How to Protect Yourself from Narcissistic Abuse

Jordan Dann, Psychoanalyst

Unfortunately Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is very common and, if you are like most people, you probably have had a run in with a critical or abusive narcissist at some point in your life. Maybe this person is in your family, at work, or perhaps you find yourself in intimate partnership with this person.

NPD is understood as a pathological pattern that occurs when a person holds ideas of grandiosity, the need for admiration and worship, hypersensitivity, and lack of empathy for others. NPD is on a continuum and there is a wide range of traits that manifest with a person struggling with NPD, or narcissistic traits.

Narcissists are often charismatic, attractive, and seductive, so it's totally understandable if you have found yourself to be draw in by the initial intoxicating spell that narcissists can cast. The sun shines brightly on you while you are in the initial stages of a narcissist's seduction, but it is often not long before a shadow moves over the sun they turn on you in ways that can feel disorienting and alarming. Narcissists are often threatened by any perceived expressions of power or positive feelings in another person and will often attack viciously in an attempt to put you back in your place, which is safely beneath them.

Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be confusing because when they are not threatened by you they may be ingratiating, warm, and generous (Jekyll); but when they feel threatened or perceive that you have injured them in some slight manner, the volatile, critical, and judgmental side comes out to play (Hyde) -- and they do no play nice.

Here are a few tips for coping with, and protecting yourself from, a critical narcissist:


If your body is sending messages that you are unsafe or you feel you are being unfairly attacked, these are “red flags.” Trust your intuition that you aren’t being treated with respect and kindness. 


Just like dealing with a bully, if you ignore the harshness they will derive no satisfaction and find someone else to go after.


Don’t take the bait and fight with them. Turn the other cheek. Don’t justify, defend, or explain your actions to them. Feel free to leave the conversation, the room, or the relationship as opposed to settling into a dynamic of conflict.


When you are negatively characterized remind yourself that they are most likely projecting their character traits onto you. It’s not about you. 


When you communicate, set clear boundaries and use clear language. Say what you mean directly without mitigation. Stick by the boundaries or parameters you set.


If you make a decision to set boundaries or stay away, do so with clarity and follow through.


You are the only person who can protect you. Don’t expect to be rescued and don’t expect that things will get better or change. Seek help if you need support to find your voice and protect yourself. 

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Jordan Dann is a dynamic psychoanalyst and educator. She writes extensively about her work with couples so that people can empower themselves with the knowledge to move towards increasing fulfillment, growth, and healing in their relationships.

New York, NY

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