By: Christine Hammond, LMHC
It’s hard to avoid narcissists. They seem to be everywhere, multiplying in great numbers. It reminds me of the old Star Trek episode with the Tribbles who reproduced at such a rapid rate that the ship was in danger of being overtaken in a matter of days. At first the Tribbles were cute to watch but then they became threatening. And so it is with narcissism.
What can a person do to counteract this perilous environment? Here are five things a person can do today:
1. Guard self-talk. The innately persistent and persuasive nature of a narcissist allows them to effortlessly influence others. Unfortunately, some of the narcissistic talk is negative attacks designed to intimidate others into an inferior position to their superior one.
a. Solution: To counteract the effects, a person must guard their self-talk especially if it mirrors anything the narcissist has declared about the person. Of every negative thought, ask: “Where did this come from? Who does this sound like?” Anything that resembles a narcissistic statement must be immediately discarded and replace with positive self-talk. Remember, their perception is not accurate.
2. Don’t compare. A favorite abusive tactic of narcissists is to compare their accomplishments with others. Of course, they exaggerate their success far beyond what is accurate to demonstrate their superiority. At the same time, they minimize other’s accomplishments to further widen the gap of difference.
a. Solution: There are two points of advice to handle this situation: don’t point out the inaccuracies and don’t internalize the comparison. First, don’t waste time arguing or refuting the inaccurate perception of the narcissist. This will only result in a heated or volatile situation. A narcissist will not admit they might be wrong even when the evidence is clear. Second, it is not unusual for a person to absorb the comparison and place themselves in the inferior position. Because neither position is accurate, there is no reason to segregate. There are many paths to success beyond what the narcissist declares.
3. Reset boundaries. Narcissists are famous for setting ridiculous boundaries or limitations on others while refusing to accept any. They believe that the rules are for other people who need such guidance, not them. As a result, they tend to have unrealistic expectations of what others should and should not do.
a. Solution: A person needs to filter each expectation, limitation or boundary a narcissist places on them to see if it is fair, realistic, or practical. Ask: “Is this a standard that I would place on someone else? How does this rule make me feel?” If the answers are: “No and angry,” then reset the standard to a more reasonable level. The new level does not need to be immediately communicated with the narcissist; again this would just incite an argument. Rather, get comfortable with the standard first and then if needed communicate later after evidence has been gathered to demonstrate that this is a more sensible approach.
4. Do right. Ethics and morality at the hands of a narcissist are colored by what works for them in the moment. Even religious narcissists tend to have one set of standards for them and another for everyone else. When caught doing something wrong, the narcissist uses blame, justification and minimization to dismiss any concerns.
a. Solution: Don’t follow their immoral or unethical lead. Instead have a set of standards that are guiding principles for how to live a principled life. Refuse to do what is wrong, indecent, improper, or dishonorable regardless of the consequences the narcissist has imposed. There is always a choice to be made in every difficult circumstance and choosing to do what is virtuous will bring far greater satisfaction then the opposite.
5. Take responsibility. A narcissist will not take responsibility for their actions, words, behavior, or reactions. Everything is about shifting blame to someone else or dumping their duties onto others so they don’t have to be held accountable. However, narcissists will say that they are the most responsible person they know and that is usually because they have taken credit for things they did not accomplish.
a. Solution: Be different from the narcissist. When a person makes an error in judgement or behavior, be willing to take responsibility for the mistake and accept the consequences. Do not however, accept responsibility for a narcissist’s mistake no matter how much they try to be convincing that it is not their fault.
Relationships with narcissists require an enormous amount of self-control to keep all of these things in check. At first, this is hard to do but with time, energy and effort, all five of these items become easier.