- While unhealthy relationships may not be completely avoidable, people can take steps to protect themselves.
- It's important to set healthy boundaries and stick with them.
- Self-awareness and regular communication with one's support system are key.
Narcissists tend to prey on intimacy and wield power and control as deadly weapons. Their ability to subtly manipulate can be astounding, particularly in the beginning stages of romantic relationships—when everything feels new, fresh, and exciting. That manipulative talent, while used to make the initial phase of a romance seem “almost perfect,” can wreak devastating results in the long term.
If you find yourself consistently caught up in romantic relationships with a narcissist, or someone who demonstrates significant narcissistic tendencies, you may be missing vital characteristics that can lessen your appeal to these unhealthy romantic partners.
Narcissists seek the same patterns repeatedly.
Narcissists seek the same pattern in their victims, a pattern of interactions and characteristics that will make their end game easier. If you look up the dating history of a narcissist, you’ll likely find their victims seem eerily similar in many ways. Understanding these patterns and working hard to ensure they don’t crop up in your own interactions with others can be a valuable tool to help you avoid narcissistic relationships.
1. Know your buttons, and don’t react when others push them. Everyone has hidden problem spots—areas of low self-confidence, fears, and worries that, when brought to the light, can impact the quality of relationships, particularly if they’re not being dealt with. Because narcissists feed on your vulnerabilities and weaknesses, it’s essential to learn what those vulnerabilities are before exposing them to others.
While it may seem like overkill, understanding where you have room for improvement is a crucial step in a well-functioning relationship. Explore the characteristics that you prefer others not to see. Do you struggle with low self-worth? Do you feel as if you don’t measure up in certain areas? Are there parts of yourself that you would rather hide from others? If the answer is yes, it’s vital for you to explore those characteristics on your own before entering into romantic relationships. The cost of ignoring them may not be worth it in the long run.
Get to know yourself—on an intimate, no-holds-barred level. Know what buttons will hurt or set you off when someone pushes them, and work on those while you’re still single. The more you recognize and work on your soft spots, the less vulnerable you’ll be to others who may be looking to exploit them—and the harder it will be for someone to use those against you.
In the same vein, learn how not to react when someone does push your buttons. Narcissists will thrive on those reactions, a reward of sorts for their efforts to ruffle your feathers. If you learn how to keep an eye on your responses and mediate them in unsafe situations, you’ll decrease the likelihood that a narcissist can use them to hurt you.
2. Stand by your boundaries no matter what. Know your limits. There’s always a line you shouldn’t be willing to cross, and a narcissist will innately discover those lines quickly—and immediately start trying to cross them. If you’re deeply familiar with your own boundaries and have spent time developing and implementing them, you’ll be much safer against these attacks.
Boundaries are a necessity for any healthy relationship, particularly romantic relationships. Though the limits you set can be fluid depending on the situation, the underlying belief that drives the boundary should stay the same. If you’re firmly against being demeaned, you’ll set a boundary that disallows this in your relationships—whether that means bringing it up when it happens for resolution’s sake or walking away from the situation as soon as it occurs.
How you follow through on setting limits will depend on self-awareness and your familiarity with the intentions of others. Regardless of the situation, however, your boundaries should be non-negotiable. If you value independence, you will be willing to set limits around any relationships or interactions that may threaten that principle. When you’re dealing with a narcissist, boundaries must be absolute with no wiggle room—so practicing your limit setting ahead of time, and familiarizing yourself with how it may play out in different relationships, is essential for healthy interactions.
3. Maintain a close support system. Narcissists hone in on victims who are either lacking a support system or who will be easy to separate from their close friends and family. By maintaining a close support system, you effectively provide yourself with a buffer that can help recognize (and defeat) attempts at manipulation.
Support systems look different for everyone, but the most important underlying factors are well-functioning relationships that can provide unconditional regard and be a sounding board for any troubles that arise. Those factors will be crucial when it comes to spotting manipulators before too much damage is done, and the more you stay in contact with your support system, the less likely it is you will fall prey to narcissists.
Narcissists work hard to separate victims from those who care about them, so ongoing communication with loved ones is essential when it comes to fending off sophisticated manipulators. Narcissists also put in the effort to insert themselves into existing support systems and then subtly drive wedges between their victims and their loved ones, making a strong, unwavering support system (however that may look for each individual) unequivocally necessary to fend off their attacks.
Sharpen your skills.
Though completely avoiding unhealthy romantic relationships is challenging, putting self-protective measures in place can help decrease your chances of succumbing to narcissists. Practice makes perfect: The more you rehearse and sharpen your skills, the easier it will be to fall back on them when needed. Once they become second nature, narcissists will find you exponentially less appealing.