Tips on how to protect yourself from manipulation and deceit
“I think she’s a narcissist,” my client said.
“What makes you think that?” I asked.
“I just looked up all of the signs, and she has all of them.”
My client’s story was a story too many of us have: a stirring passionate love affair, feeling like you’d found “the one,” moving from casual dating to living together or married in the same amount of time it takes most southern towns to change their weather.
But then something goes wrong. It starts out with little things like souped-up fights or these tiny, seemingly inconsequential, jabs that stab you to the quick.
Your “soulmate’s” mask starts to slip, and you realize…you don’t know this person behind the mask. You want that otherperson back. The one you’d fallen in love with, but it takes too long for you to realize that other person…never actually existed.
You’ve been conned, and the worst part is that usually the relationship has progressed so far that now you have no idea how to unentangle yourself from this “fake” person anymore.
What is a narcissist?
Regardless of whether someone has full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) or just narcissistic tendencies (which is common for anyone that is currently acting out on an addiction), they will have certain traits.
Exaggerating their own accomplishments and talents
Constantly seeking validation and attention from others
Having a strong sense of entitlement
Being preoccupied with fantasies of power, success, and attractiveness
Belittling or demeaning others in order to feel superior
Being easily jealous or envious of others
Having a lack of empathy and being unwilling to recognize or understand the feelings of others
Manipulating or exploiting others for their own gain
Another important aspect of the narcissist is their “mask.” This is the persona or image that they present to the world. They may appear to be confident, charming, and successful, but behind this mask, they may be struggling with low self-esteem and a deep sense of insecurity. This faux persona is how they manipulate and exploit others.
NPD can only be diagnosed by a professional, but it’s important to note that anyone can have these tendencies. The probability of you encountering one and it having a negative impact on your life is actually a staggering 15 to 50%.
If you’ve ever dated or even married someone with any or all of the traits above, you know how acutely awful this can be. It can be terrifying to date because you struggle with trusting yourself, or you may have heard or read enough about narcissism and narcissistic tendencies to know that you want to avoid them at all costs.
While you may not be able to tell if someone is a narcissist the first time you meet them, you may be able to avoid letting the relationship progress too far by following these 5 tips:
1. Educate yourself Educating yourself about the traits and characteristics of narcissists is crucial in understanding and identifying narcissistic behavior. It allows you to recognize the signs and red flags, and to better protect yourself from manipulation and deceit.
Here are red flags to look out for:
They constantly talk about themselves and their accomplishments, and show little interest in your life.
They tend to exaggerate their achievements and talents, and may even lie to impress others.
They are overly confident and arrogant, and may put down others.
They have a strong sense of entitlement and expect special treatment.
They are easily offended and can become angry or hostile if they don’t get their way.
They have a history of unstable or tumultuous relationships.
They are unable to empathize with others and may lack genuine emotions.
They have a tendency to blame others for their own problems and shortcomings.
By learning about the different types of narcissists, the potential impact of their behavior on your own mental and emotional well-being, as well as the signs and red flags to look out for, you can make better, more informed decisions.
2. Trust your instincts Narcissists are often master manipulators and can be very skilled at hiding their true nature. They may be charming and charismatic at first, but as you get to know them better, a more sinister, or even cruel, self may reveal itself. By trusting your instincts and paying attention to your own feelings and observations, you can better detect any red flags or warning signs. Here are indicators that you may need to trust your instincts:
You feel uneasy or uncomfortable around a certain person or in a certain situation.
You find yourself constantly questioning your own feelings or doubting yourself.
The person or situation makes you feel uneasy, anxious, or stressed.
You have a sense that you’re being manipulated or controlled.
You notice a discrepancy between what a person says and what they do.
Something the person says or does doesn’t seem genuine or authentic.
Your gut may tell you something is off or not right, and it’s important to pay attention to it.
3. Be cautious with early flattery Narcissists are often skilled at using flattery and charm to manipulate and control others. Also called “lovebombing,” excessive and early flattery can create a false sense of attraction and intimacy, making it difficult to recognize other warning signs of narcissistic behavior.
Here are examples of the types of early flattery you might see from a narcissist:
Excessive compliments and praise, such as telling you that you’re the most beautiful/smart/amazing person they’ve ever met.
Constantly seeking your validation and approval, for example always asking for your opinions and feedback about them.
Making grandiose promises and declarations of love or affection early in the relationship.
Using flattery as a way to manipulate you into doing things for them, or to make you feel guilty for not meeting their demands.
Exaggerating their own accomplishments and talents, in order to impress you and make you feel inferior.
Making you feel that you’re in a privileged position to be with them and that others are not worthy.
Making you feel like you are the center of their world and they can’t live without you.
Being aware and cautious of receiving a lot of early flattery allows you to be more aware of the potential manipulation and control tactics that a narcissist may use, and to make more informed decisions about your relationship.
4. Set boundaries Narcissists often disregard the boundaries of others. You may notice this in small ways at first. For example, you may say that you can’t text while you’re at work between 8 and 5, and you may notice that they’ll text you at 4:50pm, or they’ll send something like, “I know you can’t respond to this right now, but I’m just thinking about you!”
While that may seem like a small thing, small boundary-pushing can turn into greater boundary violations over time. If you let them violate these small boundaries, they’ll eventually feel okay with violating bigger ones.
By setting clear boundaries and maintaining them, you can help protect yourself from narcissistic behavior. Some examples of boundaries that you may want to set in an early relationship include:
Communicating your need for honesty and respect in the relationship.
Setting limits on how much time and energy you are willing to invest in the relationship.
Being clear about what you will and will not tolerate in terms of behavior, such as manipulation or control.
Establishing your own personal values and goals, and being assertive in communicating and enforcing them.
Not allowing anyone to make you feel guilty or ashamed for setting and enforcing your own boundaries.
It’s important to be clear and direct in communicating your boundaries, and to be willing to walk away from a relationship if they are not respected.
5. Prioritize self-care Self-care is an essential aspect of maintaining your own mental and emotional well-being, and it becomes even more important when trying to avoid dating a narcissist.
Here are some examples of self-care you should prioritize while you’re dating:
Setting aside time for yourself (schedule time for activities you enjoy and that make you feel good, such as reading, writing, exercising, or spending time with friends and family).
Practicing mindfulness (Mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga, or journaling can help you stay grounded and focused on the present moment, rather than getting caught up in fantasies or negative thoughts/emotions).
Building a support network (Having a supportive group of friends and family can help you stay grounded and aware).
Seeking professional help (Therapy/counseling and coaching can provide you with the tools and strategies you need to cope with the emotional stress and manipulation that can come with dating a narcissist).
Practicing self-care is important for you to maintain a strong sense of self-worth and self-respect, which can make it easier to recognize and avoid individuals, like narcissists, who may be prone to exploiting others.
Dating can feel like walking across a minefield already, so let’s not add “dating a narcissist” to your list. Educate yourself, trust your instincts, be cautious, keep to good boundaries, and keep doing the things you love with the people you love. Even if you find yourself on a date with one, you can exit with grace, knowing that a future with them isn’t one you want.
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