Narcissists are everywhere.
There’s not a lot of them, but they do a lot of damage.
I want to talk about how to prevent them from ruining your life, either in a relationship, a friendship, or even a business connection.
If you’re already with one or you’ve just finished with one and you’re looking to recover from that, we’re going to talk about how to get back to a confident life.
Let’s start by defining narcissism.
What is a Narcissist?
That’s the kind of person we’re talking about today, particular the psychology definition above.
I want to start by sharing a story from one of my clients (whom I’ll keep anonymous). He was falsely accused of sexual assault by his ex-partner. She is a classic narcissist.
Essentially what she did was draw him into a very tumultuous and emotionally destructive relationship, and then when he ended it she punished him by making these accusations and turning all of his friends against him.
This is classic narcissist behavior: draw you in, ruin you and ruin everything around you, and then leave you hung out to dry.
Early Warning Signs
Let’s begin by having a look at some of the early warning signs so that you might be able to prevent them from coming into your life before anything too devastating happens.
The first thing we must acknowledge, unfortunately, is you’re probably not going to see them coming. One of the main messages I want to get across today is that there’s no shame in being conned by a narcissist – they are simply awesome at manipulating, better than you could possibly imagine. Given enough time, everybody’s going to fall victim at one time or another, it all just depends on how deep they get in and how much damage they do.
So don’t worry too much that you didn’t see it coming, because nobody can see them coming the first time.
That being said, there are some warning signs that you should pay attention to, especially at the beginning because you’ll have a lot of pleasurable emotions at the start.
If you’re both really infatuated with each other – it’s “too good to be true” – it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just means tread carefully because your judgement is not going to be very rational.
Somebody playing “hard to get,” or going hot and cold, toying with your emotions, making you develop that obsession for them through gameplay and manipulation and temperature changes – that’s a huge warning sign that somebody is already starting to fuck with you.
Especially if you are in contact with people who are or used to be close with the person, and they’ve got nothing but devastatingly bad things to say.
Sometimes this is just gossip, it all depends on the context and the situation, but if someone’s getting a lot of bad reviews from people who are no longer with them but used to be in their past, it’s worth listening to.
Gossip and backstabbing
Narcissists a classic for splitting people away from each other, and they do this mostly with talking. If you find someone where a large percentage of their conversation is hidden whispers about other people – usually in the negative – that’s a big warning sign. They’re trying to give you an impression of others that will separate you from them.
And hey; if they’re doing it with you then they’re probably doing it to you as well.
Classic psychopath trait. Many narcissists are psychopaths and vice versa. Grandiosity is somebody who seems to be overly sure of themselves, overly confident, have a very very high view of themselves, usually combined with a comparatively low view of other people
This isn’t normal confidence i.e. someone just loving themselves, this is actually somebody who consistently thinks of themselves as better than everybody else. They’re often bragging and boasting and telling stories that give you the impression that they’re just awesome all the time. They’ll simultaneously lack awareness or acknowledgment of their flaws.
This can also be demonstrated by behavior like showboating, domination of others, selfishness and self-centeredness – anything where the person seems to take up attention and space and become this gravitational pull in a social situations.
They always seem to draw everybody to them. Narcissists are often very popular and very compelling, and they they gain a lot of attention quite easily. That doesn’t mean everyone who is very popular is a narcissist, it just means if somebody seems to draw people in with big performances and grandiosity and a diva-like personality, it’s just a warning sign.
A really big warning sign is:
Lack of empathy
It’s the classic psychopath tell. If the person is either unable to develop or show sympathy and empathy for other people; if they can watch someone in pain and they find that funny or they can cause pain ruthlessly and seem to be unaffected emotionally by it, or they seem to fake their sympathy and empathy i.e. they appear to be trying hard to look like they care about other people without really understanding what caring means, that’s a massive warning sign.
Especially when it comes to getting into a long-term relationship with somebody.
A more subtle sign is someone who lives a kind of highs-based lifestyle. Everything is about instant gratification and feeling good right now. Lots of drug use, risk-taking behavior, extreme behaviour socially – anything that gives them a high. If you find someone’s consistently like this and they’re easily bored, they’re always seeking the next high, they may have some narcissistic traits.
That’s how you can see one coming. Unfortunately, most of that stuff’s probably going to go right past your radar because the whole time they’re going to be manipulating you to not notice their dark side. Now let’s talk about the more likely scenario:
how to know if you’re with a narcissist
Narcissists generally try to separate people from each other and attach their target person to themselves. You’ll notice yourself getting drawn into somebody while being isolated from others – even when it doesn’t seem to be caused by your partner/friend and it may even seem to be your own personal choice. You’ll notice yourself abandoning friends and family, spending all your time with one person that you’re becoming ever more obsessed with, and seeming to be cut off from others.
Especially if this is combined with partnering up with someone who talks badly about the others in your life – that’s a big warning sign.
When I came to work in Department of Corrections, I learned quickly that when it comes to managing manipulation you need to listen to your emotions. How you feel actually gives you some really truthful information about people, especially once you’ve known them quite a while.
Narcissists might keep you in an emotional nightmare of highs and lows: confusion vs clarity, stress vs peacefulness, love vs hate – you feel like you never really know where you are with somebody. You’re constantly having these wild emotions in their presence, or even while they’re absent – they cause you to be thinking about them all the time and feeling strongly about them all the time. These are classic signs that you’re being manipulated.
Losing your mind
One of the worst consequences came up for my client: you start to doubt your own sanity.
When talking to this person it seems like they’re always right about what’s real while you are always wrong. You get the sense that their view of reality keeps dominating yours, and you start to doubt your own memories, you start to doubt your perceptions, you start to doubt your values, you start to doubt what you used to think was right or wrong.
If you start having doubts about things that you were once very certain of, either someone is educating you or more likely you’re being “gaslighted” as it’s known. You’ve been tricked into losing track of reality, so that somebody else’s reality can be inserted into your world.
breaches of values
Perhaps you’ve noticed yourself starting to do things that you’re not proud of because of this person. Things you wouldn’t usually do. Or they put you in awkward situations were you feel forced to lie and manipulate on their behalf.
Manipulators tend to get people to cross their own boundaries, so that their sense of self becomes blurred. Once you stop being the person you thought you were, you can be manipulate into being something else.
being abused or used
The more obvious one: where you’re treated very badly and deliberately hurt. Where you’re disrespected. Where you’re used for a resource and then thrown away like a piece of garbage, or where you’re hit, yelled at, and insulted or otherwise abused psychologically, emotionally or physically.
This doesn’t happen in healthy relationships!
You might have lost track of that, or you might never have known what a healthy relationship looks like.
People who are with narcissists tend to attract narcissists; they tend to get all the bad ones because of their own confidence issues, so this might be “normal” for you. But please know that if you’re feeling abused in a relationship there’s almost zero chance that that’s a healthy relationship, and there’s a very high chance that you’re with a manipulative or narcissistic person.
You may feel an encroaching addiction to the person. On one hand, you know they’re bad for you, other people say they’re bad for you, everything about your life is going down the toilet because of this person… and yet you just can’t give them up. It’s just too good!
So you oscillate between pain and pleasure. You’re actually upset with yourself for being unable to walk away from this person.
Again, you’re never going to have that in a healthy connection.
So let’s talk about what you can do if you’ve somehow managed to become entangled or ensnared with a narcissist.
How to escape the narcissist
I can’t put this simply enough – this comes from years of working with the worst psychopaths and narcissists in the criminal justice system – there’s only one thing to do if you’re with one:
Get the fuck out of there!
Pack up your shit, cut all contact, block all forms of communication, and run and hide.
Think of them like an Ebola virus carrier – you can’t have any contact with them, and you’ll be infected all over again if you do.
Or think of them like the Sun in the middle of the a poisonous universe, with this powerful gravitational pull. If you get even near them, you’ll get sucked all the way back in, so you need to keep the fuck away from them.
This is so you can recover and heal your psychology. Rebuild your confidence before you get anywhere near someone who can get inside you like that.
Carrying on with the Ebola analogy: other people in their life will also be infected by them, so unfortunately you’re gonna have to cut contact with them as well. This might mean losing old friends or losing touch with family for a short period of time. The worst narcissists – if you’re their main target – will treat everybody else like royalty, you’ll be the only victim, and it will look like you’re the crazy one. This way they’ll turn everyone against you.
The trouble is, if your friends and family are infected by this disease you’re going to get sick again if you go near them.
The worst news
If they really have burrowed deep into your life and got their tendrils into everything, you might have to totally up sticks and start again from scratch. I know that’s hard to hear, but that’s the truth. You MUST get out of this sick Ebola-virus universe – because you cannot change a narcissist. They’re too powerful, you’ll lose every time.
Once you’ve rebuilt your confidence and rebuilt your psychology, you may be able to come back and reform relationships.
The “good” news
Manipulative people like this are self-destructive. It’s only a matter of time before everybody else they’ve infected learns the truth like you’d have. They might not believe you now, but five or ten years down the track, they’re probably going to come back and say, “Oh my god, you were right!”
OK, maybe they never will, but if the narcissist is a true narcissist they’ll end up crushing everybody that comes into contact with them. They don’t play favourites for very long.
The hardest part about recovery is acceptance. Coming to terms with the fact that they got you, and they got you good.
One of the biggest barriers to recovery from a narcissist is actually a kind of hurt pride: this idea that there was nothing wrong with them – you just fell for it. The idea that you are somehow foolish or less intelligent than you once thought.
The truth is they’re like the Ebola virus – no matter how healthy you are, they can infect you. Narcissists are so much more cunning and psychologically intelligent than most people, so you can be really intelligent, really smart, and still get absolutely done by a narcissist.
In fact, when it comes to manipulation, the easiest victim is somebody who thinks they cannot be manipulated. So lesson number one from your experience with a narcissist: yes, you can be manipulated and you’re gonna have to watch out for that for the rest of your life.
Treat your time with a narcissist like trauma, like major surgery that you need to recover from. You’re going to have to be very kind and gentle with yourself for an extended period of time, while you get over the damage that they’ve done to you. You must accept the fact that they have damaged you – they got in and they wrecked everything, and now it’s time to rebuild slowly, caring for yourself and undoing the damage they did to your confidence.
Don’t hold a grudge
Learn a lesson but don’t allow yourself to become embittered and resentful. Only a very small percentage of the human race are narcissistic or psychopathic – they just happen to do a lot of damage and touch a lot of people’s lives so it looks like there’s lots of them. But actually you are able to have healthy and loving connections with most people.
First you’re just going to have to do the work on yourself that prevents narcissists from getting in deep, and learn how to make yourself unattractive to narcissists (hint: they shy away from confident and boldly honest people).
I don’t want to blame you for some asshole coming into your life, because they can grab hold of anyone and ruin anyone’s lives, but they do tend to choose victims who have low self confidence. So your main learning from this is:
How do I build my confidence so that I’m attractive to confident people and not narcissists?
Don’t blame yourself and don’t blame the human race for being bad, but learn the lesson. Why was I chosen? What neediness, shame or secrets were they able to leverage to make me a vulnerable victim?
There is one type of person who’s immune to the charms of a narcissist, and that is someone who is highly confident, who has high integrity and lives by their values. Somebody who does not need anything from anyone else.
If you want to make sure this never happens again, you need to learn what your values are. You need to learn what it means to have integrity, to be confident without the approval of others, so that nobody else can get in and provide for your needs in a way that you can’t do yourself.
You can still have relationships and depend on and trust people, but make sure you’re somebody who doesn’t need people.
That is a long-term piece of work. If you’re ready to do that long-term piece of work, please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org and I can either coach you or put you on to some resources.
You can do some self-development on your own around managing manipulation, living by your values and building integrity, so that you’re not vulnerable to these type of people in the future.
Thank you so much, please share this around and don’t forget to comment below with your opinions.