- Know Yourself
The narcissist engages us through our own vulnerabilities. Often, they remind us of a narcissistic parent who we care about and want to give to, but then tolerate too much taking. The more you understand yourself and are at peace with yourself as it related to that parent, the better you will be at avoiding the trap of a one-way relationship.
- Embrace Reality
The narcissist avoids shame by promoting fantasies that sustain their grandiosity. They need to surround themselves with people who admire them, do their bidding and meet their ‘you are great’ needs. If your own self-esteem is a little shaky, you may get caught up in the seductive allure of the grandiosity. Look for reality, or empirical truth to stay grounded and not taken advantage of.
- Set Boundaries
A person with a narcissistic style may stop by unannounced, open your personal mail, take money or a personal item without asking. If they are in a position of power, they flirt inappropriately, watch your comings and goings inappropriately or ask too personal questions. Ordinary assertive techniques do not always work. Enlisting others to help you might help. Rehearse what you want to say to them to establish the boundary. A firm, neutral, clear matter-of-fact approach is best. Be prepared for there to be anger. Maintain the boundary once established, and other aspects of the relationship, will be tested.
- Cultivate Reciprocal Relationships
Sometimes avoiding a narcissist altogether is impossible. It helps to limit involvement by surrounding yourself with healthier people who are more capable of give and take relationships. Reciprocal relationships are ones where each person feels like his/her contributions and benefits are in balance, there is flexibility of roles of giver and taker, each feels valued, boundaries are respected and no one “keeps score”.
Protecting yourself from the hurtfulness of a self-centred person is important. Like Julia in the story above, the person married to a narcissist will have the most difficult job of protecting their own sense of worthiness and self-esteem. Often, they will need extra support from others or a therapist to keep the boundaries clear and for the relationship to survive.