What is narcissism?
Narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and a need for attention and admiration. Narcissists have an excessive sense of entitlement and a grandiose view of themselves. They believe they are superior to others and deserve special treatment. Underneath their confident exterior, narcissists actually have very fragile egos and feel insecure. They seek out constant validation to reassure themselves.
Some key traits of narcissism include:
- Exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty or perfect love
- Belief they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
- Need for excessive admiration
- Sense of entitlement
- Exploitative behavior
- Lack of empathy
- Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
- Arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Narcissists often try to control people and situations to serve their own interests. They use manipulation tactics to get what they want. Narcissism exists on a spectrum, with malignant narcissism at the extreme end involving aggression, anti-social behavior, rage, and lack of conscience.
Why you can’t win with a narcissist
There are several key reasons why you can’t “win” with a narcissist:
They don’t play by the normal rules
Narcissists see relationships as a game they must win at all costs. They’ll bend or break the rules as needed to get ahead. They’ll lie, manipulate, triangulate, play the victim, and twist reality. Rational arguments mean nothing to them. You can’t use logic, fairness, or good faith bargaining because they operate from a position of entitlement and superiority.
Their ego always comes first
A narcissist’s top priority is protecting their inflated yet fragile ego. Everything revolves around serving their needs and validating their grandiose sense of self. They feel entitled to have their needs met immediately. They have no tolerance for being questioned, contradicted, challenged, or criticized. They see relationships in terms of how the other person can serve them, not as mutually fulfilling partnerships.
They distort reality
Narcissists live in their own version of reality. They distort facts, exaggerate their own importance, blame others, rewrite history, and minimize anything that doesn’t match their narrative. Trying to prove them wrong with facts is pointless. They’ll dismiss concrete evidence and overwritten your version of events with their own distortions.
They project and blame
Narcissists refuse to take responsibility for their actions. They’ll project their own flaws onto you and then blame you for them. They’re masters at playing the victim and making you feel that you’re the one in the wrong. You’ll end up apologizing just to keep the peace.
They want to control you
Narcissists crave power and control over others to compensate for their inner lack of control. They’ll systematically break down your boundaries in order to exert increasing control over you. Slowly, your thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, and opinions will be invalidated and replaced by theirs. You’ll find yourself walking on eggshells, catering to their needs, and questioning your own sanity.
They feel entitled to punish you
If you fail to provide the narcissist with the validation, admiration, agreement, or service they feel entitled to, they’ll be sure to punish you. Forms of punishment range from sulking, raging, disappearing, smear campaigns, gaslighting, cheating, and physical violence. The threats of abandonment or harm serve to train you to comply with their demands.
They don’t change
Narcissism is a personality disorder that is very resistant to change. Narcissists lack self-awareness and don’t think they need to change. Any changes they make are likely to be temporary and self-serving. They may feign change or go through cycles of idealizing you when they need you, then devaluing you when they don’t. You’ll end up depleted, demoralized and damaged while they remain entitled and exploitative.
You feel hooked into the relationship
Narcissists are skilled at hooking you emotionally and psychologically so that it’s hard to break free:
- Love bombing – They shower you with attention, praise, gifts, and declarations of love early on. It makes you feel special, seen, and validated.
- Future faking – They talk about your shared future together, marriage, family, dream home etc. This invests you emotionally in the relationship.
- Trauma bonding – The abuse cycle bonds you to them. The intermittent reinforcement of their occasional kindness or remorse keeps you hoping they’ll change.
- Co-dependency – They systematically degrade your self-esteem. You start to rely on their approval and validation.
- Stockholm Syndrome – To survive the abuse you start to subconsciously align yourself with the abuser.
- Shared fantasy – They project a shared narrative of how special the relationship is. You become enmeshed in their distorted reality.
Over time you become trauma bonded to the narcissist like an addiction. They systematically tear down your boundaries until you’re entangled together. It becomes hard to tell where you end and they begin. The effects can linger long after the relationship ends, keeping you trapped in the narcissistic web.
You feel responsible for them
The narcissist also hooks you through manufactured vulnerability and dependency:
- They play the victim – Claiming they’ve suffered so much hardship or were so damaged in childhood that you feel compelled to support them.
- Helplessness – They emphasize how incapable they are of caring for themselves. You begin parenting them.
- Guilt trips – They guilt trip you if you fail to provide what they need. You’re afraid to disappoint them.
- Threats – They threaten self harm, or to smear you, if you abandon them. You become responsible for their survival.
- Illness – Hypochondria and psychosomatic symptoms hook you into caring for them.
- Triangulation – A third party like the narcissist’s child makes you feel too guilty to leave.
This manufactured vulnerability turns you into the narcissist’s enabler and emotional caretaker. They systematically strip away your boundaries until you’re putting their needs ahead of your own.
You can’t match their ruthlessness
Deep down, narcissists are utterly ruthless. They lack empathy, conscience, values, integrity, and humanity. Essentially they are emotional predators who exploit others for self gain without remorse. They’ll:
- Smear reputations
- Hoover back
- Love bomb
As a normal empathetic human being, you simply can’t match this degree of shameless, underhanded ruthlessness. While you try to operate from a place of compassion, integrity, and cooperation, they operate from expediency, selfishness, aggression, and cunning manipulation.
You end up diminished while they thrive
In the end, you emerge from the relationship emotionally, physically, financially, socially, and spiritually depleted. Your self-esteem is shattered and you feel hollowed out. You may suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD, owe them money, or have lost friends and family.
The narcissist, on the other hand, has extracted all they could from you to bolster themselves. They accumulated hard assets like money, social capital through your connections, insider information to leverage, status, home, car etc. Now they’ll discard you and move on to the next source of supply bearing no consequences from the devastation left in their wake. Like parasites, they drain their hosts to further their own survival.
So what can you do?
When dealing with a narcissist it’s important to remember:
- You can’t beat them at their own game. Stop trying to win or prove them wrong.
- You won’t get the validation, closure, justice, or accountability you seek.
- Don’t negotiate or bargain. They’ll use any info against you.
- Don’t try to appeal to their empathy or conscience. They don’t have any.
- Don’t confront them. It will only provoke narcissistic rage.
- Go no contact completely. It’s the only way to disentangle.
- Enlist support from friends, family and professionals.
- Rebuild your life, values, dreams, and identity.
- Invest in your healing and recovery.
The only way to “win” against a narcissist is to walk away, give them absolutely no supply, and focus fully on your own healing. That is the one thing they can’t control or compete with.
- Narcissists operate by different rules that allow them to manipulate.
- You can’t have a healthy relationship of equals with them.
- They distort reality to suit their agenda.
- They feel entitled to punish you if you don’t comply.
- They trauma bond you to them.
- They make you feel responsible for their wellbeing.
- They take ruthlessly with no remorse.
- You end up diminished while they move on unaffected.
- The only way to “win” is to walk away completely.
There are no winners in relationships with narcissists. The best you can do is escape with minimal damage and invest fully in your healing.