How to Cope with a Narcissist

How should the persons nearest and dearest to the narcissist cope with his eccentric vagaries?

No one should feel responsible for the narcissist's predicament. To him, others hardly exist - so enmeshed he is in himself and in the resulting misery of this very self-preoccupation. Others are hangers on which he hangs the clothes of wrath, of rage, of suppressed and mutating aggression and, finally, of ill disguised violence. How should the persons nearest and dearest to the narcissist cope with his eccentric vagaries?

How do you cope with a narcissist? The short answer is by abandoning him or by threatening to abandon him.

The threat to abandon need not be explicit or conditional ("If you don't do something or if you do it - I will desert you"). It is sufficient to confront the narcissist, to completely ignore him, to insist on respect for one's boundaries and wishes, or to shout back at him.

The narcissist is tamed by the very same weapons that he uses to subjugate others (read more the narcisst's forms of abuse). The specter of being abandoned looms large over everything else. In the narcissist's mind, every discordant note presages solitude, abandonment, and the resulting confrontation with his self.

The narcissist is a person who is irreparably traumatized by the behavior of the most important people in his life: his parents, role models, or peers. By being capricious, arbitrary, and sadistically judgmental - they molded him into an adult, who fervently and obsessively tries to recreate the trauma (repetition complex).

Thus, on the one hand, the narcissist feels that his freedom depends upon re-living these experiences. On the other hand, he is terrified by this prospect. Realizing that he is doomed to go through the same harrowing experience over and over again, the narcissist distances himself from the scene of his own pending emotional catastrophe. He does this by using his aggression to alienate, to humiliate and in general, to be emotionally absent.


This behavior brings about the very consequences that the narcissist so fears. But, this way, at least, the narcissist can tell himself (and others) that HE was the one who fostered his abandonment, that it was truly fully his choice and that he was not surprised. The truth is that, governed by his internal demons, the narcissist has no real choice.

The narcissist is a binary human being: the carrot is the stick in his case. If he gets too close to someone emotionally, he fears ultimate and inevitable abandonment. He, thus, distances himself, acts cruelly and brings about the very abandonment that he feared in the first place.

In this paradox lies the key to coping with the narcissist. If, for instance, he is having a rage attack - rage back. This will provoke in him fears of being abandoned and the resulting calm will be so total that it might seem eerie. Narcissists are known for these sudden tectonic shifts in mood and in behavior patterns.

Mirror the narcissist's actions and repeat his words. If he threatens - threaten back and credibly try to use the same language and content. If he leaves the house - leave it as well, disappear on him. If he is suspicious - act suspicious. Be critical, denigrating, humiliating, go down to his level - because that's the only way to penetrate his thick defences. Faced with his mirror image - the narcissist always recoils.

We must not forget: the narcissist does all these things to engender and encourage abandonment. When mirrored, the narcissist dreads imminent and impending desertion, which is the inevitable result of his actions and words. This prospect so terrifies him - that it induces in him an incredible alteration of behavior.

He instantly succumbs and tries to make amends, moving from one (cold and bitter, cynical and misanthropic, cruel and sadistic) pole to another (warm, even loving, fuzzy, engulfing, emotional and saccharine).

The other coping strategy is to give up on him.

Abandon him and go about reconstructing your own life. Very few people deserve the kind of investment that is an absolute prerequisite to life with a narcissist. To cope with a narcissist is a full time, energy and emotion-draining job, which reduces people around the narcissist to insecure nervous wrecks. Who deserves such a sacrifice?

No one, to my mind, not even the most brilliant, charming, breathtaking, suave narcissist. The glamour and trickery wear thin and underneath them a monster lurks which sucks the affect, distorts the cognition and irreversibly influences the lives of those around it for the worse.

Narcissists are incorrigibly and notoriously difficult to change. Thus, trying to change them is doomed to failure. You should either accept them as they are or avoid them altogether. If one accepts the narcissist as he is - one should cater to his needs. His needs are part of what he is. Would you have ignored a physical handicap? Would you not have assisted a quadriplegic? The narcissist is an emotional invalid. He needs constant adulation. He cannot help it. So, if one chooses to accept him - it is a package deal, all his needs included.

next: Narcissistic Parents

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 7). How to Cope with a Narcissist, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: September 25, 2017

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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