Narcissism is one of the most challenging patterns of life to contend with, particularly when you are closely tied to a person who is bent that way. Narcissism is defined as a personality so consumed with Self that the individual is unable to relate to the feelings, needs, and perceptions of others. Chronically controlling and exploitive behavior is at the core of this personality. While narcissists can initially seem pleasant and engaging, over time they have a knack for generating great anger and exasperation in those who simply want to relate with equality and respect.

Being honest, we each could recognize some measure of narcissism in ourselves. For instance, if someone tells you an interesting story about an event in her life, you might respond with: “That reminds me of a time when I…” Rather than letting the other person have the spotlight for the moment, it is tempting to put the focus squarely onto oneself. No one is entirely immune from such a flaw.

When we refer, though, to a narcissistic personality, we mean that the individual is so self-absorbed that it is the defining feature of his or her personality. Even when they appear to be helpful or friendly, narcissists will eventually illustrate that their good behavior can have a self-serving hook on the end of it. (“Now you owe me.”) Key indicators of a full blown narcissistic personality would include:

  • an inability to empathize
  • expecting special favors, a sense of entitlement
  • manipulative or exploitive behaviors
  • an inability to receive direction
  • extremes in emotional reactions, both positive and negative
  • idealism, an unwillingness to deal with reality
  • an ability to make initial positive impressions
  • a powerful need for control

Do you live or work with someone with these characteristics? If indeed you associate regularly with someone who shows strong narcissistic tendencies, you are likely to feel greatly frustrated, yet you are not without options. Without a plan of response, though, you can quickly feel overwhelmed by the narcissist and your own worst traits will take over, so let”s examine how to respond most appropriately to this personality.

Refrain from the effort to reform the narcissist.  While it is tempting to plead with the narcissist to make healthy adjustments, such efforts only increase your aggravation. For persons to receive insights from you, they must first have the willingness to incorporate your separate thoughts, but by definition, a narcissist is interested in only one person”s ideas…”Mine.” There is an incredibly low probability that the narcissist will respond to your suggestions with: “I really needed to hear that; thanks for the input.” Don”t waste your emotional energies with fruitless persuasions.

Let strong boundaries communicate for you.  Often narcissists will be disruptive as they engage with you. They are so unlikely to consider your needs that they cannot be counted on to be harmonious. Instead of arguing about the unfairness of their ways, decide what you know is the wisest thing to do, then do that. Hold firm. When the narcissist tries to draw you into a debate about who”s right and who”s wrong, don”t get sucked in. Let your decisiveness stand on its own. If the narcissist whines or becomes demanding, you are under no obligation to cater to his or her mandates. In fact, you may have to enact consequences if this person continues in an unruly manner. In time, he or she may get the message that you are your own person.

Demonstrate that you respect your own dignity.  Often you will feel insulted because a narcissist will so readily discount your value. This can leave you wondering, “What”s so awful about me?” Don”t let yourself fall into that trap. Recognize that your dignity is a God-given gift, and contrary to the narcissist”s assumption, he or she is not the god who gets to make such pronouncements. Spend quality time with friends and acquaintances who treat you with the respect you deserve.

Stay out of the battle for control.  Narcissists feel they are virtually always right, and when challenged, they will quickly turn a discussion into a power play. They can be persuasive, coercive, and annoyingly stubborn, making it their goal to decide for you how you should think and behave. When this happens, remind yourself that you are free to choose your own separate path despite the narcissist”s insistence that you should lay down your will. Also remember that the best way to remain in control is to sidestep the need to counter-control the narcissist”s thoughts. The narcissist, too, is free to believe whatever he or she wants.

As you interact with a narcissist, let your expectations for fairness remain low and keep your involvements with this person to a minimum. It may seem pessimistic to take such a guarded approach with another person, but if you do not look out for your legitimate interests, it is certain that the narcissist will not. Then you would really be in bad shape.