Woman smiling while running though a sunflower field.

8 Essential Strategies To Survive A Narcissist

Sometimes certain circumstances require you to stay in relationship with a narcissist. When this is the case, it is critical to understand healthy methods of dealing with and protecting yourself against the narcissist in your life. In this article we will discuss how to survive a narcissist with 8 essential strategies.

Here is what we’ll cover:

  • Understand The Narcissist
  • Strategy 1: Learn To Recognize Manipulation
  • Strategy 2: Cultivate Healthy Relationships
  • Strategy 3: Manage Expectations
  • Strategy 4: Understand Their Limitations
  • Strategy 5: Set Clear Boundaries
  • Strategy 6: Choose Your Battles
  • Strategy 7: Learn Who You Are & Stick To It
  • Strategy 8: Get A Good Therapist

Let’s get right to it!

Understand The Narcissist

Underneath the veneer of grandiosity, narcissists have an unresolved reservoir of unconscious shame that is extremely painful to process. 

The more extreme the narcissism, the more extreme the inner shame and self-hatred. 

As long as the narcissist projects this shame onto the world around them, they can maintain a grandiose self-image and escape facing this deep void of inner shame. 

Woman standing alone in the dark.

Narcissism can result from child abuse, neglect, bullying or emotional trauma during early development – all events which instill deep feelings of not being good enough.

Narcissists have fragile egos and perceive any kind of slight or disagreement as a threat to their self-worth, whether it is real or simply perceived

In their grandiosity, narcissists feel that they are superior and entitled to better treatment than others, and this automatically entitles them to treat others poorly.

This can make many narcissists resistant to changing toxic behaviors which makes being in a relationship with one very difficult. Below are eight strategies that can help you survive in a relationship with a narcissist. 

Strategy 1: Learn To Recognize Manipulation

Narcissists are naturally skilled manipulators in that they have a strong sense of self-preservation and know how to elicit other people’s emotions to fulfill their own agenda. The manipulative behaviors may or may not be intentional, but they have the effect of leading others to act a certain way.

While you may deeply care about the person you are in a relationship with, you need to dispassionately study the tactics and behaviors that narcissists use in order to defend against them. 

The good news is that narcissists often come back to the same tactics once they’ve discovered their effectiveness. You can learn to identify these tactics and practice no longer engaging with them. One of the easiest ways to survive a narcissist is to catch the red flags. The more you engage with them,  the more likely it is that these behaviors will continue.

Here are a few to keep an eye out for:

  • Gaslighting: (manipulating you into questioning your own memory and sanity).
A woman looking frustrated after dealing with a narcissist.
  • Shaming: (using subtle sarcasm or directly attacking your self-esteem to punish you for a transgression)
  • Guilt-tripping: (obliquely suggesting that you’re responsible for the narcissist’s feelings, perhaps by causing you to feel abandoned or rejected)
  • Projection: (blaming you for their own shortcomings and actions)
  • Love Bombing: (lavishing praise on you insincerely when it suits them while withholding it or being cruel at other times)
  • Invalidation: (convincing you that your reactions are irrational or overly sensitive)
  • Minimization: (suggesting that your role, impact, feelings or experience weren’t important enough to merit consideration)
  • Narcissistic Rage: (flying into a sudden onslaught of fury when their ego is threatened in some way)
  • Coercion: (Demonstrations of rage, aggression, force, or threats to get you to comply)
  • Future Faking: (assuring you of future positive experiences together they have no intention of fulfilling in order to maintain your loyalty)
Two female friends having a conversation about manipulation from a narcissist.

Do your research and learn all the ways a narcissist manipulates and you will be able to reduce the amount of power they hold over you.

For more information on this topic, check out the video 8 Manipulation Games Narcissists Will Play With You → HERE

Strategy 2: Cultivate Healthy Relationships

To survive a narcissist you must have a healthy support network that surrounds and protects you. This can be in the form of a family member, friend, therapist, or somebody else who you know will have your back.

These people are important because they will keep you grounded firmly in reality. Trustworthy friends and family members have your best interest at heart and they will let you know when something doesn’t seem right. 

Support group of women having dinner in drinks while sharing strategies for coping with a narcissist.

For example, your friends might tell you when a narcissist is over-dramatizing something and therefore, should not be taken too seriously or provide support if or when a narcissist degrades or gaslights you. 

Peer support groups can also provide an invaluable source of education and help you come up with coping strategies for dealing with the narcissist in your life. 

A narcissist may attempt to isolate you from friends and family in order to keep you dependent on them and the relationship. 

You need support networks that are outside of the  narcissist’s sphere of influence so they won’t have the power to interfere or manipulate these important relationships. 

If you think you might be in an over-involved relationship with the narcissist in your life, check our blog 14 Signs Of Over-Involvement in a Relationship & How to Break Free FAST [2021].

Strategy 3: Manage Expectations

It’s important to manage your personal expectations while in a relationship with a narcissist. Extreme narcissists aren’t like other people and expecting them to be in a healthy, caring relationship is well intentioned but could be unrealistic.

Remember the narcissists are resistant to change. A narcissist is unlikely to change because they don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. 

The Narcissist’s mind is set up in such a way as to convince them that they are not the problem but rather everyone else is deficient by comparison. 

Man pointing his finger directly in front of him.

It can be challenging for a person like this to reveal fault because of the intense feelings of shame and humiliation associated with being seen as damaged. 

They will more likely lash out or punish you for witnessing their vulnerability than express remorse or any willingness to change. 

If you’re planning to stay with a narcissist, work on learning to cope without relying on them for your own happiness or validation.

Giving up on hoping for a narcissist to change might be difficult – but freeing, because it lessens your emotional investment in someone who is unable or unwilling to give back to you in a healthy way.

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Strategy 4: Understand Their Limitations

Understanding the narcissist and their motivations can help you gain insight into why they do what they do and help you to avoid taking their behavior personally.

If the relationship seems worth preserving then it can be helpful to recognize where they are coming from and work within those limitations.

"Dead end" road sign.

Know that they are disconnected – A narcissist doesn’t know how to make healthy attachments with other people. Their adult relationships tend to be somewhat limited (due in part to this emotional absence but also because of the methods they use for managing them). 

This can make it very difficult for them to experience the true connection and intimacy needed to maintain any sort of healthy relationship.

To survive a narcissist, take responsibility of your own happiness and expect nothing from them. If you do, you will not only be happier but you will also have more inner strength to cope with anything they do.

Understand that they aren’t always going to feel empathy – A narcissist has trouble with feelings and emotions, which means they will have a difficult time caring about other people or understanding where they are coming from. 

Man and woman having a conversation on the couch.

For the narcissist, there is only one person who matters: themselves. They are unable to see you or anyone else separately from their own needs which means they will use you without any regard for your feelings or consequences. 

In reality anything they say has more to do with them than it does with you, so don’t take anything they do personally. Just let it go and carry on as if they never said anything at all.

Understand that rage, manipulation, and attention seeking will happen – Narcissists need constant validation and are always seeking out new ways to make themselves feel important. They may put you down to try and bring themselves up or they may become jealous of your success and invalidate them.  

All the things a narcissist does that inflate their ego or cause you pain are the strategies they use to avoid their shame, and they will continue to use those strategies.

A chess piece knocking over another chess piece.

The more aware you become of their behavior the easier it will be for you to step back and detach yourself from their actions.

Understand that your needs will likely go unmet – Narcissistic relationships are often transactional in nature where they give far less than what they take. 

They expect unconditional support from others around them which includes overlooking any and all of their ‘usual’ behavior in order to maintain the status quo. They see nothing wrong with this approach nor do they ever feel compelled to reciprocate such a generous offer.

This can mean you will need to find alternative sources of support. A friend that makes you feel good about yourself is an asset in helping you cope better in life. Additionally, support yourself as much as you can by getting enough rest, eating well and exercising.

iPad with a hand drawn "mental health matters" graphic.

Strategy 5: Set Clear Boundaries

When left to their own devices, narcissists will almost always cross boundaries that most people automatically respect. This means you will have to become exceptional at setting and enforcing your personal boundaries.

Boundaries help create a healthier relationship between two people by helping each person understand the other’s limits and expectations. Telling a narcissist what you will and won’t tolerate is an important step in gaining back your personal power.

Person standing on the side of the road.

To set a boundary let the person know they’ve crossed a line in a non-aggressive and kind manner and then follow through with consequences if they continue infringing on your space.

For example, to set limits on how you will allow yourself to be treated you might say:

“I can see that you are angry right now, and I understand that. And when you talk to me like that it makes me feel hurt. When you are calmer we can have a discussion about this matter, until then if you want to express yourself positively please come back later.”

Be prepared for pushback– Name-calling, minimizing your feelings, playing the victim, claiming that you’re oversensitive, and exploding in anger are all examples of how narcissists may try to shatter your resistance after you’ve set clear limits. Standing firm on your boundaries lets them know they are not up for debate. 

"My way" left facing arrow sign over a "highway" right facing arrow sign in front of a red door.

For more resources on setting boundary with a narcissist, check out this video → HERE

Strategy 6: Choose Your Battles

One of the most difficult things about living with a narcissist is knowing which battles are worth fighting and which ones aren’t. Narcissists have an uncanny knack for engaging us in these battles (and even inventing some) so that we spend more time arguing with them than we do  living our own lives.

The best strategy is to avoid arguments with a narcissist altogether. Try not to justify, explain, or defend yourself. Narcissists don’t want to understand you, They are more  interested in winning the argument than actually solving the problem at hand. 

It can be tempting at times to give them the “upper hand” or go down fighting just on principle but it’s not worth it. Narcissists don’t empathize with your feelings and don’t believe they share fault or blame in any conflict. This means there was no character development between the last scene and now. 

If you find yourself in the heat of an argument, make sure to de-escalate by walking away or changing the subject. Instead, shift your focus towards improving yourself and developing into a stronger you.

Strategy 7: Learn Who You Are & Stick To It

Woman smirking and pointing directly in front of her.

If you have experienced childhood trauma or painful relationships in the past, you may have been left with any number of insecurities or self-doubts that left you susceptible to the narcissist’s behavior in the first place. 

Take measures into improving your own self-esteem so that you no longer tolerate or take on anybody who mistreats you.

When a narcissist constantly demeans and devalues you they are communicating that you aren’t worth much either. This sort of conditioning can lead you down a negative path where you start believing it yourself. After surviving a narcissist, it’s common to feel insecure.

Remember, just like everybody else, you are somebody with tremendous worth and value! When you understand your worth then NOBODY can take that away from you. 

"You are worthy of love" yard sign.

If your circumstances allow it, be willing to walk away – Love doesn’t mean you have to stay in an unhealthy relationship. Everybody has their limits and if somebody is using you, manipulating you, or dehumanizing you then it’s time to make a healthy exit.

To learn more about healing from unhealthy relationships, check out our blog How to Heal From Emotional Abuse in Relationships: Therapist Approved Strategies [2021]

Strategy 8: Get A Good Therapist

If you think you are in a relationship with a narcissist or just feel overwhelmed in your relationship, it may be time to talk with a therapist. This might be the most important thing that you can do to help yourself!

Therapist having a conversation with a patient who is involved with a narcissist on a couch.

A good therapist can help you validate your own feelings and be a safe place where you can talk about the dynamics of the relationship. To survive a narcissist, you need to take care of yourself.

They can also help you learn coping skills, help you deal with the aftermath of relationships with narcissists or give you some insight into your own part in allowing these people to have control over your life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! That about sums it up for this article on how to survive a narcissist.

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