Different rules apply when coping with people who have unhealthy narcissism. Here are 11 “Don’ts” in dealing with narcissists:
Don’t take them at face value. Image is everything to narcissists. They work hard to present a facade of superiority and certainty. They like to keep others guessing and operate less than transparently. But it is important to remember that people with narcissism are deeply insecure. Their flashy facade is designed to hide an emptiness within. We can have compassion for narcissists’ pain yet not be taken in by their pretenses. All that glitters is not gold.
Don’t over-share personal information. The more personal information you give a narcissist, the more ammunition they have to use against you. Narcissists need to feel one up. They may use anything you share to humiliate or manipulate you, particularly when you are most vulnerable or in need. Be judicious about what you tell them.
Don’t feel a need to justify your thoughts, feelings or actions. Many narcissists try to make others second-guess themselves. They may do this by asking pointed or leading questions, acting as though you need to explain yourself to them. Recognize this for what it is: an attempt to undermine you. One helpful self-help mantra is “No JADE,” which stands for Justifying, Arguing, Defending, or Explaining. You do not need to explain or justify your feelings or thoughts. Furthermore, arguing with or defending yourself to a narcissist is generally counterproductive. Narcissists tend to be interested in winning, not listening; competing, not communicating.
Don’t minimize their dysfunctional behavior. Narcissists’ self-serving behavior and hunger for attention can suck energy from those around them. Over time people around narcissists may get fatigued or numb and fail to register how unhealthy narcissistic behavior can be. Make no mistake: deceiving, manipulating and humiliating others is unhealthy and wrong. Sometimes it may be best to let a narcissist’s childish or provocative behavior pass without comment but that doesn’t mean you should fail to make a mental note of how unhealthy it is.
Don’t assume they share your values and worldview. If you expect narcissists to have compassion, tell the truth, or share the spotlight, you may be repeatedly disappointed. People with narcissism view others as sources of gratification, not as equals. They use words as tools or weapons more than as truth. They have a bottomless hunger for attention. All these come from a shaky sense of self. Knowing this can free you from false expectations and allow you to set boundaries accordingly.
Don’t try to beat them at their own game. It may be tempting, but remember: most narcissists have spent their lives perfecting their campaign of self-aggrandizement. Many narcissists do more manipulative actions in a week than most people do all year. Narcissists have a mortal fear of losing, feeling inferior, and being exposed or humiliated. As a result, they devote massive energy to maintaining their image and cultivating sources of ego-boosting, generally at others’ expense. Trying to best them in a war of words, get even, or otherwise adopt their techniques is like an amateur going up against a seasoned pro. It won’t feel good and it rarely works. Instead, play your game and be true to your values.
Don’t take their actions personally. Narcissists take advantage of anybody they can. They may treat those closest to them especially negatively, but few are immune from a narcissist’s put-downs and manipulations. If you take what they do personally, you grant them extra real estate in your mind and psyche – which is exactly what narcissists want. Mistreatment by narcissists is painful and wrong, but narcissists target anyone who happens across their path. It’s not personal. It is just what they do.
Don’t expect empathy or fairness. Narcissists are generally incapable of having empathy. Empathy is based on the assumption that others are worthy, equal, and deserve attention and compassion. Does that sound like something a narcissistic person you know believes? Their sense of entitlement leaves them feeling little reason to play fair or reciprocate. Their grandiosity leads them to see others as inferior and undeserving of compassion. Rather than expecting equality or reciprocity from a narcissist, focus on respecting yourself.
Don’t expect them to change. People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder or a strong narcissistic style rarely change. They may alter some behaviors over time, but the underlying dynamics that drive them are generally there for life. Narcissists view others as either threats or potential victims and are trapped in an endless quest for attention and approval. To hope that they will change is a setup. Rather, accept who they are and focus on how to take care of yourself around them.
Don’t underestimate the power of narcissism. Narcissism is a profound distortion of one’s sense of self. A narcissist’s life is endlessly about gaining “narcissistic supply:” attention, success, wealth, power, control, sexual conquest, and more. They seek to be fed; nothing is more important. This drive is so powerful that narcissists will betray those closest to them when it suits them. This is what you are up against.
We can have compassion for the deep wounds and limitations of people with narcissism. Yet compassion does not mean allowing others to hurt or use you. It is your responsibility and right to focus on how to best take care of yourself. That is not narcissism; that is healthy living.