How to deal with a narcissist

If you’ve ever had a close encounter with a narcissist, you’ll know just how small, unimportant, and downright miserable they can make you feel.

Being in a relationship with a narcissist, is like being locked in a room with a bully. A clever bully. A bully who can often appear charming and successful to the outside world, while they crush you beneath them. And it all happens behind closed doors.

Because narcissists are often high-achieving and successful, they are likely to earn a lot of admiration from those around them. Which makes it even more difficult if you’re licking your wounds invisibly on the sidelines. That’s because people often:

  • make allowances for bad behavior when a narcissist is successful and/or wealthy, and
  • refuse to believe negative things about their idol.

Also, narcissists select their victims carefully, working hard to ensure they can be intimidated into silence and invisibility.

Narcissists come in all shapes and sizes:

  • a boss
  • a parent (yes, women can be narcissists too)
  • a partner
  • a ‘friend’.

iStock_000002539830_700x700Narcissists require the constant attention and admiration of others. They’re usually driven perfectionists who insist on high performance levels and perfectionism from those around them. At any cost.

Narcissists don’t tolerate dissent, criticism, or non-compliance. It’s their way or the highway. (Hint: choose the highway).

Typical narcissist behavior includes:

  • regarding themselves as superior to others
  • having an inflated sense of self-importance
  • believing they are special and unique
  • requiring excessive admiration
  • taking advantage of others to achieve their own ends
  • unwilling to recognise the feelings and needs of others
  • jealousy of others and believing others are envious of them
  • haughty and arrogant
  • always putting themselves first
  • disregarding the needs of others
  • controlling, blaming and intolerant of others
  • often ambitious and capable.

Remind you of someone you know?

Because narcissism is considered a personality trait, a narcissist can have just a few of these characteristics, or all of them. And narcissist traits vary in their degree of severity. In very extreme cases, narcissism is considered a personality disorder.

If you’re unfortunate enough to have grown up with a narcissist parent you’re sadly more vulnerable to falling foul of a narcissistic boss, friend or even romantic partner. That’s because, even though being around a narcissist clearly isn’t good for you, it feels familiar, and we’re attracted to the familiar.

Getting up close and personal with a narcissist can feel like you’ve been emotionally beaten up. Your self-esteem can plummet, you’ll probably feel inferior, and your psychological bruises and scars can leave you feeling very, very angry, despairing, depressed and anxious.

So, what can you do if there’s a narcissist in your life? Here’s a few survival tips:

  1. Approach narcissists as equals, even if they don’t treat you like an equal, and you don’t feel like one.
  2. Whether or not you feel confident and capable – this is the face you want to present to them.
  3. Think of a person you admire who would never allow themselves to be treated badly by a narcissist, and model their behaviour (you don’t need to feel like them to act like them).
  4. Start learning to say no, and standing your ground.
  5. Stand up when you’re talking to the narcissist, and make sure you eyeball them.
  6. Stop trying to earn the narcissist’s approval, and become realistic about what you can achieve.
  7. Plan out your week, schedule in the tasks you need to do, and defer or delegate the ones that clearly can’t be done. This will give you clear boundaries that no one (including yourself) can argue with.
  8. Talk to other people who know the narcissist – you won’t be the only person who is struggling with them and it helps to know you’re not alone.
  9. Re-evaluate your narcissist friends – do you really want them in your life? Friendships need to be reciprocal – if you’re only giving and not receiving, it might be time for a spring clean
  10. If a narcissist boss is making life at work hell, consider leaving – changing jobs is often an option people rule out, but take a closer look at it.
  11. If you’re in a romantic relationship with a narcissist, you might need professional help to wade through the mess of dealing with it more effectively than you have been. You also have options here – but you may need support to take a look at them.
  12. If you’ve been bruised by a narcissist as a child, recognise the damage this has caused you and use the knowledge to make sense of your current, adult relationships.

Ultimately, remember that narcissists are hard work. Therapists with few exceptions really dislike dealing with them in session. But we often have contact with them as parents of our teenage or adult clients, or as partners of clients.

On an interesting note: true narcissists rarely attend therapy themselves. After all, there’s nothing wrong with them, it’s other people not doing as they’re told that creates the problems.

Let me know if you’ve got any more survival tips for dealing with narcissists. I’d love to add to my list!

And if you drew the short straw of growing up with a narcissist parent, this article might help you.

Have you dealt with a narcissist? What was your experience and how did you solve it?



Written By

Kate Swann is a psychologist, life coach, and author of the book Do You Really Want to Lose Weight? In her psychology practice PS Counselling in Melbourne she works with adults and teenagers with depression, anxiety, trauma, and weight issues.


  • I’ve known a few people with narcissistic tendencies. I just tried to handle things with grace and maturity at my end and often you just have to let them go, because there’s no reasoning with them.

  • In my book, setting a narcissist adrift is one of the best options. And even if you don’t use it, it should always remain on the table as an option. Knowing you’ve got it there up your sleeve can be empowering.

  • Getting professional help and support is very helpful when dealing with a narcissist partner. I found that helped me immensely and having them identify that person’s behaviour (and that narcissists never change) was life changing. It also helped me to identify other narcissists. I also read Divorcing a Narcissist by Tina Swithin which was very helpful and I can recommend this if you’re in this situation. Thanks for talking about this and giving guidance.

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