It’s only natural, after experiencing a relationship with a narcissist to want to thoughtfully reclaim your mind and life — and to avoid another.
So what best guarantees a relationship will not again turn into a dance of codependency and narcissism?
In part you need to train yourself to identify key red flags, and thus better understand: narcissistic personality disorder (NPD); a narcissist’s “secret” worldview, and also the codependency traits many woman have been socialized to accept as norms that unwittingly turn them into supply sources for narcissists.
What best protects you, however, to detach from a current relationship and avoid another encounter has to do with developing and healing your core self, and that means cultivating conscious practices of living and connecting authentically to your life. In effect healing yourself from old socialized codependency norms for women that (intentionally) make it easier for men and boys to prey upon women and girls is, first and foremost, an inside job.
It’s about making a commitment to 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 at least 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 truth, and those that are strongly connected to who they are from within render narcissists and their mind-games powerless. While some narcissists like the challenge of knocking a strong, passionate woman off balance, strong women who like to “argue and explain” things to narcissists, unfortunately, are no match for crazy-making antics, such as gaslighting, which blow by blow emotionally diminish or crush them. Authentic persons do not need anyone else’s permission to be themselves, and they accept the fact that a narcissist, by using their crazy making antics, is telling them who he is — and that’s all he is. An abuser whose very identy requires him to make his partner feel small, and serve to make him look “like a real” man.
In other words, an authentic woman lets a narcissist know she’s onto him, and his “neediness” to make others feel small, and frees him to be himself.
This deprives a narcissist of the low-energy power of needing to make his partner feel bad about herself, ashamed and afraid to lose or not make him happy, which is a drug they need and crave, and without which, as any addict, feel they cannot exist.
A woman who knows how to remain authentically grounded in her own truth, mind and body — and consciously cultivates this learned capacity — 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.
They have to be careful however to rein in the otherwise “natural” tendency to grow a compassionate understanding of the narcissist or psychopath partner. This is a hook that literally traps and causes much suffering for many women.
The narcissist, however, recoils at the thought of being regarded a mere mortal, and regards emotional sharing as something weak creatures do. They cannot, and do not, engage in normal conversations. If you’ve shared your truth and wounds and dreams with a narcissist, you may have felt they were listening to understand and know and love you. Wrong. They were gathering data on how to take over your mind and everything you hold dear by playing on your fears, old wounds, and so on.
The power of a narcissist’s 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, and being discovered as “emotionally” weak — and thus the “real crazy” one in the relationship! (What is crazier after all than one who intentionally seeks to drive another person crazy in order to feel “worthwhile” inside?) Nothing more disgusts narcissists than being seen as doing things that, in their mind, only “inferior” beings do, such as yearn 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, unless they can control therapy and the therapist.)
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 to, accordingly, 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 their partner in fear-mode!
NPDs are stuck in old emotionally arrested patterns of reacting to any request to stop the abuse by projecting their wrongdoings onto their partner by:
- Blaming others, especially a partner that complains of feeling hurt or wronged.
- Behaving as if they are the only ones that haven’t received love and attention.
- Portraying themselves as victims of those they (intentionally) victimize.
- Feeling entitled to mistreat others as they please and do so with impunity.
- Making others feel ashamed or like failures for the NPD’s misery and unhappiness.
- Accusing their partner (projecting) of what the very wrongdoing they commit.
- Expecting and acting entitled to be treated as infallible and above reproach.
Ultimately, this prevents them from healing. Remember however that an NPD has no interest in healing processes, in fact they vehemently reject them as things “weak” and “inferior” persons engage in and enjoy.
Based on the narcissist’s past record, an authentic person can expect that an NPD will continue to do what they do. And thus, the partner’s best bet is to learn to respond thoughtfully, that is, to manage their own upsetting emotions inside, so that they do not get triggered, i.e., feel “shocked” or “indignant,” etc., each time the NPD behaves like a toddler. The reason you feel shocked or indignant is because you keep expecting the NPD to give you a human response — which they have proven they will not! (At best they can “act” human when they need to as part of the con game only as this is the drug that feeds their false-self illusion!) If the narcissist cannot activate a partner’s fear reaction, the body’s survival response, they no longer receive the drug that keeps them high, drugged.
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 cannot afford to feel compassion for the plight of the narcissist. To do so is unhealthy for the person and the NPD alike. For a 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.
While not easy, 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 NPD — and codependent — must somehow separate and own what is theirs to 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 from the current might-makes-right belief system that props up their sense of superiority and entitlement over those they scorn. More often, NPDs resist treatment is because — to change — would mean to let go of old limiting beliefs in the use of fear, violence to dominate and subvert their partner’s will, 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.”
What are the chances an NPD will change? Realistically, close to zero and none. It’s a rare occurrence.
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 acts as if he’s listening to understand your problems (usually at the start of a relationship only) only to use this information later 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 is, like a mad scientist, listening only to gather data.
To them this is a form of thought-control “intelligence” so to speak, that helps them to execute strategies to exploit and take possession of your mind, heart, soul for his gain alone.
6. Practice balanced giving and receiving (from love, not fear)
The NPD 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 exploits every opportunity to shake their partner’s sense of self and security, instill them with fear, self-doubt, self-blame, which then justifies expecting a slavish servitude, and so on.
To succeed, the codependent must make their own healing and cultivation of an authentic core self a priority focus, their mantra. It’s theirs to understand that change is not possible without first putting a stop in what they do inside. This is critical especially because, in truth, it is the only part each and every human being has total and complete control over!
The overarching solution for the codependent is to cultivate an authentic presence from within, critical actions and mindfully practices of:
- Emotionally detaching from rescuing the narcissist from what is his alone to do.
- Refusing to allow the NPD to treat them like a universal receptacle for absorbing pain and blame.
- No longer depending on the narcissist for a sense of feeling valued, safe, cared for, being treated thoughtfully, and so on.
- Realizing the narcissist cannot genuinely care or validate the codependent’s pain (unless they first give up their false-self reality, which is not likely!).
- Understanding that needing validation from an NPD 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 new approach as deeply nurturing of the highest health and growth of self and other. Even though this approach may or risks bringing about the end of a relationship with an NPD, the responsibility or choice to heal and change must always remain on the NPD.
In a nutshell, to detach means to practice shifting your focus inside, mind and body, away from rescuing the narcissist, and toward rescuing your own self and sense of sanity and respect, cultivating the self-compassion and self-acceptance you need to free yourself (and potentially the narcissist and other family members) from toxic patterns that have severely blocked your growth and healthy relating.
It’s critical to realize that unless the NPD cultivates an interest and determination to handle their own pain and wounds in healthy ways, they can never be the presence they need in their life to validate their own 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., or at best gather more data to exploit their partner in the future.
Believe what their actions repeatedly “say” to you, not words! They are not an “emotionally safe” person to tell 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 situations when they want to impress or dupe or strategize to smear others. Lack of empathy is a key trait listed for NPDs. It is more correct to describe the NPD as feeling scorn, hatred, disdain for the emotion of empathy in themselves and others.
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 or eat junk foods that cause inflammation! A healthy fear is 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 not attract another NPD in your life, you must connect and grow a essential partnership with your inner self. And this relationship, essentially, must be one based on compassion, which allows you to fail and make mistakes, and to learn from them. Your authentic wise-self needs to learn to mistrust the old fear-based, wounded-self programs and stories you once believed in, but also to see your past or early childhood traumas and experiences as vital sources of knowledge and understanding and transformation and healing for you throughout your life. This information informs your choices, and keeps you on a path of understanding and expanding your 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 that is rooted in fear.
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.
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 — most important, you break free and no longer participate in the old toxic relating patterns. When you opt for authentic relating instead, you open up space for a nourishing relationship, and in effect, this is a gift, an invitation for the narcissist to seek genuine change.
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 or occasional relapses, must keep reaching to cultivate this inner capacity to calm self from within, and to see and engage in this 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 NPD, is a priceless gift you give to yourself — and world — that keeps on giving.
Note to readers who request gender neutrality: Narcissistic abuse is not gender neutral in the same way that domestic violence is not. Yes there are female narcissists, relatively fewer in number, however. Many women are misidentified because: (1) narcissist partners intentionally blame-shift and smear their female partner to project a blameless image; (2) online trolls intentionally spread misinformation to maintain traditional male “entitlements” to abuse, i.e., with “false equivalency” illusions (fact is, most narcissistic abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault is by men); and (3) they are unwittingly serving as accomplices who themselves are also victims, conned by a narcissist, blindly following orders, to support a narcissist’s spear campaign goals.