Learning to think like a narcissist won’t make you a narcissist. It will help you recognize the tools and patterns that a narcissist has used to exert influence over you in the past.
Once you know how a narcissist thinks, you won’t feel the same emotions during difficult conversations. You’ll remain calm and avoid falling into thinking traps.
In order to protect yourself from a narcissist, your goal is not to change the narcissist, but to change yourself. Protect yourself from falling into the same old arguments. Protect yourself from believing empty excuses. Protect yourself from taking too much responsibility for the problems in the relationship. Protect yourself from compensating for the narcissist’s poor behavior.
Protecting yourself from a narcissist means expecting – and countering – the six excuses outlined in “The Narcissist’s Prayer.”
A narcissist might begin by claiming they don’t notice their problematic behavior. Next, they might minimize their behavior, or claim it is normal, or rationalize why it was okay that they behaved poorly. They might even claim that you made them do it.
The order of the narcissist’s tricks will vary, but with practice, you’ll notice that their bag of tricks is limited. The same tricks get recycled over and over again. Once you know what these narcissistic tricks are, you can spot them immediately and brush them away, like an executive brushing a piece of dust off an expensive suit.
To help you see how you can make this work in the real world, consider this scenario with the husband using narcissistic patterns to avoid accepting responsibility for losing his temper at his wife. It’s told from the wife’s perspective, and you’ll see her learning to protect herself from her partner’s narcissistic manipulation:
The kids and I were sitting in the car, ready to go on a family trip. There was a feeling of time pressure – we were meant to have left already. My husband was leaning inside the front door of an extra car we had parked in the front yard. The minutes ticked by.
Curious as to what was delaying my husband, I left the kids in the car and walked over to him. I couldn’t see much past him, so I asked, “What’s up?”
He responded irritably. I asked again, and he lost his temper. My heart started pounding, and I walked away, hating how I was being treated. I didn’t know how to find out what was causing the delay without making him angrier, and he’d already made a scene.
We had left the extra car parked in a shady spot in the yard, and mildew had grown on the upholstery several millimeters high.
Later, I said that I wanted to talk about what happened in the yard.
Him: “Why do we need to talk? Nothing happened. I was just figuring things out. It
took me a few minutes to realize what was going on. Once I saw that the mildew
was coming off, I was fine.”
[#1 Excuse: That didn’t happen. You imagined the problem. Gaslighting.]
Me: “I’m not okay with your losing your temper with me and then acting like it didn’t
Him: “I didn’t lose my temper with you. I just ‘wasn’t myself’ for a few minutes.”
[#2 Excuse: If I did lose my temper, it wasn’t that bad – I just ‘wasn’t myself’ and
it was only a ‘few minutes.’ Minimizing the problem.]
Me: “What do you mean by, ‘I didn’t lose my temper? I just wasn’t myself?’”
Him: “Any normal person would have been angry under the circumstances. You’ve got
to understand that. Don’t be so sensitive.”
[#3 Excuse: If I did lose my temper, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I am normal. Normalizing the problem behavior.]
Me: “You spoke angrily and loudly to me when I asked you reasonable questions.”
Him: “Of course I was angry. I was angry because of the mildew. You didn’t even
get a good look at the mildew! I’ve never seen anything like it.”
[#4 Excuse: if losing my temper is a big deal, then it’s not my fault. It’s the mildew’s fault.]
Me: “I’m okay with your being frustrated with the mildew. Anyone would be. I’m not
okay with your taking it out on me.”
Him: “I was angry at the mildew, but I didn’t really mean what I said about you. You
should know that by now.”
[#5 Excuse: And if it was my fault, then I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean what I said, and it’s your job to understand that.]
Me: “I don’t want this to be our future.”
Him: “How else do you expect me to act? If you don’t want me to get angry, then don’t
ask questions when I’m frustrated and trying to make decisions.”
[#6 Excuse: If I did mean to lash out, then you deserved it. Your questions were
Me: “I would like to talk with you about how I ask questions. I’m sure I could
improve. First, let’s finish this conversation about you.”
In the past, each one of the points would have distracted me into an argument pitting my perceptions against his, my view of reality against his view of reality. Knowing what to expect from him, even recognizing it in the moment, gave me a feeling of empowerment. Instead of despairing, I felt calm and strong.
Learning to recognize the patterns of narcissism gave this wife a new perspective and helped her protect herself from accepting more blame than she deserved. The narcissist in her life used classic strategies to avoid taking his share of the responsibility for a negative encounter. The wife didn’t engage with any of the excuses but kept pressing for what she wanted.
Can you imagine how this conversation would have been sabotaged if the wife had let herself get drawn into any of her husband’s excuses? If she’d stopped to engage any of his arguments, the whole conversation would have derailed.
Most psychologists believe that narcissism is a spectrum. Psychological healthy people have a moderate level of narcissism that enables them to function appropriately.
In fact, think of your partner’s biggest beef with you. Have you used excuses, such as the ones depicted in “The Narcissist’s Prayer” in order to defend yourself against his or her accusations? Have you ever tried to explain your shortcomings to your partner using some of these classic evasions?
If the answer is “yes,” you are not alone. Partners of narcissists are often worried that they are the narcissistic ones, especially after repeated interactions with a real narcissist who wants to convince you that you are the problem.
A narcissist will try to convince you that your normal reactions to his or her outrageous behavior are the real problem. Narcissists play mind games with their partners, making the partners think that their reaction to abuse is equivalent to the abuse.
It’s important to realize that you might have played a role in the conflict at hand. Like the wife in the above story, acknowledge that you want to improve. Honestly look for how you contributed to the problem. Just don’t take on more responsibility than is rightfully yours. Narcissists are very willing to dump part of the responsibility that belongs to them on your shoulders.
Protecting yourself from a narcissist doesn’t involve getting a narcissist to stop their narcissistic tricks. Protecting yourself from a narcissist involves you recognizing the narcissistic tricks in real-time. Protecting yourself from a narcissist means that manipulation directed at you won’t stick.