9 ways to deal with a narcissist, according to psychology

Toxic people are a pain in the ass to deal with. We all know that.

But narcissists? 

They’re downright dangerous!

Spend too long with them and they can easily break you without you knowing—so be careful.

If you’re unfortunate enough that you have to live or work with a narcissist, it’s important that you know how to protect yourself.

So how do you actually do that?

Well, let’s turn to psychology.

Here are psychology-backed techniques to deal with a narcissist.

1) Change how you see them

Dr Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist who specializes in narcissism, suggests a technique that could shield you from the destructive behaviors of narcissists.

It’s called the firewall technique.

She encourages that you do more than just simply grey rocking the person in question. Because, unfortunately, there are times when we HAVE to tolerate and interact with narcissists—we can’t just cut them off!

What she’s suggesting is to treat the narcissists as if they’re MALWARE. That’s right, a virus.

That means you:

  • Don’t try to give them the benefit of the doubt—they’re malware!
  • Don’t try to be their hero. You can’t “fix” them or “change them for the better”.
  • De-prioritize them in your life.
  • Start imagining a future without them.
  • Don’t invest in a relationship with them hoping they’ll get better. Don’t spend more time with them.
  • Protect yourself from them. Don’t trust them with your secrets.

This isn’t going to be easy, especially if they’re someone important to you. 

And there’s nothing wrong about hoping that they’ll eventually change someday.

But stay on the safe side. Keep your expectations realistic. If they haven’t done anything to get better for years now, they’re not likely to change in a month or two.

And once you distance yourself from them, you’ll find that your inner peace would improve dramatically.

2) Don’t engage, don’t defend, don’t take their words personally

Narcs thrive on conflict and drama.

That’s why, as much as possible, Dr Ramani Durvasula suggests that we should try our best not to engage, defend, or take things personally.

Always remember, narcs love to trigger others so they can use manipulative techniques like guilt-tripping and love bombing to get what they want.

So if they say something triggering, don’t react. 

  • If they try to blame you for anything, simply say “I understand how you feel” instead of “How dare you? What makes you say that?!”
  • Keep negative interactions short and sweet.
  • Don’t explain yourself.
  • Don’t play their game.

Remember: If you let their taunting get the better of you—if you lose your cool and start getting upset or defensive because of the things they say—then they’re winning.

As tempting as it might be to debate them because of how blatantly wrong or mean they are, you’d only be wasting your time and energy.

Your best move is to just step away and refuse to engage with them until you’ve calmed down and are in a better state to ignore their attempts to trigger you.

3) Be firm with your decisions before approaching them

Narcs are very good at manipulating people.

If you’re not perfectly sure with your decisions, they can easily convince you to change your mind and give them what they want if you let them blab for long enough.

One solid piece of advice I came across is from  Suraji Wagage, PhD, JD, a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder and director of the Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness.

He suggested that if you’re going to negotiate or make decisions with someone who is narcissistic , make sure you’ve set your mind on your decision before even approaching them.

  • Reflect on what you want and stick to it.
  • Write them down to make sure you remember them.
  • It helps to practice what you want to say in front of a mirror.
  • Be mentally prepared for their emotional manipulation—steel yourself.

By doing these things, you can guarantee that you won’t be easily swayed by their manipulative phrases and emotional meltdowns.

4) Stop being their source of “narcissistic supply”

Psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel coined the term “narcissistic supply” which means the excessive need for attention and admiration that doesn’t account for the feelings and preferences of others.

Narcs will extract their narcissistic supply from their codependents—those who love them and those they can control or abuse.

And it’s not just a simple “Do I look good?” or “Am I good enough?”, they would go as far as hurting others to make them feel superior and needed.

So what can you do?

  • Identify the things they say when they want you to feel bad about them.
  • Don’t be afraid to disengage when they try roping you into their personal drama.
  • Learn how to tune them out when they start pressuring you into praising them or comforting them.
  • If they’re really pushing it, just give them the bare minimum. Say “it’s cool” instead of “I really like how that makes you look like Angelina Jolie.”

5) Use reverse psychology to shock them

Certified Trauma Recovery Coach and Author Dana Arcuri has one clever way to disarm a narcissist— by doing the opposite of what they’re expecting!

In the second half of this video, she explains how shocking the narcissist always works.

Her narcissistic mother fat shamed her by saying her bum and thighs look huge. 

How did she handle it?

Well, with humor. Instead of being dramatic about it like giving her a lecture on how not to fat-shame people or storming out of her house, she just laughed about it.

She said, “Oh mother, but the boys loooove it!”, and giggled like a teen.

Her mother, of course, doesn’t like the feeling that her comment didn’t affect her—but she can’t say anything about it! After all, having a sense of humor isn’t bad.

And when narcs don’t get what they want from you, they’d start losing interest and let you be (generally).

6) Let them “have their way”

Narcissists thrive on the idea of a hard-won victory. 

It makes them feel like they actually deserve their “win.”

The best way to do something about this is to just let them effortlessly have their win.

If they decide to “debate” you over something, then just say “I don’t have the time to debate” or “agree to disagree” even if you know they’re wrong or being mean.

They’ll most likely try to goad you into taking them on anyway, but ignore that.

What you want is to deny them the satisfaction of winning a “hard-won” debate. 

It will leave them dissatisfied.

7) Set limits (and make sure you follow through)

And you have to mean it!

You can’t just set boundaries but give them the consequences that you’ve set. That will make them think you’re just giving empty threats.

So think about what consequences you’d like to set.

Will you block them on social media if they keep posting passive-aggressive posts that are obviously meant for you? Then make sure you CAN actually do that.

Will you leave your narcissistic parents’ home if they keep controlling your life? Then make sure you CAN actually do that. 

Make sure that the consequences match the limits you’ve set, and to carry them out.

In a way, dealing with a narcissist is almost like dealing with a child. You have to keep your word because not doing so would make them abuse you even more.

8) Heal yourself 

Even if you’re aware of what narcissists are like and what they do to the people around them, being in their company for too long can take its toll on you.

You’ll start doubting yourself and be convinced that maybe they’re right all along, for example.

It’s even worse if you’ve spent all this time together and you’ve only recently learned what narcissism is—or worse, they raised you.

So think about it.

  • Remind yourself that not everything is your fault.
  • Remind yourself that you have value.
  • Remind yourself that it’s okay for YOU to be “selfish” every now and then.
  • Listen to other people who have had experiences with narcissists and try to understand what you have in common.

You need to heal, even if you think there’s nothing to heal because being with a narcissist has deep long-lasting effects.

9) Take back your personal power

Narcs are all about control.

And it should be no surprise that they’ll go after those who look “easy” to control—like abuse survivors, people with poor self-esteem, the poor, and those struggling with emotional baggage.

The solution?

Take back your personal power. 

Deny them control over you!

Here’s what you should do:

  • Identify where and how you’re dependent on them, and work on being more independent there.
  • Be emotionally and mentally prepared to cut them out of your life, even while they’re still there.
  • Remind yourself of the things you’re good at.
  • Pursue your dreams and interests.

Doing these things will show the narcissist that YOU’RE the center of your life, and that you’re not scared to cut them off if they will continue to pull you down.

Final thoughts

Narcissists aren’t necessarily evil—and it would be wrong to treat them like they are. NPD is a disorder, after all.

They can’t help it—their minds are just wired like that, and it takes a LOT of effort for them to do something about it.

But at the same time, that doesn’t mean you’ll just allow them to sabotage your life and damage your self-esteem.

So don’t feel guilty.

The best way to handle a narc is to cut them off without antagonizing them. 

The second best way is to be aware of what they’re doing and then take steps to make it as annoying as possible for them to manipulate you.

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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