How to Deal With a Narcissist

Tips for Living With a Narcissist

They're so used to the blame game already

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Dealing with a narcissist, whether a romantic partner, roommate, or family member, can be challenging. Learning all you can about narcissistic traits and understanding some of the ways to deal with them can help you feel better able to cope.

This article discusses what narcissism is, what it's like to deal with someone who shows frequent narcissistic behaviors, how their behavior might affect you, and what you can do to care for your own emotional well-being.

What Is a Narcissist?

A narcissist is someone with an inflated image of themselves. A person with this quality often has such an excessive interest in their own image and appearance that they lack consideration or empathy for others.

Someone with narcissism is highly self-centered, to the point where it hurts the people around them. This makes it important to recognize the signs, enabling you to create a plan to better deal with the narcissist in your life.

Narcissism exists on a spectrum. Some people might possess high levels of narcissistic traits or engage in narcissistic behavior frequently. In other cases, people may have a condition known as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which can exhibit more extreme behaviors.

Signs You Are Dealing With a Narcissist

Everyone puts themselves first or focuses on their own needs to a certain degree, but narcissists engage in self-centered behaviors much more often and hurtfully. This can be confusing, painful, and damaging to the people who deal with them. 

To deal with a narcissist, the first step is to recognize the signs. Some questions you might ask yourself:

  • Do they lack empathy? People with narcissism are so focused on themselves that they struggle to empathize with other people.
  • Do they self-aggrandize? Narcissists have an inflated sense of self and are preoccupied with their own importance. They often exaggerate their accomplishments and importance—often to cover up their insecurity and weak sense of self.
  • Are they unapologetic? Narcissists have little regard for the feelings and needs of others. They won’t apologize for hurting others—unless it benefits them in some way. For example, they may use triangulation to secure their self-esteem and devalue others.
  • Do they overreact to criticism? People who are narcissistic lash out against even the slightest criticism. Rather than accepting responsibility for their own mistakes, they will blame others.
  • Are they manipulative? When you are living with a narcissistic, you might often feel like you are being lied to, manipulated, or mistreated. It often seems like they will say and do anything to get what they want and what they think they deserve.

Sometimes, narcissistic characteristics are easy to recognize, but covert narcissism is more difficult to detect. The covert narcissist also has a grandiose sense of importance, exploits others, and lacks empathy, but their narcissistic behaviors are more difficult to spot.

Tips for Dealing With a Narcissist

Dealing with a narcissist can be exhausting and stressful. It can make it difficult to be comfortable in your home or workplace and can be detrimental to your mental well-being.

Finding ways to cope is important. Understanding what makes narcissists tick and exploring some key coping strategies can help you manage your relationship with the narcissist while preserving your own mental health. Whether you must deal with a narcissist at home, at work, or in a social setting, these tips can help.

Don’t Take Their Behavior Personally

Understand that the person you are dealing with may have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Experts don't fully understand what causes NPD, but it is often linked to factors such as genetics, childhood abuse, trauma, personality, and upbringing.

People with NPD can't change their behavior on their own and might not be able to recognize that there is a problem; they need professional help, but they rarely seek it. You might encourage them to talk to a therapist, but they likely will resist or respond negatively.

The problem is, even if you know that narcissistic behavior such as manipulation and lack of regard isn't really about you, these behaviors tend to feel like personal attacks. Remind yourself that it's not personal.

You aren't to blame for their actions, and you didn't do anything to cause them. You can encourage them to get help, but you are not responsible for supporting them or fixing their mistakes.

Establish (and Enforce) Boundaries

When you are dealing with a narcissist at home or at work, one of the most important things that you can do is to set firm boundaries. Boundaries are the things that you are willing and not willing to accept in a relationship. They are non-negotiable limits that tell others what counts as acceptable and tolerable behavior. 

For example, you might make it clear that you won't accept behaviors such as rudeness or name-calling when you are communicating with one another. If they engage in this type of behavior, the conversation will end.

Creating boundaries isn't an effort to change the other person. Instead, these limits clarify that certain behaviors will not be tolerated. Once you set a boundary, it is important to stick with it. If the other person violates it, immediately enact the consequences. 

In the example above, immediately end the conversation and walk away as soon as you can. Don't argue or wait for them to respond. Simply end it.

Likewise, don’t make idle threats or create ultimatums that you won’t follow through on. Failing to enforce your boundaries means that the other person won’t take them seriously. If you enact the consequences, however, they'll be more likely to believe you when you tell them you won’t accept a behavior. 

Example:

“If you continue to talk to me that way, this conversation is over.” The moment they engage in the behavior they have been warned about, leave the situation as quickly (and safely) as you can.

It is also important to be aware that setting and maintaining your boundaries is an ongoing process. Remind people what your boundaries are and keep enforcing them.

Watch for Gaslighting

In dealing with a narcissist, you may have noticed a behavior known as gaslighting. People who engage in this type of manipulation deny reality in a way that causes you to doubt yourself and your experiences.

For example:

  • They might deny saying things or suggest that they were just joking and you are being too sensitive.
  • They might undermine your confidence by suggesting that you don't know what really happened or by accusing you of misinterpreting or overreacting to the situation.
  • In other cases, they might simply deny the things they have done or said.

Dealing with gaslighting isn't easy, particularly when it is your word against theirs. One way to cope is to keep records of events by writing them down, keeping paper documents that corroborate your experiences, or enlisting others to witness your conversations with the other person. This is particularly important in the workplace, where a competitive narcissist might accuse you of bad or incompetent behavior to curry favor with coworkers and bosses.

When they do try to gaslight you, make it clear that you know what you are doing and that you won’t tolerate it—again, creating a boundary.

Boost Your Self-Esteem

A narcissistic person often undermines others to boost their sense of self. This can be particularly damaging when the person is always running you down in subtle and non-subtle ways. The workplace is especially vulnerable to this kind of behavior.

To help ensure that you have the mental strength to cope, make sure that your self-esteem remains healthy, even in the face of challenges. Keep an assertive attitude; narcissists gravitate toward people who enable their antics.

However, remember that people with low self-esteem, weak boundaries, or a shaky sense of self aren't the only ones who end up in situations with narcissists. You understandably might be drawn to what seems like confidence and charisma at the beginning of a relationship, but later recognize these traits as narcissism the more you get to know the person.

Keeping your self-esteem high and keeping an assertive stance, even if the narcissist tries to manipulate and undercut you, can help you navigate the more interpersonally harmful behaviors.

Build your own confidence by:

  • Engaging in positive self-talk
  • Forgiving yourself for your mistakes
  • Surrounding yourself with supportive people who believe in you
  • Advocating for yourself
  • Treating yourself with kindness and respect

Find Support

Dealing with a narcissist's dysfunctional and sometimes abusive behavior can be exhausting. Maintaining healthy relationships with others who are caring and supportive is especially important when you have a relationship with a narcissist, whether they're a roommate, family member, romantic partner, or coworker. 

Having other people you can turn to talk about what you are coping with can be a way to get emotional support and perspective. Look for healthy relationships with other people in which you listen to one another. You should feel free to be your real self around them, secure in the knowledge that they accept you for who you are.

At work, resist the urge to gossip and vent; remember, the narcissist is adept at turning your words against you. However, do keep your superior apprised of the narcissist's behavior privately to help circumvent the narcissist's efforts to undermine you.

Recap

Social support can help offset the stress of dealing with a narcissist. Confiding in people you trust is an important way to gain support and strength.

When to Leave

Toxic relationships can have a seriously detrimental impact on your mental well-being. If being around the narcissist is causing you distress and making it difficult to function normally, consider ending the relationship. This might mean leaving the situation altogether.

If the situation has turned abusive or otherwise dangerous, seek help as soon as possible. Don't expect the narcissist to change on their own; the cycle of abuse/love bombing is likely to continue until the narcissist gets the help they need.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Getting Help

Whether you are still living with a narcissist or have gotten out of the relationship, talking to a mental health professional can be helpful. Look for a therapist who has knowledge and experience in dealing with narcissism. Your therapist can offer insight and help you better understand your situation and experiences. 

They can also help you work on coping and communication skills that will help you effectively deal with a narcissist. For example, they might help you learn to recognize signs of gaslighting, work on establishing clear boundaries, and practice being assertive and standing up for yourself.

A therapist can also help you deal with the emotional aftermath of having lived with a narcissist once you are safely free of the situation. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), your therapist can recommend appropriate treatments that can help, which may include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Recap

Living with a narcissist can take a serious toll on your mental wellness. Talking to a therapist can help you process and understand your experience.

A Word From Verywell

Living with a narcissist isn't easy. It can be exhausting and difficult, but there are things that you can do to stay strong, supported, and mentally healthy.

Remember that you're not the problem and don't take their behaviors personally. Create strong boundaries, protect your self-esteem, and seek out healthy relationships with people who understand what you are going through.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to wait for a relationship to become toxic to end it. Oftentimes, getting out of the situation is the best thing that you can do for your mental well-being. 

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Washington, DC; 2013.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Narcissistic personality disorder.

  3. Kacel EL, Ennis N, Pereira DB. Narcissistic personality disorder in clinical health psychology practice: case studies of comorbid psychological distress and life-limiting illness. Behav Med. 2017;43(3):156-164. doi:10.1080/08964289.2017.1301875

  4. Love Is Respect. What are my boundaries?

  5. Thomas L. Gaslight and gaslightingThe Lancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(2):117-118. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30024-5

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.