Narcissists follow different norms than most people. Once you recognize these norms and understand what lies beneath them, you can cope with narcissistic people more successfully.
Here are 10 “Don’ts” for dealing with narcissists:
1. Don’t give them ammunition.
Narcissists need to feel superior. Anything you share with narcissists may eventually be used to humiliate or manipulate you, particularly when you are most vulnerable or in need. Be mindful about what you reveal.
2. Don’t take them at face value.
Image is everything to narcissists. Narcissists lie easily and often seem entirely convinced of even their most preposterous lies. They work tirelessly to present a perfect, shining facade. Yet underneath, people with narcissism often feel empty and illegitimate. We can have compassion for narcissists’ wounds yet not be taken in by their pretenses. All that glitters is not gold.
3. Don’t try to justify or explain yourself.
Narcissists often put others on the defensive with pointed questions or sarcasm, posturing as though you must explain yourself to them. You need not justify your feelings or explain your thoughts. The more you do, the more you are at risk for them gaslighting you to induce self-doubt. Defending yourself to narcissists is generally a waste of time. Narcissists tend to be interested in winning, not listening; self-promoting, not communicating.
4. Don’t minimize their outrageous behavior.
Narcissists’ self-absorbed behavior and need for attention can take up all the emotional oxygen in the room. Over time, people around narcissists may become inured and fail to recognize how unhealthy narcissistic behavior can be.
Let’s be clear: Deceiving, manipulating, and humiliating others is unhealthy and wrong. At times it may be best to let narcissists’ immature or provocative behaviors pass without comment, but that doesn’t mean you should fail to note, at least to yourself, how dysfunctional it is.
5. Don’t expect them to own their part.
Narcissists take credit and give blame. They do not apologize or admit responsibility. Seeking to get narcissists to be accountable for unhealthy behavior can be a waste of time. Narcissists believe they have more rights than others and have little interest in introspection. They love to look at their accomplishments, successes, or “special” talents, but fear looking within or owning their mistakes.
If you want to hold them accountable, fine—but do so because you need to say it, not because you expect they will ever hear or validate your concerns.
6. Don’t try to beat them at their own game.
It may be tempting but remember: Narcissists have spent a lifetime perfecting a campaign of self-aggrandizement. They do more manipulative actions in a week than most people do all year. Narcissists have a mortal fear of feeling humiliated or inferior. As a result, they devote massive energy to cultivating sources of ego-boosting, generally at others’ expense.
Trying to beat them in a war of words or adopt their techniques is akin to an amateur going up against a seasoned pro. It won’t feel good, and it rarely works. Instead, be you and be true to your values.