At any point in our lives, we have all encountered that person. A friend, family member, co-worker, or someone you just met at a party who just thinks everything is about them or should be about them. Science has a term for those people: narcissists.
Narcissists by definition are people who have a brittle sense of self-worth and therefore makes up for it by acting superior over the people around them. They may come across as self-absorbed, entitled, or egocentric, and during conversations, they may always want to shift the topic to themselves as they love the attention and spotlight.
Narcissists love being praised and admired, and they have an overinflated sense of self-importance that clouds their ability to think about the sake of anyone but themselves (Cleveland Clinic, 2020). It is important to know that there is a difference between narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Whereas narcissism is used to describe someone who is self-centred, NPD is an actual mental health problem that should be diagnosed by a medical professional. Still, it is not a good idea to tolerate narcissists by building up their ego and self-importance further as this could worsen their problem or condition and, in the end, this could even be harmful to both the narcissist and the people around them.
There are evidence-based studies that show how we can effectively manage or deal with narcissists, in this article, we will be discussing a few of those methods.
1. Ignore ‘em!
The first thing we have to do when dealing with narcissists is to not give them the attention that they crave. Narcissists love to bask in the golden light of attention, may it be positive or negative attention. Whether you are praising or criticizing the narcissist, as long as they know that people are looking at or thinking of them, it further inflates their ego.
One of my Facebook friends is a narcissist, she loves to travel and splurge on expensive things in order to get as many likes as she can on the social media platform. I would’ve shrugged it off as her being a regular citizen who enjoys sharing her life adventures on social media, but one day, she confronted me for being a “hater” for not liking some of the photos she uploaded on Facebook. I would have attributed that to her having a bad day, but a few hours later she started a thread of posts targeted towards her “haters” and “fake friends”, this, of course, garnered a few likes and comments which further fueled her need for attention.
I have dealt with a few narcissists in my life, so I knew exactly how to combat this attack of hers which is to ignore her. Responding to a narcissist’s attack is to acknowledge their action. As we said earlier, they love both positive and negative attention. It is risky to tolerate this kind of behaviour because in the long run, who knows what measures they will take in order to get the spotlight? As a solution, we have to first see them for who they really are, and their behaviour for what it really is, and once we check these off the list, we can proceed to not give their actions any recognition. The lack of attention will have two purposes: first is that it will prevent the narcissist’s ego from inflating any further and protect your own mental health from being infiltrated by the narcissist.
2. Watch your words
Aside from not giving the narcissist the attention that they want, it is important that we also watch our words when we speak to them. Narcissists love to add a lot of pizzazz to the words that they speak in order to lure in their next victim. If you find yourself in a row with a narcissist, try to state the facts more rather than letting your emotions sprinkle all over your arguments, like what they do. Narcissists believe that their truth is the universal truth, but they need to understand that that is not how the world works. Present the facts plain and simple to the narcissist and you will notice that they are unable to grasp this, and some narcissists would even go as far as to throw tantrums when the conversation doesn’t go the way they want it to go.
3. Draw the line
We mentioned earlier that narcissists tend to see themselves as absolutely flawless and superior to their colleagues, friends, and even family. This characteristic leads them to believe that no one else should be able to order them around. At work, the narcissist will always try to reason their way out of trouble instead of admitting their mistake because, in their minds, they’re always right.
So how does one deal with this?
Well for one, you have to draw the line by laying down the ground rules. Should the narcissist try to reason their way out of trouble, remind them of the ground rules and be strict with the implementation of these rules.
Make sure that you do not leave any grey area in the lines you’ve drawn so that when the narcissist tries to charm their way out, they won’t be able to find any loopholes that they can crawl through. Narcissists should understand the consequences of their actions and should be held accountable for the damage that results from their need to protect their overinflated egos.
4. Reciprocating feelings
Something interesting about human behaviour is our ability to reciprocate and respond to the feelings of other human beings. However, the same is not true for narcissists. Tell me if this sounds familiar, someone (a friend or partner) asks that you should be available for them at all times. Should you fail to answer a phone call or to any of their other demands, they go ballistic. They might paint you as the villain by accusing you of cheating or paint themselves as the victim who are “ignored and taken for granted by the people they love”. But when you request for a portion of their loyalty, they’re not the least bit willing to provide it for you because they only care about themselves.
To deal with this, you have to understand that you are not at fault.
They will try to make you feel like you are the root cause of the problems in a relationship, but you have to be able to step back and see the situation for what it really is. A person who is narcissistic will never admit that they are at fault, but that does not mean that you are the one who is at fault.
You do not have to offer yourself as the one to blame in order to save the narcissist’s ego.
Although if you are dealing with a quick-witted narcissist, this person might try to manipulate you into doing their bidding by tapping into your emotions. If this person is especially close to you, chances are they already know the pattern of your feelings and behaviours.
You have to be aware of the times when they try to manipulate you by using your weaknesses against you, this could include blackmail, using your past traumas against you, or even guilt-tripping.
These can be perceived by the narcissist as a vulnerability and use it to take advantage of you, so always keep your guard up when it comes to these things.
5. Excessive complaining
I read somewhere that when a lot of people are complaining, there is a problem in society, but when you’re the only one complaining, chances are, you might be the problem. Okay, that might not sound good but allow me to explain.
The thing with narcissists is that they think that there is something wrong with the entire population of the world except for themselves. They might complain about their co-worker and in the process of doing so, they might add a bit more to the story or splice out the parts that don’t make them look good. As human beings, that is pretty normal. We all want to paint ourselves in a good light. However, when the complainant exaggerates the story and starts to paint the complainee as the villain (when all that they did is accidentally eat the leftover doughnut in the pantry fridge), that’s where the trouble begins.
The narcissist will try to gather as many listeners as they could to proclaim their judgment on their target, they really couldn’t care less about what their victim feels, they just want the attention and clout that their listeners provide for them. In today’s pop culture, this is pretty evident in Tiktok and Instagram personalities who rose to popularity by broadcasting their “beef” with another starlet-wannabe. This phenomenon may also be observed in “Karens” which is a pejorative term for overly entitled people. Karens will complain about the simplest things that inconvenience them, say, they didn’t like the way the kids were looking at them, or the store assistant was not very assistive, you know, very minor things that ordinary people normally wouldn’t complain about.
One of the ways by which we can deal with this particular characteristic of a narcissist is to help them understand that they are not the victims of every situation. But because their judgment of the world is clouded by their superior view of themselves, they might also not be able to grasp this concept. The best way to deal with this is to tell them upfront the truth and reality of the situation that they are complaining about. If they are at fault, be straightforward in telling them that they are at fault, no sugar-coating.
In summary, we have to understand how to spot a narcissist on the get-go so that we know how we can deal with them. Narcissists have an overinflated sense of self-importance, constantly thinks about how much better they are compared to other people, needs excessive admiration and praise feels entitled, and lacks the ability to understand or consider the feelings of other people (Cleveland Clinic, 2020). We also have to know how to deal with narcissistic people, we must take into consideration that some people actually do suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder and should be referred to professional help, and some people are just plain narcissistic.
At the end of the day, we have to choose to protect our own peace by not engaging much with narcissistic people and knowing the tell-tale signs of when we should move on from these kinds of relationships.