Don’t share your traumas or insecurities. In fact, throw out a red herring to see if this person is truly safe ahead of time.
Narcissists and psychopaths will use your traumas and insecurities you disclose to them against you. Remember your “Miranda rights,” narcissist version. Anything you tell the narcissist can and will be used against you in a court of the narcissist’s distorted imagination and perception. Rather than telling a potential dating partner, friend, or business colleague anything they can use against you, throw out a red herring. If you sense a narcissist trying to poke and prod into your past to get ammunition, share a small insecurity or fear (can be real or false) and see if they use it against you as a covert put-down or as a way to detract from your self-esteem. Now you know exactly the type of person you’re dealing with. If you have any moral qualms about mispreresenting yourself, just remember that you wouldn’t reveal any information that could harm you or others to a kidnapper: why would you reveal it to someone who plans on taking you hostage emotionally? Moral absolutism will not protect or defend you against these types, as they are the ones who are already preemptively striking with the motive to manipulate you for their own gain.
Pretend you don’t know their true character.
Wolves in sheep’s clothing are much more likely to show their whiskers when they think they’re not being watched. Resist the urge to tell the narcissist that you know they’re a narcissist or call out their red flags directly especially when you’re just getting to know them. Instead, watch and observe them carefully. Pretend you’re falling for the schemes as you plan a safe exit. Take note of their behavioral patterns and make decisions to detach accordingly. They are much more likely to showcase their red flags when they think you’re fooled by them. By the time you escape, they won’t know what they did wrong and as a bonus, not knowing which tactics are obvious will ensure they continue with the very tactics that expose them more easily to other victims, helping to prevent more manipulation down the road.
Misrepresent your life in ways that protect you.
You don’t tell a narcissist or psychopath what you’re struggling with. They don’t need to know that you’re searching for the love of your life, that you’re struggling to heal from a past toxic relationship, need help with finances, that you’re new in town, that you’re dealing with health issues or that you’ve recently lost touch with your friend group. Narcissists are looking for those vulnerabilities so they can exploit you with more ease. They want to be the ones to pretend to offer you a dream solution just to get what they want (i.e. How about we get married and I take care of you?). Instead, be vague and suggest that you have overprotective family members, a multitude of ardent friends ready and waiting to defend you, and a host of police officers and lawyers who’ve looked out for you in the past. Act as if you’ve always been treated well in past relationships and that your boundaries have always been airtight and implemented with consequences when violated. Whatever story you tell, ensure that it paints you in the light of “not to be messed with.” Narcissists are less likely to “play” with people they know have resources to defend themselves. What they don’t know won’t kill them and will only help protect you from harm.
Slow down their love bombing from the very beginning.
The narcissist will fast-forward you with future-faking and excessive contact, attention, and affection early on. The key is to slow down their love bombing without them realizing it. Make sure you give the illusion of having a busy life packed with activities so they don’t grow suspicious ahead of time. That way, they know they’ll have to earn your time and energy with genuine gestures and actions – and most narcissists will opt out early in those cases because they want a victim who falls easily for their mind games. Even the ones who stick around because they like a challenge will eventually become worn out from chasing you.
Get what you need before they start withholding from you.
If you’re dealing with a narcissist in co-parenting situations, the workplace, school, or other situation where you can’t avoid them, it’s important to look at interactions with them through a cost-benefits lens. Is there anything you need from them? If so, try to get that first before they begin withholding from you. If you need your ex-spouse to take the kids for the weekend, you’ll likely need to hold off on confronting them about anything until they already have. If you need your co-worker to sign off on a contract, you may need to get that signed before you decide to critique or report them. If you need your notoriously lazy classmate to contribute some work in a group project, you may need to get their contribution before you put in yours. This is not about manipulation: it’s about knowing how toxic people think and work and acting accordingly.
Resist their gaslighting with continuous fact-checking.
It’s important that you don’t internalize the narcissist’s accusations as truth. Resist their gaslighting by fact-checking. For example, if they tell you “no one else has ever had this problem with me,” consulting with their past partners will easily debunk this myth so you can leave the relationship without as much self-doubt. If they criticize you, remembering the positive comments from empathic people can help ground you in the reality that this person is viewing you through a distorted lens. You deserve to hold onto your positive qualities and strengths. That is who you really are – not who the narcissist tries to make you believe you are.
When it comes to a narcissist, documentation is key. This is essential in divorce proceedings and custody cases, but it’s also vital in cases of abuse, stalking and harassment as well as gaslighting prevention. If you suspect you’re dealing with someone toxic, keep screenshots, text messages, voicemails, and record phone calls and in-person meetings (if legal in your state). This will not only help you legally, but it will give you many sources for reality-checking when needed about who this person is and what they’re capable of.
Flatter them or make it seem like what you want is their idea strategically when necessary.
Only use flattery as a last resort. If you want a narcissist to do something and can’t avoid them, you have to make them believe it’s their idea and that it would be in their benefit. Unfortunately, these toxic types are unlikely to bend to your will just to make you happy or to benefit you unless there’s something valuable in it for them. For example, if you’re co-parenting with a narcissist who won’t budge on following the visitation schedule, you might emphasize to them how they’ll be the “Dad of the Year” to everyone if they take the kids to the zoo, thus appealing to their sense of impression management and need to be praised by the community. If you’re trying to convince a toxic co-worker to sign off on a project, you might choose to stress how much profit it will bring in and how it’ll position them for a promotion if all goes well.
Discard them first without letting them know beforehand.
Never tell a narcissist you plan to leave them. Otherwise, they will try to love bomb you to get you to stay, beginning the cycle all over again. Or they may escalate into violence and aggression and threaten retaliation, doing what they can to interfere with your plans. There are many ways to discard a narcissist safely so that you can get free and stay free – just don’t let the narcissist know prior to getting free.
Plan for justice quietly.
Many survivors want justice for what they went through with the narcissist. Justice can look differently for everyone. For some, justice means compensation or a settlement. For others, it means moving forward and becoming victorious – leveling up so hard that the narcissist’s energy can’t even reach you anymore. And for some, justice means exposing the narcissist. Whatever path you choose, it’s important that you don’t announce your plans and keep yourself safe. For example, if you’re planning to divorce a narcissist, get a lawyer well beforehand and a financial planner to ensure you are protected during the process. Instead of telling the narcissist you plan to pursue justice, allow justice to unfold more organically and stage your comeback quietly behind the scenes. When you rise again more triumphant than ever, the narcissist will never see it coming. You will be an unstoppable force.