How to emotionally protect yourself from a narcissist: 9 ways

We hear a lot about narcissism and the impact it has on relationships, but what is a narcissist, exactly?

What are the characteristics that could indicate that someone in your life is a narcissist? And what can you do to protect yourself from the emotional damage narcs are known to inflict? 

Ok. First things first. 

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is defined as, “a mental health condition characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance.”

But it’s not just romantic partners who use these manipulative tactics. Parents, children, other family, friends, and even co-workers can ensnare you in their narcissistic web.  

Even though they often appear charming and good-natured, behind the narcissist’s facade is a fragile ego and a stifling sense of self-loathing

Needless to say, dealing with a narcissist, especially when it’s your partner, parent, or child, is challenging to say the least. 

To protect your peace and your safety, you need to learn some serious coping strategies because narcissists are famous for fighting dirty. You need to be prepared for anything and everything. 

Here are 9 ways you can emotionally protect yourself from a narcissist.

1) Distance yourself 

As in, leave. Seriously. Just get out of Dodge if at all possible.

Narcissists rarely, if ever, change their stripes, so the odds of your situation becoming tolerable are pretty much nil. This is a hard truth, but the quicker you accept this fact, the faster you can put the narc in your rearview mirror. 

If you have the means and the opportunity, remove yourself from the situation. I lived with a narcissist for a decade, and my only regret when it was over was putting up with his nonsense for as long as I did. 

I didn’t set boundaries and lived to regret it. 

2) Set firm boundaries

Dealing with a narc is stressful and exhausting. You are forever reading the room for clues and checking the narcissist’s emotional barometer. At the same time, you are neglecting your own emotional well-being to preserve the peace. 

But narcs can smell weakness like a shark smells blood in the water. It’s important to stand up for yourself and be crystal clear on what you will and will not tolerate. It’s up to you to decide where to draw the line in the sand.

Once you draw it, stand by it. If you allow your boundaries to be encroached, you’re setting yourself up for further abuse.   

This isn’t an easy task. In narcissistic relationships, boundaries are very difficult to set and even harder to maintain.

Narcissists manipulate their source of supply by denigrating their need to set clear rules. They will insist that this type of behavior is selfish and the calling card of a drama queen.

Oh, the irony! 

3) Be wary of love-bombing

Love bombing is your brand-new partner showering you with excessive, bordering on obsessive, amounts of love, attention, and gifts. 

It can be quite overwhelming, and the perceived “romance” of it all can cause you to get carried away. 

Thing is, it should make you run screaming instead. No. You are not the main character of the latest romantic comedy. You’re the poor sap running from the knife-wielding sociopath. I’m sorry you had to find out this way.  

Love bombing is a very potent form of emotional and psychological abuse. There’s no one-size-fits-all, but love bombing behaviors can include:

  • Over-the-top praise and flattery
  • Too Much Information (TMI) too early on
  • Lavishing you with inappropriately expensive gifts
  • Intense conversations about your joint future before you know each other’s middle names 

However, if a narc thinks you’ve done them dirty (whether it’s true or not), their claws come out. And it ain’t pretty.

4) Don’t take the bait

This is so much easier said than done, of course.

A narc will relentlessly torment you and push every one of your buttons until you finally lose patience and engage with them.

Once the narc has elicited the desired response, which is making you sputter obscenities, they will accuse you of being “out of control.”

Narcissistic rage is some of the scariest stuff you’ll ever see. So let’s talk about what that means for you and your life. Manifestations of narcissistic rage can include:

  • Excessive anger and outbursts 
  • Verbal or physical abuse
  • Episodes of rage when not given the praise or attention the narcissist thinks they deserve
  • Shouting and screaming
  • Deliberately causing emotional or physical pain, or both, to others

Either way, the less you engage with a narc the better. One technique for dealing with toxic narc behavior is called the grey rock method. 

The grey rock method is a technique used to help manage narcissistic and toxic behavior. Its objective is to not react emotionally. 

Now, you can be seething on the inside, but try your hardest not to give the narc the pleasure of knowing that. Keep your interactions brief and bland.

In short, when a narcissist tries to bait you to provoke an argument, you immediately disengage and display all the personality and flair of a dull, grey rock. Bored and neutral are the order of the day. 

Why does this work? Because narcissists are emotional vampires feeding off of their victims’ distress. They desperately crave attention and admiration. 

By using the grey rock method, you’re removing yourself as a source of “narcissistic supply” and setting up a strong boundary as well.

5) Remember that it’s not about you

If you recognize these signs youve secretly outgrown your relationship How to emotionally protect yourself from a narcissist: 9 ways

It’s not unusual for someone with NPD to have a complete meltdown even with no precipitating factor or cause.

Narcs tend to have very short fuses so these folks don’t need much in the way of provocation to blow their tops and direct their narcissistic rage at any nearby target.

Manifestations of narcissistic rage can include:

  • Excessive anger and outbursts 
  • Verbal or physical abuse
  • Bursts of rage when the narc doesn’t receive what they consider an adequate amount of attention and adoration.  
  • Yelling and screaming
  • Maliciously inflicting mental or emotional pain on others. 

Please remember that this narcissistic behavior isn’t about you. It has nothing to do with you, and it’s not a reflection on you. These tantrums are a manifestation of the narc’s inner torment and self-loathing. You don’t even enter into their equation. 

You have done nothing wrong.

6) Trust your intuition

If something or someone seems off to you, or if you’re starting to doubt your judgment, acknowledge that feeling. You might be a victim of gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a type of psychological manipulation that narcs use to make you doubt your recall and even your sanity. And its damage is slow and insidious. 

Over time, gaslighting can cause the victim to:

  • second-guess their decisions because they don’t trust their own judgment
  • constantly question their mental health
  • withdraw from their social circle 
  • apologize to the very person gaslighting and manipulating them

Gaslighting stokes the flames of self-doubt so you’ll rely on the narc to make your decisions for you, which was the method in their madness anyway. 

Trust any gut feelings you may have. Don’t brush them aside as illogical or foolish. Right after I moved in with a narc, I had the strangest sensation of fear and panic wash over me as we were making our bed.

It felt like a cold finger running down my spine. It was terrifying, but I dismissed it as irrational.

Maybe my mind and body were trying to tell me something? I wish I’d listened.

7) Consider therapy 

Even if you have a rock-solid support network of family and friends, you may want to consider seeing a therapist. An objective and trained ear can work wonders if you are, or were, the target of narcissistic abuse.  

8) Have an escape plan 

Better safe than sorry, right? Narcissistic rage can be unpredictable and even dangerous.

If you can hide a stash of cash and some essentials like clothes and toiletries with a trusted friend, do so. Make sure you have a safe place you always have access to in case the need arises.

9) Be kind to yourself

You’ve been through the wringer, haven’t you? There’s no shame in that. Look at you living to tell the tale. So cut yourself some slack.

Even superheroes need to take a day off every now and then.

Picture of Kathy Copeland Padden

Kathy Copeland Padden

Kathy Copeland Padden lives in a New England forest paradise with her cats, kid, and trusty laptop. She has been writing since age 8 and is such a pack rat she can back that up with physical evidence. Music is her solace and words are her drug, so her house is strewn with records and books. Watch your step.

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