How do you protect yourself from a narcissist? They’re so charming, intelligent, and charismatic that many people don’t realize they’re a narcissistic before it’s too late. They’re often in positions of power through their personal achievements, financial stability, or social status.
They can also be in positions of power because of their disturbing ability to manipulate others through fear, guilt, and a false sense of hope. Regardless of the type of relationship, a relationship with a narcissist feels like yet another David versus Goliath scenario, but it doesn’t have to be.
This article is a complete guide to how to protect yourself from a narcissist.
Acknowledging Red Flags Can Protect You From Narcissistic Abuse
After learning about how horrifying narcissists can be, many people wonder how it’s possible for someone to not only be attracted to a narcissist, but stay in the relationship for months, years, even decades.
The truth is, while there are many red flags in the beginning of all narcissistic relationships, they’re hidden by a combination of narcissistic abuse and the victims approach to the relationship.
The early stages of narcissistic relationships vary. There could be a love bombing phase, the victim could idealize the relationship, or the victim could enter the relationship with a low self-esteem. Whatever the beginning may be, it causes the narcissist’s red flags to be overlooked.
Learning how to acknowledge these red flags, despite the circumstances, can protect you from narcissistic abuse.
Narcissists Believe That They’re Entitled to Whatever They Want, Whenever They Want
A core aspect of narcissism is entitlement. Narcissists have a belief that they’re entitled to a different set of rules, and because of that, the ideologies of superiority is woven into their psyche.
As some of the most self-loathing and insecure people on the planet, narcissists work very hard to maintain their superficial reality of entitlement and superiority.
Examples of Red Flags Related to Entitlement
Tommy, like many other working class men and women in his town, has been stopping at the local coffee shop every morning before work for the past 2 years. Due to personal reasons, the owner of the coffee shops decides that they’ll only serve people through the drive through for the foreseeable future. It’s not the end of the world, but it means people will have to wait a little bit longer to get their orders.
Tommy decides to cut the line because he has to get to work on time and he’s been a loyal customer for years. When he gets to the window, the owner tells him that he isn’t going to be served because he cut the line and that he needs to go back to his place. Tommy explodes, he can’t believe how ignorant the owner is being. Tommy is a regular there, he feels that he should get his order first. In a frantic rage, Tommy cusses out the owner and vows to destroy his business because of how he treats his “V.I.P. customers.”
Sarah is very well known for her cooking ability around her town. It’s a small town in northern Colorado, Craig, with a population of about 9,500 people. She’s always asked to cook for the fundraisers, help create lunch menus for the local schools, always gets mentioned in the newspaper, frequently gets interviewed by the local news channel, and even has her own restaurant in the center of town.
One day, a world class, well known chef opens a restaurant one town over. After having a monopoly on the business, validation, and admiration for nearly a decade, Sarah is being outshone by a better chef. The new chef is getting a ton of media attention, a huge amount of validation on social media, and a massive influx of customers, who would usually go to Sarah’s shop.
In a rage, Sarah begins to get her flying monkeys to leave horrible Yelp reviews about the new shop, she makes really passive aggressive social media posts designed to evoke guilt and pity from others, and she even goes as far as to claim that the new restaurant has stolen her recipes.
What Is The Significance Of These Two Examples?
In the first example, Tommy was under the assumption that he was entitled to be served first because he’d been a customer for years, which makes him a V.I.P. in his eyes. When he was treated like everyone else, he became very angry and threatened the owner’s business.
In the second example, Sarah was accustomed to all of the validation and admiration her town had to offer because she was the only chef around with her skill sets. When the new, world-class and well known chef opened up a shop a few miles away and took all of her business, she was furious. It served as a reminder that she wasn’t as special as she believed.
The significance of both of these examples is that in both examples, the narcissist of the story experienced narcissistic injuries that resulted in them feeling shame.
A fantastic psychoanalyst known as Otto Friedmann Kernberg believes that narcissists are created by narcissistic parents. In our article, How Are Narcissists Made?, we broke down how being raised in a narcissistic environment usually means a child learns that achievements are more important than their emotional stability.
This creates a child person who is unable to regulate their own emotions and is obsessed with accumulating materialistic things to feel good about themselves. So when Tommy was treated like everyone else, his inflated perception of his social status was destroyed. And when Sarah was outdone by a better chef, her abilities as a chef were questioned, which means she questioned her own worth as well.
Because of their inability to regulate their own emotions, the shame they felt from feeling like they weren’t good enough manifested in rage. This is known as a shame-rage spiral. This rageful overreaction is a major red flag to look out for if one would like to protect themselves from a narcissist.
Narcissists Are Hypersensitive to Feedback And Criticism
A narcissist’s hypersensitivity to criticism and feedback is the most commonly seen behavioral pattern, and honestly, one of the most peculiar as well. Their hypersensitivity is closely related with their aura of entitlement as they both have formulated from a narcissist’s fabricated reality.
If you hold your breath for a long time, your body’s natural reaction will be to take a gasp for air. Much like a narcissist’s assumption that feedback and criticism is a slight at their capability and/or worth, it’s uncontrollable.
Examples of Red Flags Related to Hypersensitivity
Andrea has been seeing Mike for 4 months now. They’ve had a fantastic time together. She feels like Mike sees her like nobody else has ever before. Mike is such a passionate man, he’s always surprising her with gifts and other spontaneous moments.
One day they’re cooking together and Andrea suggests that Mike should try cutting the carrot the other direction, a trick she learned from her mother. Mike is so disgusted with her comment, he responds, “I know how to cut a carrot! I’m not a moron!”
Robert has been married to his wife Cassandra for 7 years now. Over the years he has developed a fear of communication with his wife because of how strongly she reacts to criticism or even harmless feedback. One time his wife was feeding their 8 month old child while the child was laying on his back, big no-no.
Robert’s natural reaction was to swoop his child up so he wouldn’t choke and tell his wife what she was doing wrong. She was furious with him, she told him that he made her feel like a bad mother then gave him the silent treatment for a month.
Rachel just started a new job at ABC company and is loving it. It’s taken her a while to find her passion but she feels like she has finally found it. She’s performing well, her co-workers like her and she has even got some validation from the company owner.
One day in a meeting, her supervisor goes off on one of her co-workers for accidentally spilling coffee on the floor. Rachel is horrified and tells her supervisor that he is in the wrong. As if time had stopped, the whole room goes quiet as the supervisor’s face gets more and more red. Boom! He explodes and tears through Rachel.
“Oh now I understand why you got fired from your last job, you’re too dumb to last in a professional environment… Congratulations! You’ve been doing well here the first few months, hopefully you can do the same quality work when we give you a job that’s actually important.” Rachel is at a loss of words, she can’t believe that nobody is acknowledging how ridiculous her supervisor is behaving.
What Is the Significance of These Three Examples?
I provided three different levels of feedback and criticism to give a comprehensive understanding of narcissistic behavior pertaining to ego injuries. The first example could be characterized as feedback with the second example being right on the fence of feedback and criticism.
The narcissist’s response in both scenarios are commonly seen responses in the narcissistic realm. They took the feedback as an attack on their competence and worth.
The third example is quite interesting because I incorporated an audience as well. Rachel’s co-workers were enablers created by fear. Enablers are people with a significant lack of knowledge of narcissistic behavior, which causes them to condone narcissistic abuse.
As you can see in the third skit, everyone sits idly by while Rachel defends her co-worker, most likely out of the fear that their narcissistic supervisor will turn his rage against them as well.
Another detail that was different was the narcissist’s response. In the first two examples, the narcissist’s response was similar to a child’s, and understandably so given their emotional immaturity. They felt hurt and those feelings manifested as they would in a child, a short outburst in the first example and the silent treatment in the second example, which is very common to see both in the narcissistic realm.
The third example however was entirely different. The narcissist went out of his way to hurt Rachel’s feelings. This is the manifestation of the shame-rage spiral I mentioned before. When Rachel called him out for his behavior, he felt ashamed, but because of his inability to process his own emotions, it manifested in narcissistic rage.
Paying attention to an individual’s hypersensitivity to feedback and criticism is one of the most effective ways to spot and evade a narcissist.
Narcissists Have An Uncontrollable Need to Put Other People Down
The fragility of a narcissist’s emotional stability and ego causes them to relentlessly accumulate a sense of power and control throughout their lives. If you combine this mentality with their undying belief of entitlement and superiority, you create an individual who loves to gossip, spread lies, and be verbally abusive behind other people’s backs.
What differentiates an individual who is speaking poorly about someone else, from a narcissist speaking poorly about someone else is the timing and frequency. Narcissists have no sense of boundaries, so they’ll often begin to put other people down the moment you meet them.
A fantastic example of this behavior is one we covered in, Should You Warn The Narcissist’s New Supply? The article covers whether or not a survivor of narcissistic abuse should try to warn their abuser’s new partner, co-worker, friend, or family member about how abusive they are.
As with everything, the final decision comes down to the individual and the circumstances, but if we are approaching the situation from a completely logical standpoint, without any emotion involved, the answer is no.
The reason being that narcissists will always destroy the image of those who they’ve abused to hide the fact that they are manipulative, shallow, insecure, and vulnerable individuals that people should stay away from.
What is often seen in intimate narcissistic relationships is that the narcissist will create a narrative where they are the victim and their ex is the perpetrator. They’ll say the most horrible things about their ex, in the very beginning stages of their new relationship.
Another example can be found in covert narcissists. They are known for minimizing, devaluing, and belittling other people to compensate for their own insecurities.
There is a difference between someone who’s a bit mean-spirited and/or spiteful and a narcissist who begins to verbally abuse anyone and everyone behind their back the day you meet them. This is a major red flag to look out for if you want to protect yourself from a narcissist.
Narcissists Get Jealous Over the Success of Others
As do many narcissistic behavioral patterns, a narcissist’s jealousy stems from their insecurities surrounding their ability and worth. We all have our moments of jealousy and envy. It may manifest in someone we know getting married before us.
A family member winning the lottery. Or a friend who has had everything placed on a silver platter for them their entire lives. Jealousy is a normal feeling to have, and if controlled, completely healthy.
But when we’re talking about red flags regarding jealousy, they tend to manifest in the narcissist being jealous of their partner’s success. I mentioned the work of Otto Friedmann Kernberg earlier in the article pertaining to his beliefs on the origins of narcissism. However he isn’t the only individual we covered in our article How Are Narcissists Made?
While there were different people with different theories, they all agreed on one general concept, something in a narcissist’s childhood caused them to essentially focus on improving their outer world, materialistic things, instead of their inner world, emotional stability.
This will surely create an individual who is very emotionally immature with a fragile ego. It’s for this reason that sharing their successes will always backfire on victims of narcissistic abuse. A narcissist is so underdeveloped emotionally that they’re forced to live in a constant state of awareness of possible threats to their ego.
Being in a relationship with someone who is more successful than them, whether that be overall or specific moments, will trigger their inadequacy and suppressed shame causing them to lash out with passive aggressive comments designed to minimize and devalue the success of others.
Narcissists Have Adult Temper Tantrums
What makes narcissistic abuse so unbelievable at times, is a narcissist’s inability to manage disappointment in adulthood. I’ve heard stories of abusers jumping on moving cars to prevent their victim from leaving.
I’ve heard stories of abusers holding the family dog over the balcony to prevent their victim from leaving. I’ve even heard of abusers smashing the windows of cars in a movie parking lot and having to pay everyone off because the movie they wanted to see was fully booked.
After these outrageous acts, they tend to have a very victimized approach towards the justification of their behavior. They often create narratives that make it seem like they’re constantly up against the odds.
Their adult temper tantrums create a significant level of fear within their victims that cause them to calculate every single thing that they do. I’ve had some participants of ours report that they were very careful about the way they spoke to the narcissist.
I had some participants who made sure they ate quietly to ensure they didn’t bother their abuser. I even met one woman who had to use the bathroom in the apartment complex’s lobby instead of her own apartment because her abuser wanted his own space.
Their inability to handle disappointment and discomfort, take responsibility for their actions, and willingness to project the blame onto other irrelevant factors is a manifestation of their entitlement, hypersensitivity, and fragile egos. It’s a huge red flag to look out for if one would like to protect themselves from a narcissist.
5 Ways to Protect Yourself From a Narcissist
For some, the red flags that I listed above may be past overdue and understandably so. It would be very difficult to acknowledge the red flags in the early stages of a narcissistic relationship because of how charming, charismatic, and intelligent they can be.
That’s not all
Vulnerable narcissists don’t have the social skills that the other types of narcissists have, so they often suck their victim into the relationship through pity. Vulnerable narcissists are masterful at victimizing themselves, so good that they often get associated with someone who’s helpless and/or depressed.
Therefore, many victims of vulnerable narcissism felt like they needed to rescue, help, or mitigate their abuser’s “pain” which is why they got into the relationship in the first place. So it’s very understandable why someone wouldn’t be able to see the red flags in the beginning of the relationship, so here are 5 more ways to protect yourself from a narcissist.
Remaining Defiant In the Face of Narcissistic Abuse
This piece of advice comes from Ariel Leve, a survivor of parental narcissistic abuse, that I came across while watching her ted talk about her experiences with gaslighting. Remaining defiant in the face of narcissistic abuse means holding on to your version of reality.
Gaslighting is the mother of all manipulative behaviors you’ll see in the narcissistic realm. It’s when a narcissist doubts and denies their victim’s reality so frequently that the victim becomes consumed with self-doubt and can’t trust their own perception of reality.
If you’re able to remain defiant in the face of narcissistic abuse and protect your reality, you have the potential to be immune to gaslighting. If a narcissist can’t gaslight you, they can’t hide who they really are, and you’ll have a much better chance of being able to spot the narcissistic patterns in your relationship.
Things Gaslighters Say:
- I’m sorry that you feel that way.
- When someone has hurt you, or broken the boundaries you’ve set, and responds with something along the lines of this, it’s not a real apology. In fact they are denying your reality, and refusing to take responsibility of their actions by suggesting the only reason you feel upset is because you’re choosing to feel upset.
- I didn’t say that! You have a terrible memory.
- Phrases along the lines of this really embody the definition of gaslighting. By simply denying that they ever said something offensive the narcissist causes you to question yourself, question your reality, and ultimately lose trust for your perception of reality.
- You’re being too sensitive
- Narcissists are masterful at minimizing your experiences. Telling you that you’re being too sensitive is yet another way to trick you into doubting yourself. It also has the potential to trick you into believing you don’t have the right to talk about your thoughts and emotions.
It’s important to remember that not everyone who says these types of things is a narcissist. In fact, having Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) requires a medical diagnosis. With that being said, identifying and describing someone’s behavioral patterns as narcissistic does not require a medical diagnosis.
This is important to know because enablers will often shame those who call their partner’s behavior narcissistic. They’ll say something along the lines of, “you shouldn’t say things like that about people…” which is wrong, you should always call out narcissistic behavior when you see it.
Learning How to Set Boundaries Protects You From Narcissistic Abuse
After months, years, and even decades of manipulation, victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse may be very uncomfortable with the idea of setting boundaries because they’ve been forced to normalize, rationalize, and justify abusive behavior.
Setting boundaries in a narcissistic relationship could be leaving the household when you feel uncomfortable, refusing to have your thoughts and feelings ignored and minimized, or even demanding an apology when they’re in the wrong.
Successfully setting boundaries lays a strong foundation on which you can stand firmly on during the healing process.
Using the Gray Rock Method
The gray rock method is a fantastic way to protect your mental health from narcissistic behavior.
When someone is using the gray rock method, they will not defend or explain themselves to the narcissist, and they will not argue with the narcissist.
The goal of using the gray rock method is to become so boring to the narcissist, because they love confrontation, that they decide you’re not a viable source of narcissistic supply anymore. You should expect the narcissist to become very agitated and most likely resort to rage and/or passive aggressive behavior, but in many cases eventually they’ll decide to move on.
Using the No Contact Method
The no contact method is self explanatory, it’s when the victim of narcissistic abuse cuts off all forms of communication with their abuser. No contact is hands down the most effective way to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse.
What’s the catch?
The complexity of narcissism is a very underestimated beast in the eyes of those who haven’t experienced or learned about it. Victims of narcissistic abuse could be co-parenting with the narcissist, financially unstable because of financial abuse in the relationship, or even feel conflicted about leaving because of the shame and guilt that accompanies narcissistic relationships.
If you’re able to safely, and logically, use the no contact method, then you’re well on your way to escaping the narcissistic relationship. With that being said, don’t be surprised or disheartened if you relapse and contact the narcissist after going no contact.
The leading cause for breaking the no contact method is rumination. Rumination is when someone obsessively over thinks the same thoughts. This could manifest in victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse in two ways.
The Victim/Survivor of Narcissistic Abuse Could Feel Like They’ve Made a Mistake by Completely Cutting the Narcissist Off
Narcissists ensure that they plague the relationship with as much guilt and shame as possible. They do this by blaming their victim’s for everything, creating sob-stories designed to guilt the victim into staying in the relationship, and manipulate others into telling the victim they should give their abuser another chance.
Therefore it is very common for victims/survivors of narcissistic abuse to be very confused on whether or not they’ve made the correct decision. Without a fantastic support group around them, it would be easy for them to slip up and go back to the narcissist.
Which is nothing to be ashamed of! But if you do end up back in the relationship, remember why you left in the first place. The moment your boundaries are broken, your reality is questioned, or your thoughts and emotions are minimized, leave the relationship and don’t look back.
The Victim/Survivor of Narcissistic Abuse Ruminates About Justice
The sad truth about narcissism is that we currently live in an era that rewards narcissistic behavior. Therefore, justice is rarely served to the narcissist.
This harsh reality leaves many survivors of narcissistic abuse trapped within the abuse cycle, because their minds never left. They’re constantly ruminating about how they are going to tell their abuser off so they can feel how they felt for months, years, or even decades.
They are consumed with the idea of finding more evidence they can use in court to prove their side of the story. They are consumed with things they wish they said differently in the arguments they had with their abuser.
It can be a very damaging road to travel down. It’s important to take another piece of advice from Ariel Leve, let go of the wish for things to be different. Narcissist’s are the most insecure, self-loathing, lonely individuals in the world, move on with your life because we all deserve peace of mind.
Beware of the Enablers of Narcissism
Escaping a narcissistic relationship is one thing, escaping narcissist enablers is a whole other ballgame. Enablers are people who have a significant lack of knowledge when it comes to narcissism, so they tend to approach the situation as they would a healthy relationship.
If victims/survivors of narcissistic abuse aren’t careful, enablers could very well be so traumatizing that the victim/survivor of narcissistic abuse falls back into the arms of the narcissist.
Many victims/survivors of narcissism are so confused about what they’ve experienced, that when they decide to confide in others about the abuse, or summon up the courage to leave the relationship, they are doing it with the hope that someone else will validate what they are enduring.
Many of them feel like they need reassurance that they are really being abused, but also that they have the right to decide enough is enough.
So when they are met with classic things enablers say:
- Are you sure it happened like that?
- I’ve known (blank) for a long time, he/she would never mean to hurt you.
- Well relationships aren’t meant to be easy.
- Maybe it’s a communication issue.
- Oh just give him/her another chance
It’s a second wave of gaslighting, pushing them back into the realm of self-doubt and self-blame and subsequently, back into the narcissistic abuse cycle.
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
If you’d like to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse, you need to have a fair amount of self-awareness and self-acceptance. Narcissistic abuse is a very challenging obstacle to overcome.
Recognizing the red flags of a narcissist and/or the different protective techniques you can use to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse is a crucial step one must take if they’d like to protect themselves from a narcissist.
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