The term “narcissist” gets tossed around pretty loosely, but if you have a true narcissist in your life, you know how much havoc they can wreak on your life. According to author Dr. Judith Orloff, in her book, The Empath’s Survival Guide, “Narcissists act as if the world revolves around them. They have an inflated sense of importance and entitlement. They need to be the center of attention and require endless praise. You must compliment them to get their approval.” They’re often persuasive charmers who know exactly what to say to manipulate you and mess with your emotions. If you suspect someone in your life has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (or even just some narcissistic traits), read on for how to cope.
First, What Is a Narcissist?
According to the ICD-10, the diagnostic manual put out by the World Health Organization, a person must have at least five of the following symptoms in order to qualify as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD):
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- A sense of entitlement
- Requires excessive admiration
- A lack of empathy
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them
- Shows arrogance, haughty behaviors or attitudes
- Is interpersonally exploitative
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
- Believes that they are “special” and unique
(Note: Narcissistic is a diagnostic term, so if any of these examples below sound familiar, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone in your life has NPD—they might just have narcissistic traits. In other words, only a professional can diagnose someone as a true narcissist.)
How to Deal with a Narcissist
1. Stroke the Narcissist’s Ego
Here’s what Orloff means by this: “Frame your [statement] in terms of how it can benefit them. This is the only way you will get through to a narcissist.” For example, if you're planning a bachelorette party and one of the other attendees is displaying some narcissistic traits, tell her, “I really think we should go to a ski house instead of a beach house. Katie's told me you're an incredible skier, and god knows I could use some practice,” rather than, “I'd just prefer to ski than lay at the beach.”
2. Set Boundaries
If you know that someone is a narcissist, you need to distance yourself by setting boundaries so that they don’t bully or criticize you, says psychologist and author Mateusz Grzesiak, Ph.D.(aka Dr. Matt). Here’s an example: Your mom never misses and opportunity to compare your parenting style to how she raised you—with an emphasis on how hers was better and all the ways you should change. The fix? You tell her that you value her input, but that you'd really appreciate it if she only gave advice when you specifically ask for it. (You can also add in something about how you want the chance to make your own mistakes, which should buy you some space by stroking her precious ego.)
3. Try a Feedback Sandwich
Let’s say your boss took credit for your hard work at a meeting with the head honchos upstairs. Take him aside and give him a “feedback sandwich.” (Remember, a narcissist’s self-worth comes from being admired by others, so you don’t want to do this in front of other people.) Here’s what that might look like: “I really love working for you because you’re such a great boss. But if you don’t mind, the next time you talk about me in front of the CEO, could you please say something about all the extra hours I’ve been putting in on this project? It’s going so well, and I feel like you and I have really been spearheading this whole thing.”
4. Manage Your Expectations
According to Dr. Orloff, scientific research on narcissists has shown that they have an “empathy deficient disorder.” She writes, “Full-blown narcissists use what seems like empathy to get what they want when you begin to distance yourself. But their empathy is not reliable or real.” Narcissists are incredibly adept at making you think they’re emotionally stable and intelligent. The sooner you realize you might be being played, the better.