How many tools are in your toolbox? Do you have chalk to outline your boundaries? A tape measure to see how far someone steps over your lines? A pen and paper to tally up the number of red flags you spot?
A narcissist has double your amount of tools, and they just love to throw them out at you.
What is a narcissist? The Mayo Clinic defines them as someone whose “personality qualities include thinking very highly of oneself, needing admiration, believing others are inferior, and lacking empathy for others.”
This need for attention often leads them to manipulate people into doing as they desire. This person could be a romantic partner, a parent, a friend, or even a supervisor.
For me, it was three girls who believed they knew what was best for me after only knowing me for a month, planting false ideas in my head about the people in my life being toxic. It was being repeatedly harassed by someone I barely knew, even after I had expressed discomfort. It was an ex-partner telling me they loved someone else but who still continued to pursue me because they knew I was vulnerable.
I have built up my collection of tools to defend myself against manipulative attacks. Defense against manipulation is essential, especially if you’re a people pleaser. It’s time to add some more tools to your toolbox.
Most narcissists lack empathy, which allows a person to understand other people’s feelings. Simply explaining how you feel is the best way to begin your defense. However, it may not be enough, in which case the collection of tools can begin.
One of the most common tactics used by narcissists is guilt-tripping. They blame you for things that aren’t your fault, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. Their body language and tone are aggressive. They may sigh loudly, cross their arms, or set something down a bit too forcefully. It is often used to manipulate you to do something you don’t want to do, usually something that crosses a boundary you’ve set.
Your first tool: bright yellow tape declaring “DO NOT CROSS”. In other words, get used to saying “no”. You can add more to the end of the statement, such as, “no, I’m not comfortable with that,” or, “no, I’d rather not do that.” Just remember that “no” is still a full sentence on its own.
Three more common tactics include moving the goalposts, love bombing, and triangulation. If you seem unable to make them happy no matter how much you do for them, they’re moving the goalposts. If they shower you with affection and gifts in a way that smothers and isolates you, they are love bombing. If they bring a third person into an argument or situation in an attempt to “gang up” on you, they are triangulating.
The secret to combating these three tactics lies in a single tool: a level. This is used to maintain balance in your relationship with the person. Explain the tilted scales and suggest counterbalances as solutions. Eventually, if they agree to these solutions, that little bubble should return to the middle of the level once again.
If your relationship seems beyond repair, your feelings on the matter are valid. Depending on the situation and who the person is, there is a tool you can use to end the relationship: scissors.
If you feel that this person, this narcissist, is affecting you in a negative way, don’t be afraid to cut the tie with them. Some situations may be harder than others, such as relationships with a parent or employer. In those cases, take extra steps prior to the final ceremonial cutting of that tie.
Make sure you have a safe place to go or another job to work before you cut the person out. This tool, though simple, carries a lot of power that may be scary and overwhelming to think about using. If possible, speak to someone you trust about the situation. Let them know what’s been happening and why you’re leaving this person behind. They can help the process feel less lonely and stressful.
Once you’ve done that, grab your wooden planks and hammer them up with some nails to seal the deal.
Now you have more tools than before, and these are much more versatile than the ones a narcissist uses. Their tools may seem unlimited, but the reality is that they simply throw each one at you over and over until they wear you down. When you begin to show them that you have tools of your own, theirs become less effective.
While the narcissist tosses their wrenches into your plans, you can use a calculated defense by building a stone wall and saying, “no, you will not cross my boundaries.” That is what sets you apart from them: the fortification of the lines you’ve drawn using your new tools.