How to manage a narcissist to protect yourself when you can’t leave

Are you an empath who finds yourself being the perfect supply for the narcissist who feels empty inside?

Perhaps you’ve encountered a narcissistic friend, boss or partner who adored you when you were meeting all their needs. Once the supply source stops, the narcissist will disregard you.

If you stand up for yourself in some way, you will be hijacked. The narcissist perceives any form of self-expression that does not serve their needs as a threat to them. Once they feel an attack on them, they will fight to defend their interests and defeat anyone who gets in their way.

The narcissist sets out to destroy you to avoid the deflation of their grandiose self. They fall apart when they feel criticised or wounded by you. They may launch a vicious smear campaign to rise above you.

Narcissists do not know they are wrong
A narcissist has no concept that they can’t just take what they want. Photo: HighwayStarz, Bigstock

If you expose their character flaws, they will portray themselves to be the victim  in order to recruit others who can pick them up. They might turn their mother against you, get your friends or colleagues on their side, with gossip that distorts the truth, so they do not look bad.

It is pointless trying to reason with a narcissist because they feel they are always right, and will prove others wrong. Life is about winning, and defeating others so they do not fail.

When life does not live up to their high expectations, it causes them to crumble and hit hard, since they have no way to pick themselves up. They lift themselves up by seeking supplies and devaluing those who question them.

Many of my clients have felt as though they’ve lost themselves entirely when they bought into the grandiose illusion that they portray themselves to be, as part of the grandiose false self. Many are left feeling betrayed, fooled or deceived by the narcissistic false persona, until the narcissist becomes unmasked.

Narcissists can only form relationships when feeling fused to others who meet their needs, agree with them, or who are on the same page as them. Their parents weren’t able to gradually deflate their grandiosity for them to re-align their expectations in accordance with reality, so they still expect perfect mirroring or supplies.

They expect the world to revolve around them. Therefore, they lack a separate sense of self and feel disconnected when others are not fused with them. They will push for fusion and pressure for supplies in order to keep their false self-esteem intact, depleting those around them.

This can mean pressuring a partner to stay and telling them whatever they want to hear to win them over. They cannot function as a whole person.

The struggle for the partner is when they express their own separate views, causing a break in fusion. Many are not allowed to have a mind of their own, because they feel they have to agree with the narcissist or be on the same page as them.

The narcissist suffers from a state of psychological one-mindedness, thinking that others share the same mind as them. What they see in others is often a reflection of themselves. They project the unwanted parts of their mind onto others and think others are acting like them.

They think others are ruthless or out to get them. They think others are jealous of them or cheating on them. They put their own inadequacies and insecurities onto others. They are judgemental and highly critical of others, because they are critical of themselves and judge themselves harshly, deep down.

They project the critical part of themselves onto others and attack them for it, so they can feel better about themselves. As long as they find fault in others, they do not have to face the self-critical part of themselves.

How to handle a narcissist to prevent harm?

The ideal way of handling a narcissist is to have no contact with them, but this is not always possible. Therefore, having some understanding about them can help in dealing with their behaviour.

Handling a narcissist
The best way to handle a narcissist is to leave. Photo: AntonioGuillem, Bigstock

Since the narcissist avoids feeling inadequate by being critical of others, it is beneficial to not take their personal insults or devaluing comments on board. Otherwise, it will diminish your self-worth.

Rather, it is useful to not take on board their criticism, but to see it as a reflection of their own state of mind. What they say about you most likely reflects more about them.

By understanding their deep-seeded feelings of inadequacy that underlay the mask, you can protect yourself from a ferocious attack. By putting their inadequacies onto you, the problem gets turned around to be your fault.

This causes them to feel better about themselves by making you doubt yourself, so they can stay on top. This means proving you wrong, so they can be right.

You will never win if you try reasoning with the narcissist or confronting their behaviour, it will leave you feeling slaughtered because they cannot handle being exposed as not perfect. To avoid the shame or humiliation, the narcissist will usually gaslight, use smear campaigns or devalue to avoid feeling injured.

To protect yourself, it is important to separate yourself, by creating boundaries to avoid being in the firing line.  If you do not absorb the attacks by not taking it personally,  you do not take-in any insults.

This allows you to function for your children, perform at work and hold yourself together. Do not reveal your cards or vulnerabilities, since this gives them bait to hook into you. Instead shield yourself, and limit contact, if you can.

A narcissist will often refuse to accept criticism. Photo: Wavebreak Media Ltd, Bigstock

Coping Strategies to deal with narcissists

If you have no option but to have contact with the narcissist, then here are some guidelines to help manage narcissistic behaviour:

  • Be careful when exposing the narcissist’s behaviour because they are likely to perceive it as a threat to their grandiosity. They cannot hear anything when they perceive it as criticism, instead they will attack the injuring source.  Trying to get through to them can be destructive.
  • Remove yourself from abusive behaviour.
  • Do not feel pressure to do things their way. Ask yourself, how does this affect me or my children?
  • Do not give in because you feel worn out or depleted. The more you submit the more you lose yourself completely.
  • Avoid doing things, if it goes against your values.
  • Stay true to yourself and see their behaviour for what it is.
  • When raising issues, be aware that you could  be triggering a narcissistic injury which causes them to feel inadequate or ashamed.  Try to talk when things are calm.
  • Sometimes communicating via emails or texts can shield you from emotional abuse.
  • If they devalue your feedback, they are most likely defending to avoid feeling  inadequate.
  • Be careful taking on criticism which may not reflect you. Do not take it personally, it often reflects how they are feeling deep down. Do not allow them to cause you to doubt yourself.
  • Try to express how you feel with “I” statements, not “you” statements that can cause them to feel blamed or judged. If they are less defensive they are more likely to hear you. If they perceive you as attacking their character, then they will become defensive and not hear you.
  • State facts and observations about their actual behaviour rather than labelling or judging the person’s character. Be firm and not passive when addressing how their behaviour impact you, otherwise your words will have no conviction.
  • Do not let them get away with addictions or affairs, because it will give them permission to treat you this way. Be sensitive to their feelings but let them know where you draw the line.
  • If you want to raise an issue, it can be useful to acknowledge their feelings or show that you understand their point of view, to get them to warm up to what you are about to say. This makes the narcissist much less resistant because they feel somewhat understood. This means fusing with them somewhat, not necessarily giving into them, but showing that you are not against them.
  • If you can centre yourself and be mindful about your own reactions, this will prevent you from reacting towards them, so you can defuse the situation.
  • When they are obviously projecting by criticising or accusing you of things you haven’t done, help them to see things from other points of view.
  • Let them know if you feel they have high expectations of themselves and expect the same for you, which will lead to disappointment for them.
  • Learn to not take on board their criticism, but find ways to let them know that you understand how critical they feel deep down, so they can own this part of themselves.
  • Listen to yourself and understand when you are being manipulated or controlled, so you can take back  control of yourself.

Guidelines for dealing with narcissists

These are basic guidelines for managing narcissistic behaviour, depending on the severity of narcissism. The grandiose or malignant narcissist are more challenging. These guidelines are for managing narcissism in order to keep the abuse at bay, when no contact cannot be achieved.

If  you are struggling to cope or feeling fearful of expressing yourself, then it is advisable to seek counselling  to build ego strength to help recover from the abusive relationships and rebuild yourself.

After all, if you cannot function for yourself, this will limit your ability to be there for yourself and even your children. If abuse prevails, then no contact is the best way to manage a narcissist.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse call 1800 737 732 (1800RESPECT) for help.

Nancy Carbone
Nancy Carbone
As a professional relationship therapist and psychotherapist for over 18 years, Nancy Carbone trained at the International Masterson Institute in New York, for relational trauma. She has a Masters Soc Sc (Counselling), a BA (psych) and BASW. Nancy writes about relationships and mental health related topics and was awarded as top 100 blogs worldwide. You can visit her at
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