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Living With Narcissists: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Sanity

The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.


If you have chosen to live with a narcissist, or find yourself stuck in a situation for the time being, here are five things that can help save your sanity. Above all, you must remember that nothing you do will control the narcissist's behavior or make them stop being abusive. These things are for you only. They will not control or change the narcissist. They will not stop escalation or violent behavior if the narcissist chooses to react that way. Nothing can do that. The only way to stop the abuse is to end your association with this person.

1. Accept the reality of the situation

  • Let go of the fantasy & accept that nothing will fix the relationship
  • Stop trying to change the narcissist & accept who/how they really are
  • Stop projecting your feelings onto the narcissist & accept how they really feel

If you're going to live with a narcissist, the first thing you need to do is accept the situation. Most of the pain involved in these relationships is due to someone's unwillingness to do this. It hurts and it's hard to hear, but the truth is that most people will not change just because someone else wants them to be different. Some of them can't. If you want to get through this with any sanity left, you have to accept this reality.

This means letting go of the fantasy that this relationship will somehow become what you want it to be and dealing with the reality of it, regardless of what the narcissist says. You've probably been around the block with this enough times by now to know that it isn't going to be different, whether they promise that or not. It means not trying to change the narcissist and accepting who and how they really are. It means not projecting your feelings onto the narcissist and letting their actions speak for themselves. They do. This person either cannot or will not be what you want them to be. Part of living with it without being destroyed is understanding and accepting that.

2. Change your expectations

  • Understand that no expectations will be met consistently, if at all
  • Create realistic ones that reflect how this person really behaves and feels
  • Understand your role in the narcissist's life; you're not a sovereign person

A lot of the pain involved in these relationships is also due to unrealistic expectations placed on the narcissist or the relationship. This doesn't mean your expectations are unreasonable or unrealistic in general—especially if they're normal things like respect and consideration— it just means this person is not going to meet them with any consistency, no matter how basic they are. Let the person's actions speak for themselves and base your expectations on that, rather than what you think they should do.

For example, if you are expecting loyalty even though you've never gotten it from your partner, you need to realize that is unrealistic. If you are expecting comfort from a parent who has never given it to you, you need to realize that's unrealistic. It doesn't mean what you want is wrong. It means the person you are expecting it from has already demonstrated they will not give it to you, so you need to adjust your expectations accordingly. Expectations need to be created that reflect how this person really behaves and how they really feel. You can't get blood from a stone and there's nothing you can do to change that.

It's important to understand the dynamics of the relationship and your role in it. When you are dealing with a narcissist, you are not considered a sovereign person by them and will not be treated as one. Changing your expectations of the person and the relationship to reflect how things really are will go a long way toward creating some peace for you.

3. Stop Taking It Personally

  • Internalize that the narcissist's behavior is about them, not you
  • Understand that the narcissist doesn't even really know you
  • Realize narcissists live in a fantasy; they need to believe, say or do these things
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This is one of the hardest things to do in any relationship, but especially when someone can be so deliberately cruel and horrible. However, it's necessary if you want to survive. It's also the reality. The truth is, the narcissist's behavior is not about you. It's about them. If you pay attention, you'll see that, in all likelihood, this person doesn't even know you. You're just a tool for them to use in their never-ending quest to make themselves feel better. Everybody is, no matter what the narcissist says. It really is about nothing and no one else but them.

You think it's about you because it hurts you, but that isn't the reality. You don't exist as a sovereign person to pathologically narcissistic people, which means that in the end, nothing can ever truly be about you at all. That's why it isn't and never will be. Narcissistic people live in a fantasy world and because of that, they need to say or do or believe these things. But you don't have to live in the same fantasy world, so don't. It's not about you. It's about them, just like everything else.

4. Pick your battles

  • Decide if it's worth it
  • Decide if it's necessary
  • Decide if it'll change anything

Living with narcissistic people is like being at war. And like being at war, you need to learn to pick your battles. If you don't, everything can become a battle because this is the kind of person you're dealing with. They can be passive-aggressive, overtly aggressive, sarcastic, mean, nasty, unpleasant, irritable, rude, inconsiderate, and much more. You have to decide what is really worth your time to engage with. Every snotty little comment and nasty little look is not worth the argument. It's not worth your time, and it certainly won't help anything. Learn to pick your battles and let the rest go.

This seems unfair to some, but if you're living with a narcissist, it's never going to be fair, so it's time to accept that and learn to work with it. Picking your battles can save your sanity. If the situation is not important, don't bother. This actually protects your energy and your sanity at the same time. For example, battles about finances might need to be had. Battles about the mean thing they said under their breath at breakfast might not.

Picking your battles also includes not arguing with them when they try to start with you. You have to decide if a battle is necessary, if it's worth it, and if it'll change anything. Remember that you cannot control this person's behavior or make them stop acting this way. All you can do is control yourself. Learn not to take the bait. It becomes a lot easier when you have accepted the situation, changed your expectations, and are no longer taking it personally.

5. Learn to validate and care for yourself

  • Stop relying on the narcissist to validate your experiences or feelings
  • Stop giving the narcissist the power to decide your worth
  • Stop relying on the narcissist for companionship or love

Perhaps the hardest thing about dealing with narcissistic people is the fact that though you have a relationship of some kind, you really are alone in it. However, you can learn to validate and care for yourself. This is probably the most important lesson narcissists can teach us. Learning to do these things for yourself means you need to stop relying on the narcissist to validate your experiences and your feelings.

Stop trying to convince an abuser to agree with you that they are an abuser; it's unlikely that they're going to ever do that in any real way. You don't need them to agree with or validate your experiences and your feelings. You can learn to do that for yourself. It means you need to stop giving narcissists the power to decide your worth. Your worth is not determined by what they think of you or how they treat you.

No one's worth is determined by how anybody thinks of them or how anybody treats them, but least of all a narcissist. They don't even live in reality. They don't even know themselves, let alone someone else. Learn to see your own worth, and stop giving this power to others. It's too much power for anyone to have in your life and is unhealthy. Many times, the reason people stay in these relationships is that they have become obsessed with proving to the other person that they are worth loving and treating decently. The person you need to prove that to is you, not them. That's who really needs to see it. Learning to validate and care for yourself also means not relying on the narcissist to love, support or consider you. You've got to learn to love yourself, support yourself and consider yourself. No one else can do it for you and a narcissist certainly won't. They can't do it for themselves either. That's what they need you for.

Living with narcissists is an exhausting, painful, and ultimately unsatisfying experience where no one ever gets what they want or what they need. These relationships—whether they be family, romantic, or any other kind—are brutal and damaging. But if you are going to live with a narcissist, learning to do these things can at least save your sanity if nothing else. Remember too, that none of these things excuses their behavior or renders them somehow not responsible for things they've done. They are only to keep you from being destroyed. Good luck.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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