9 assertive ways to deal with a narcissistic friend (without stooping to their level)

So you have a friend who is more than demanding, they’re downright narcissistic.

Maybe it’s always “me, me’, me” and they show very little interest in your feelings.

When the world isn’t revolving around them, they can quickly become jealous, petulant, and even cruel.

So what can you do? How do you deal with a narcissistic friend?

Here’s how to get through to them, without lowering yourself to their level. 

1) Learn what to expect from a narcissist

Narcissists can be the master of disguise.

If all they ever did was yell at you or sulk, you would probably have kicked them to the curb long ago.

But that’s not how they operate.

They can use charm, guilt, victimhood, and other sources of manipulation to keep you close.

If you are going to be assertive, you need to be wise to all the potential strings they may try to pull.

Stay vigilant for the following tactics:

  • Projecting onto you
  • Trying to guilt trip you
  • Suggesting you are responsible for their feelings
  • Love bombing you and making you feel like you’re super special
  • Using flattery to win you over
  • Acting jealous about the time you spend with other people
  • Faking remorse to get back in your good books
  • Making constant excuses about their behavior (aka giving you a sob story)

When you see that someone is trying to manipulate you, their power to do so loosens.

2) Make a do’s and don’t list

Spend time considering what you expect from a friendship. I’d really recommend making a list.

What behaviors do you need and want? What are your no-no’s that you simply cannot tolerate?

It can also be helpful to spell out why that particular thing features on your list.  Remembering your “why” will help you to see it through.

This is essentially an exercise in spelling out your boundaries.

Clear and firm boundaries are going to be your greatest tool in dealing with a narcissist in your life.

Any attempts to be assertive will crumble without them.

3) Now stick to it

When it comes to this friend in particular, identify the ways in which they are not meeting your expectations of friendship.

Be specific.

  • What are the behaviors that cross the line?
  • What do you want to curb?

When you get really particular it can help you to devise an action plan that works.

For example:

You know that your friend’s late-night calls to you where she offloads her daily drama are taking up too much time. What’s more, they are incredibly draining.

You explain that evenings are family time for you, and you decide you will no longer answer the phone after 9 pm.

If you know you have difficulty when you’re put on the spot, rehearse your response.

If you struggle with setting and upholding boundaries, it’s time to ask why?

Could you have self-esteem issues or confidence problems that need some work?

Being assertive demands we have strong internal foundations to stick up for ourselves.

4) Brush up on your conflict resolution skills

You’re most likely going to need them if you decide to stay friends with a narcissist.

Otherwise, you may be unwittingly making things worse.

Being assertive is one thing, but narcissists can be very sensitive to criticism.

So that means if you want to get through to them, you’re going to catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Telling them that they are being an asshole (even if they are) won’t help.

Belittling, talking down to them, or trying to prove a point is not only stooping to their level but it’s also going to create a stalemate.

You may need to find ways to be less confrontational about their bad behavior.

For example:

  • Be a calming presence
  • Be sure to listen as well as speak
  • Use neutral language and avoid saying things you know will trigger them
  • Separate the person from the problem
  • Be specific in your points
  • Focus on solutions and the future

Of course, finding the inner strength to take the moral high ground isn’t easy.

That’s why you’re going to need some serious TLC.

5) Put yourself first

Don’t neglect your self-care.

Sometimes we’re more likely to put up with shitty behavior when we’re feeling run down or vulnerable.

You’re going to be in a much better position to think clearly if your battery is fully charged.

So take a step back.

To help keep you calm and in the best state of mind, these mindfulness tools can help:

  • Breathwork
  • Journaling (about how you are feeling and what’s going on)
  • Meditation
  • Yoga (or other mindful movement)
  • Taking a walk in nature

Or just focus some love and attention on yourself and do the things that make you feel good.

That might be a pampering session, time on a hobby, or hanging out with other friends — which as we’ll see next can be a tonic in itself.

6) Look for allies

That doesn’t mean gang up on your narcissistic friend.

What it does mean is find a support system that allows you to feel less alone.

Especially as narcissists can be master manipulators, you may be feeling quite isolated.

We all need people to talk to. Leaning on family and friends can help you to deal with any stress or sadness this situation is creating.

Sharing with someone else can also allow you to get a different perspective on things.

7) Regularly reassess your friendship

If you have a problem friendship, put them on probation.

A narcissist may win you over, or try to sweep your concerns under the rug. But you don’t want that to happen.

They could be on their best behavior for 5 minutes and hope you forget about what has transpired.

It’s sensible to be guarded and reassess how things are going.

Set a date in the future to check in on the state of your relationship.

  • Have there been real changes in their behavior?
  • How do you feel when you are around them?
  • Is this friendship one-sided?
  • Are they refusing to take ownership of themselves?
  • Is there something you still need to see from them?

8) Create ultimatums…and mean it

But think of them less as ultimatums and more like conditions that must be met.

It goes back to our earlier point about boundaries.

You don’t have to deliver them as a threat. In fact, that would be a bad idea.

So you are not saying “Change this or else”.

But you are saying: “I need you to do this if we are to stay in each other’s life, do you think you can do that?”

That may be acknowledging your feelings more or being more supportive of things happening in your life.

Whatever it is, you have to see action and not just words. Empty promises and fake remorse come easily for a narcissist.

If they can’t follow through, then they can’t remain a friend.

9) Cut ties with toxic people

It’s true that nobody is perfect. And to a certain extent, it is admirable to try to work through relationship difficulties.

But if your so-called friend is genuinely narcissistic, it may be time to consider whether they should stay in your life.

What do you get from this friendship?

What does it take from you?

If it is bringing far more pain than joy, then the trade-off is too great.

When you notice any of the following, drastic action is called for:

  • Bullying
  • Name-calling and insults
  • Shaming
  • Making threats
  • Making accusations
  • Trying to humiliate you

Abuse should never be tolerated, by anyone.

Remember that toxic connections are damaging to your well-being. Your first loyalty is always to yourself.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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