consists of a set of authentic ways of relating to yourself (and thus the other) that, neutralize or cut off the very things that, unwittingly, made you a source of narcissist supply in the past. The following is a list of 7 ways to protect yourself from attracting a narcissist:
1. Connect to own mind and body
Persons who repel narcissists are authentically transparent and happy in their body and own skin; they have a visceral connection to their inner resources, they know what they want, and most importantly, they know who they want to be and how they want to show up in relation others, and foremost to themselves. This allows them to live, to breathe and, thus, to respond to the narcissist’s tactics, as they would to other life promptings, primarily, from a place of wisdom and love — and not fear. Narcissists are repelled by those they cannot emotionally diminish or crush with crazy-making antics, such as gaslighting. They have no power in this case because authentic persons do not need anyone else’s permission to be themselves … and this also frees them to let others (the narcissist) be themselves.
Both of these factors deprive a narcissist of the low-energy power of instilling others with fear and shame, which they depend on to operate; thus, their false self has no where to plug in. A person who knows how to remain authentically grounded in their own mind and body — and consciously cultivates this learned capacity — naturally neutralizes the false sense of power the narcissist depends on to feel worthwhile.
2. Seek to know and understand your Self
When a person is authentic, they make getting to know themselves a lifelong labor of love, and see this as vital to understanding other human beings, life and relationships. As a result, they are happy with who they are in general, not in an arrogant way, rather in a genuine way that allows them to fully accept themselves as they are, warts and graces, yet also seek to become ever better versions of themselves, on a path of growth and transformation. When someone authentically connects to life from within, they grow a compassionate understanding of self and others, as human beings, with shared yearning to matter and meaningfully connect.
The narcissist, however, recoils at the thought of being regarded a mere mortal, and regards emotional sharing as something weak creatures do. The power of their fear-based tactics is neutralized by the authenticity of another because they cannot find gaps and holes to work in their deceit, instill fear, make them feel crazy, and so on. Their worst fear after all is having their “false-self” image tarnished by being discovered as “emotionally” weak — and thus “crazy”! Nothing is more disgusting to them than falling in the same category of those they deem “inferior” due to how easy it is to take advantage of their inclinations to be kind and caring of others’ feelings. In other words, a narcissist takes pride in not have anything to do with authentic practices, and regards these as threats or risks to exposing their false image and illusion of power. (This is why they quit therapy or anything they cannot control.)
3. Have an inner-locus of control
An authentic person knows that a happy, fulfilled life is an inside-out job, and in practice this mindset allows them to have the peace of mind and presence they need, accordingly, to respond with emotional detachment to the problems and issues that, they realize, are the narcissist’s alone to own and heal. As a result, they can separate what is their own stuff to own and heal, from what is the narcissist’s. They also have learned how to self-activate their body’s relaxation response to disallow upsetting emotions from unnecessarily activating their survival system. After all, the narcissist can be expected to make every effort to keep those around them in fear-mode! NPDs are stuck in old emotionally arrested patterns of reacting to their inner pain and wounds in ways that project them onto others, and ultimately, prevent their healing, for example, by:
- Blaming others, especially those they hurt … who complain.
- Behaving as if the world constantly owes them.
- Portraying themselves as victims.
- Feeling entitled to mistreat others as they please.
- Making others feel ashamed/guilty for own unhappiness.
- Accusing others of what they in fact do.
- Expecting to be treated as infallible and above reproach.
Based on the narcissist’s past record, an authentic person is real enough with themselves to expect the NPD to continue to behave like a toddler, and responds accordingly. Try as they may, the narcissist fails to activate the survival response of an authentic person. Narcissists look for easy prey, those who will collude with them, to prop up their false-image.
When someone remains emotionally detached from “needing” to alleviate a narcissist’s suffering, or to gain their approval, the narcissist shrinks back. The wounded ego of a narcissist is too fragile to withstand the solid evidence an authentic person presents, for example, that the narcissist: Is responsible for their actions, and it’s not okay to mistreat others; is capable of handling and healing own pain (in healthy ways); is fully equipped and can choose to learn how to empathize and treat others thoughtfully. The narcissist needs to be held responsible for seeking professional help to heal hurtful behavior patterns, for example, their “neediness” to punish others for not pleasing them; and to come to understand behaviors that push loved ones away as ones that also cause the narcissist to suffer.
4. Seek to understand and transform fears to assets
An authentic person sees right through the false-self of the narcissist for what it is: a fragile ego, a deep rooted fear of intimacy, and an arrested emotional development, all of which block the formation of healthy, mutually gratifying relationships. Unlike the codependent, an authentically connected person can afford to feel compassion for the plight of the narcissist. For the codependent to heal, they must cultivate the core strength ability to remain emotionally detached from trying to fix or rescue the narcissist from doing their own work to treat others with dignity. It may not easy, however it’s critical for the codependent to accept the reality that no human being can heal or rescue another, and that ultimately, to heal self, the narcissist — and codependent — must somehow separate and own what is theirs heal from what is the other’s.
The narcissist, on the other hand, will have to let go and replace their “false self” with an authentic self, which would require a radical shift away in the belief system that currently props up their sense of superiority and entitlement. More often, NPDs resist treatment is because — to change — would mean to let go of old limiting beliefs, and awaken instead to see tremendous value (i.e., forming healthy mutually enriching relationships) in discarding a beliefs that have kept them dependent on the use of fear-based tactics, to crush and diminish others as evidence of their superiority, worth, strength, etc. Nothing would shake — or deeply heal — the narcissist’s world more than to let go of their false self and the “illusion of power” over others upon which they based their worthiness and strengths. More often, they typically want nothing to do with “real” change because they regard this as something only “weak” or emotionally “crazy” persons are interested in or “need.”
Heads up reminder to the codependent: No one can heal or take away the narcissist’s inner wounds and suffering until they let go of the cruel, one-upping tactics they use, like a drug, to numb their pain. Naturally, this is nearly an impossible task, which is why few narcissists change, or stay in therapy if focus turns on them, if they seek it.
5. Never reveal what hurts, feels vulnerable to a narcissist
Stay connected to feel and express vulnerable emotions as vital to life balance and peace of mind, but do so only with safe others (to include yourself) — never a narcissist. Why? Emotions of vulnerability are a key source of power that keeps humans connected to life itself, what most matters and brings meaning, and so on. A narcissist however holds a worldview that disregards, disparages the very processes that would allow them to be fully human, to do more than merely survive, rather to thrive! He literally uses this information to get into your mind, instilling fear to steal your sense of self, by crippling your brain’s capacity to clearly think, etc. That means while you’re pouring your heart and spilling your guts, the narcissist you’re talking to, like a mad scientist, listens only to gather data, thought-control “intelligence” so to speak, to execute strategies to exploit and take possession of your mind, heart, soul for his gain alone.
Whereas the language of the higher thinking brain (frontal cortex) consists of words and images, the language of the body is emotions — molecules of emotion, known as neurotransmitters. In a nutshell, for the mind and the body to work optimally together, as they are designed to do, it is critical to develop our capacity to remain empathically connected to painful emotions, to feel and respond to our body’s emotions and sensations in healing ways — rather than activate our body’s survival system.
Studies on vulnerability by Dr. Brene Brown, for example, found persons who are willing to be vulnerable are significantly happier and healthier, emotionally and physically. Painful emotions are how our body communicates and prompts us to make key decisions, with informed choices; they are action-messengers that often signal us to connect to vital information inside, regarding what we are most yearn, need, aspire to realize emotionally, etc. Like a compass of sorts, they tell us where we are, at any given time, in relation to where we most aspire to be.
A narcissist however holds a worldview that disregards, disparages the very processes that would allow them to be fully human, to do more than merely survive, rather to thrive! Whereas a narcissist avoids vulnerable emotions, and views them as weak or inferior, an authentic person understands that we cannot heal what we are not willing to feel, understand, and potentially experience in new, liberating ways. Knowingly or unknowingly, every human being, regardless their childhood, is on a path to healing and transformation; and there is no growth — not physical, mental or emotional — without pain. Would you work out at the gym and expect to avoid any “discomfort”? Not if you want to stay, fit and healthy!
To heal emotionally is to transform authentically. Every human needs a healthy relationship with all parts of themselves, to include body, mind, beliefs, thoughts, sensations, wants, needs, dreams, and so on.
Narcissism, and its counterpart, co-dependency, are not so much diseases or disorders as they are learned, faulty patterns of thinking that cripple the higher thinking functions of the brain. They are a product of a culture that romanticizes dominance and submission as desired qualities, with dominance more often associated with those deemed superior and strong, i.e., men or gods, and submissiveness with those deemed inferior and weak, i.e., women and children. To live balanced lives and build strong connections with others, human beings are wired to need (not a mere want!) to embrace both emotions of vulnerability and emotions of strength. Traditional roles cripple both men and women with limiting beliefs that make this an either – or proposition that: “real” men do not feel hurt or care about feelings, and “good” women are never angry or demanding.
By suppresing emotions of vulnerability for men, and anger for women, these cultural taboos exact personal and relational costs on couple and family relationships, as well as society at large. Both emotions of vulnerability or anger are vital to the healthy formation of emotional intimacy for men and women alike.
6. Practice balanced giving and receiving (from love, not fear)
The narcissist feeds off the codependent’s fear that, in order to feel worthwhile and deserving of love, they must please, never disappoint, gain the narcissist’s approval, and the like. To the detriment of both, the narcissist takes full advantage of a codependent’s “neediness” to be regarded as nothing but kind, loving, unselfish, nice, and so on (even at the expense of their own needs). Deep down, the narcissist also views kindness and empathy with others feelings and needs, as weakness and inferiority, and endless opportunities for them to shake another’s sense of self and security, instill them with fear, obtain a slavish servitude, and so on.
No doubt, anxiety over not giving enough, coupled by discomfort with receiving, are the codependent’s biggest weaknesses. However, what’s more important to consider is that: therein lies the solution!
To succeed, the codependent must make reaching to heal and cultivate authenticity a priority focus, their mantra. It’s theirs to understand that change is not possible without a stop in what they do, and that’s the only part they have total and complete control over! This “giving” of self, attention, time, etc., is what supplies energy, and enables narcissistic patterns.
The overarching solution for the codependent is to cultivate an authentic presence from within, which allows the codependent to take critical action to:
- Emotionally detach from rescuing the narcissist from what is his alone to do.
- Stop allowing the narcissist to treat them like a universal receptacle for absorbing pain.
- Let go of depending on the narcissist for a sense of their own value and emotional security.
- Realize the narcissist cannot genuinely care or validate the codependent’s pain (unless they first give up their false-self reality!).
- Understand that turning to the narcissist for validation is like trying to squeeze juice from a raisin.
From this place, right actions will follow. The “solution” will not be easy for the narcissist, or the codependent. Old habits, ingrained from childhood, early survival-love fears, passed from one generation to the next, etc., are not easy to change.
In practice, this means the codependent must learn to emotionally detach, and do so in loving ways however, viewing the actions that stem from the new approach as deeply nurturing of the highest health and growth of self and other. Even though this approach may bring about the end of this relationship, should the narcissistic partner refuse to heal and change. In a nutshell, to detach means to practice shifting their focus, inside their mind and body, away from rescuing the narcissist, and toward rescuing themselves, cultivating the self-compassion and self-acceptance they need to free themselves (and potentially the narcissist and other family members) from toxic patterns that have severely blocked individual growth and healthy relating.
Nevertheless, the codependent must come to realize and accept that, unless the narcissist cultivates an interest and determination to handle their own pain and wounds in healthy ways, they can never be the presence that validates their sense of self and security.
For the narcissist to heal, like an addict, they must first come out of denial, to see a “need” to change, and to want to learn healthy ways of handling past and present pains and wounds. Until they do, they are not a “safe” harbor for the codependent to share their pain and hurts, etc. An “emotionally safe” person is one that is open to listening for understanding, without judging. In contrast, a narcissist would take this as an opportunity to judge, one-up, compete to win, tear down the other’s worth, etc. Believe what they “say” with their actions, not words! They are not an “emotionally safe” person to express and share your hurts and wounds. (If you need to talk, do so with an emotionally “safe” friend or family member. And, if you any doubts about keeping your private matters private, see a professional therapist.)
Do narcissists really lack the ability to empathize? Not really. After all, they seem to access empathy, in certain situations, such as when they want to impress or charm. Lack of empathy is a key trait, but only because they cultivate, and view this trait as one of their key strengths. When they’re told they lack empathy, to them, it’s a compliment!
Creating a healing context, potentially, is the best chance for the narcissistic to possibly (choose to) change, heal, fully participate to do their part to make the couple relationship healthy, etc. Of course, they may not. The point is, however, that it takes two fully responsible, authentically mature adults to form a healthy partnership, and each can only be primarily responsible first and foremost for their own healing.
7. Base security on trust of self and own resources
Truth be told, you are the only person you absolutely need to trust. This is a need, like oxygen, and not a want. As a human being, you will always want and prefer to be able to trust those closest to you, the point is that, if you perceive this as a need, this irrational fear will activate your body’s survival system — unnecessarily.
Fears can be thought of as falling into one of two categories, either healthy or irrational. It’s healthy, for example, to fear jumping off of a roof, or to cheat, life or eat junk foods that cause inflammation! A healthy fear is a great companion, a wise guide that reminds us that we’re wired with inner emotion-drives, which propel us to do more than merely physically survive, but also to thrive, to find meaning, to contribute value! Healthy fears serve us. They connect us to our deepest yearnings to matter in relation to our self and life around us, and prompt us to grow our wisdom wisdom, to learn and discover what works and doesn’t to create a happy and healthy life.
In contrast, irrational fears consist of a misinterpretation of our core intimacy fears, such as rejection, inadequacy or abandonment, activated by our early survival-love maps. We’ve all been conditioned by generations of parenting practices to have an external locus of control, thus, to worry about what others think of our mistakes and failings. This prevents optimal learning, however, as mistakes are critical ways we grow our wisdom and understanding, confidence and belief in ourselves. The only phase in life when we absolutely depend on another’s love and care to secure our physical survival is infancy. As adults, however, these fears are there to grow us, to move us to act boldly and courageously, to strengthen our belief in our self and to stretch our capacity to become all we are destined to be inside, and so on. Irrational fears based on limiting beliefs that associate our sense of self and our need to matter to external standards that demand we perform and conform according to arbitrary standards that categorize human beings in dichotomies of strong/weak, dominant/submissive, superior/inferior, in order to prove that we are deserving of our own or others’ love and respect. The high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, that these limiting beliefs release high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, unnecessarily activating our body’s survival response!
In the words of psychologist Carl Jung:
“Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” ~ CARL JUNG
The realization that you only need to trust yourself, not another, is not an easy one to understand and apply. In order to repel a relationship with a narcissist, we must connect and grow a essential partnership between our observing self and inner self. And this relationship, essentially, must be one based on compassion, which allows us to fail and make mistakes, and to learn from them, for example. The authentic wise-self learns to mistrust the old fear-based, wounded-self programs and stories from past or early childhood traumas and woundings, and also sees them as vital sources of knowledge and understanding and transformation and healing of self and life. A path of wisdom and understanding expands our capacity to have compassion for our self — and others. There’s nothing real about having to “please” another to feel worthwhile; it’s a lie, an illusion of power and happiness.
In conclusion, authenticity is the best change-activating agent or antidote to narcissism. The best repellant is your own self, as a person, embarking on a journey of ever becoming more authentically connected, mind and body, heart and soul.
As a protection, authenticity has to do with who you are — or yearn to become, that is, the extent to which you set a genuine intention to live authentically in relation to yourself, which gives you the freedom to relate authentically to life around you, and thus — the narcissist.
Similar to the vampire myth, when a bright light shines from a person who is authentically connected to their inner resources, they are emotionally detached, in loving yet firm ways, from any neediness or dependency on the narcissist for approval, caring and security. As a result, the narcissist shrivels or goes away — or the narcissistic and codependency patterns do. When the codependent opts for authentic relating instead, she opens up a nourishing environment, a context that invites the narcissist to seek genuine change, on the basis that this genuine change has become the codependent’s bottom line.
In other words, the codependent is merely asking the narcissist to do what she plans to do in either case, with or without him, that is: to let go of beliefs and actions that drive narcissistic (or codependent) behaviors, for ones that allow them to learn to partner and collaborate in forming healthy, secure relationships.
The intention to grow, and to do what it takes to bring the love and happiness we need to our relationships, is an essential first step ever available to a codependent and narcissist. Change begins only and when the codependent cuts off what supplies energy to narcissism.
Thus, the only possibility for a narcissist to change heal is to be surrounded by “real” people, at minimum, one authentic human being who is resolved to live connected to a sense of self and dignity, wisdom and inner resources, and who is willing to let go of anything and everything — to include the narcissist — that stands in the way of realizing her own full potential as a self-actualized being.
Paradoxically, this choice is one that ultimately heals the self of the codependent, and opens up possibilities for authentic relating to self and life. Depending on the narcissist’s response to change or leave, this choice is also a potential door for a healthy, vibrant couple relationship, which is only possible what both partners are invested in both their own and the other’s highest and best possibilities for growth, healing and transformation, one day and moment at a time.
Emotions are action-messengers, and painful emotions are in a special category of vital information, communication from our body-mind, ever available to access regarding what we most need, yearn, aspire, and what resources we have inside to reach for, strengthen.
The cultural conditioning to regard painful emotions as weakness or defect is responsible for much emotional suffering, perhaps many addictions and diagnostic mental “disorders” too. Or, as psychologist Carl Jung would put it,”Neurosis is the natural by-product of pain avoidance.” To avoid suffering, firstly, we must distinguish between healthy pain and … needless suffering. Life is a choice between pain and suffering; growth or regression. Nothing in the universe stands still. It’s impossible to live authentically without “getting comfortable with the uncomfortable”; what we most avoid is often an inner prompting, an invitation to get out of dangerous comfort zones!
Human beings are amazing miracle making beings, wired in ways that literally bring into being what they most want deep inside. Not everything they want; what they most want. Change is possible for narcissist and codependent, depending on their willingness to let go of unhealthy wants that keep them in old comfort zones, and embrace new life enriching wants. Albeit in different ways, each yearns to be the other’s end-all and be-all — and this yearning is only healthy in infancy. For an adult, it blocks their emotional development and self-actualization.
What do you really, really, really want? To heal and transform, stretching your capacity for compassion, creativity and contribution, and inspiring others to do the same? Or, to get credit or some “award” for being another person’s one and only commanding force and master — or end-all and be-all source of life and gratification?
A person inspired toward authenticity, regardless the challenges, how imperfect the results or occasional relapses, must keep reaching to cultivate their inner capacity to calm self from within, and to realize that’s all that matters, one step and day at a time. Truly, learning how to consistently protect your own inner happiness and sense of fulfillment, especially in response to a fear-based attack from a wounded person, is a priceless gift you give to yourself — and world — that keeps on giving.