What If You’re Too Smart for the Narcissist?

3 min read
Photograph by Dean Dixon, Sculpture by Alan LeQuire

Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom

Photograph by Dean Dixon, Sculpture by Alan LeQuire

Narcissists are manipulative, if nothing else. They are children, most fundamentally, who never mature past a certain age in childhood, and if you observe their behavior carefully, you can even discern that approximate age. For instance, the extremely self-centered ones who don’t even know that other people have perspectives and opinions different from theirs are the youngest—maybe stuck at age 5 or 6. The very catty and superficial ones, obsessed with image and what other people think of them, are around middle school age, say 12 or 13.

All narcissists are people who did not, for one reason or another that psychologists believe is usually tied to trauma or neglect, progress in maturity past that little child who needs and wants and will do anything to get it.

Understanding that narcissists are fundamentally children-people puts you (if you’re not one of them) at a distinct advantage. Behaving towards the narcissist the way you would a child can often work effectively to help you navigate around and, ultimately, hopefully past the narcissist in your life.

Here are some specific tips to try if a narcissist in your life is creating a sense of drag on who you are or would like to become, or what you want to do in your life, from tiny things to big goals and dreams.

1) Recognize the narcissist in your life first. They tend to be the very critical or even mean person in your life who loves to cut you down to size for everything you do but can never, ever, take even a hint of criticism from you or others. Yes, that person!

2) Remember when dealing with this person that they are a child with an adult facade. Because they are so young and immature, you can expect them to be selfish, petty, hollow inside, and prone to rage when they are criticized in any way or don’t get what they want. Ignore the behavior, or at least don’t react to it. Child psychologists tell parents to ignore the toddler who tantrums; to whatever extent possible with the narcissist in your life, do the same.

3) Begin to distance yourself from this person—physically, if you can. If it’s someone in your workplace, actively seek other lunch companions and limit your interactions with the narcissist when you can; make yourself scarce. If it’s an intimate partner or a sibling, distance them emotionally: Make yourself less available at events where they will be, and don’t get stuck on the phone with them. You can also stop sharing news or personal information that they will no doubt use against you.

4) Educate yourself on narcissists and narcissistic abuse. There are lots of books and videos out there that will help you understand this personality trait, how common it is, and how different people have learned to cope and adapt their behavior to survive and come out happier and healthier after having gone through the hard work.

If you’re reading this blog and, more broadly, Psychology Today magazine, you are smarter than the narcissist, since you’re clearly more self-aware (which, admittedly, isn’t yet saying much, since narcissists suffer from a profound lack of self-awareness, but it’s a start)! Recognizing yourself as being capable of moving past the narcissist in your life is a huge first step on a joyful path to personal enlightenment.

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