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5 Tips for dealing with a Narcissist from a Trauma Therapist in Westchester, NY

Updated: Sep 24, 2023

narcissistic relationships, narcissistic abuse, gaslighting, relationship therapy

Managing relationships with Narcissistic Personalities

I think it is important to preface with a few points to consider before reading this. Narcissistic personalities (NP's) and Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are very different, although you may have seen them used interchangeably.

  • Everyone has narcissistic personality traits. These are the behaviors/thoughts/feelings that reflect a sense of self importance. There is healthy narcissism, just as there is unhealthy narcissism. Narcissistic personality traits are on a spectrum- there are varying degrees at varying times.

  • Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) on the other hand refers to a person who meets at least 5 out of 9 symptoms (listed in the DSM 5) across multiple situations/circumstances for more than 6 months and has been diagnosed by a mental health professional.

You are probably reading this because a person in your life (partner, sibling, parent, friend, boss, coworker, etc.) has been exhibiting traits or behaviors of narcissism and you're just trying to understand how to navigate this. This may or may not mean they meet the criteria for NPD.

You may come across a lot of resources that encourage going "no-contact" with the person as a solution to dealing with these challenges. The truth is, sometimes no contact is not an option- or not an option that you are willing to consider for your relationship.

Here are 5 ways to ensure that you're protecting yourself from narcissistic injury.

1. Don't expect fairness

High levels of narcissism can present in selfish behaviors. You may experience a lack of empathy from NP's. It may feel like "it's their world, and everyone has to live in it" when engaging with this person. In a healthy relationship we can expect fairness- and should! But, when dealing with someone who has NPD or high levels of NP traits we have to remember that we cannot expect fairness. If we do, we are setting ourselves up to experience disappointment, and possibly exposing ourselves to narcissistic injury.

2. Be selective with how vulnerable you get with them

Those exhibiting higher levels of NP traits often have low levels of Emotional Intelligence (EI). The capacity for empathy is limited in these relationships. It can be especially painful if you hold expectations that a person is unable to meet. Moments of vulnerability tend to bring two people closer, in the case of someone who exhibits high levels of NP traits, this may not be the case. Being vulnerable with someone who lacks empathy may lead us to feel misunderstood, neglected, or even expose us to being gaslit or manipulated.

3. Setting firm boundaries (with consequences)

Boundaries are designed to be self-protective. Those who once benefited from you not having boundaries are likely to be the ones who are upset or angry with your boundaries. That doesn't mean the boundaries you have set are "wrong" or need to be "let go of". Staying firm in your boundaries helps to protect you from having your human rights disregarded/disrespected. Part of maintaining firm boundaries mean that those who cross those boundaries must be held accountable by some consequence. An example of a boundary with a consequence may look like:

  • "I will not engage in an argument where there is screaming or violence. (Boundary) If that does happen during conflict I will end the discussion (Consequence) until both of us are able to have a civil and respectful conversation about the conflict."

4. Having a safe space to process/vent

Gaslighting and manipulation are two common behaviors exhibited by those with narcissistic personalities. Both behaviors can lead to a sense of internal confusion, feelings of anger/shame/guilt/etc. It can be helpful to have an outlet where you can process any uncomfortable emotions, receive validation, challenge distorted thoughts, or simply just vent about your difficult experiences. This safe space may take many forms such as:

  • A journal

  • Support group

  • Therapist

  • Friend/family member

5. Self-care (before and after exposure)

Regardless what makes a situation challenging-it is always helpful to prepare for challenging situations with self-care. In the case of dealing with someone who has NP traits/behaviors here are some examples of what self-care practices may be helpful:

  1. Checking in with yourself starting with your physical needs and moving into your emotional needs: Have you eaten and are you hydrated? Did you get enough rest? Does your body feel comfortable? It's a lot easier to stay in our window of tolerance and be able to handle difficult situations or people when we don't have any unmet physical needs. Your emotional needs can be assessed by asking yourself questions like: Do I have the social capacity to be around this person today? Am I more stressed than usual? Am I feeling a sense of being supported in my life in other areas?

  2. Planning something you are looking forward to: Having a "light at the end of the tunnel" to look forward to can promote your ability to manage difficult situations in the moment. It is a reminder that not every situation will look and feel the way this current moment does- it keeps you motivated to keep pushing through.

  3. Journaling after a difficult experience: Having a log or journal can be a comforting source to process a challenging or painful experience. When engaging with those who exhibit traits of NPD we can't always prepare or protect ourselves from exposure to narcissistic abuse. With that said, it's important to have ways to cope with and process any wounds.


narcissistic relationships, narcissistic abuse, narcissism, mental health counseling, New York therapy

Annabella Lipson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling in Scarsdale, NY.

She enjoys working with young adults & adults who are dealing with grief, constant sadness, anxiety, PTSD and other heavy emotions that make it difficult to enjoy the present moment.

Annabella is available to take new clients in person and virtually!


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