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The One Way to Beat a Narcissist

Don't give up hope—there is a solution.

A face-off with a narcissist is tough.

Whether it’s a divorce, a co-parenting situation, or a work scenario, a narcissist constantly twists the narrative to exonerate himself or herself and incriminate the opposite party. Perhaps the most painful dynamic is the narcissist's ability to manipulate people into believing he or she is the victim in the scenario.

So, how does a person who has a conscience and is accountable stand a chance? It is almost as if a person’s character strengths become his or her weaknesses when tangling with a narcissist. The narcissist abuses the person’s trust, selflessness, empathy, and fairness.

A person should never stoop to unscrupulous tactics. Yet utilizing the power he or she possesses which the narcissist may lack is the key. This power includes the capacity for deep thought and feeling. Experiencing the deeper and more evolved emotional capacities such as empathy, sincere accountability, deep insight, authentic introspection, conscientiousness, and remorse, indicate the person has a solid depth of feeling. This deep streak allows the person to think at a level that a narcissist may be incapable.

Narcissists are typically analytical, intellectual, and calculating. These capabilities may be impressive in many areas, but they remain surface level with regard to human emotion. In fact, intellectualization is a defense mechanism unconsciously employed to ward off deep emotion. Extreme deflection, projection, and distortions also keep a person detached from deep and uncomfortable feeling states, like sincere insight. Yet it is insight along with authentic remorse and empathy that allows for the personal awareness of how he or she impacts others. This motivates a person to repair a rupture with a loved one and avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Occasionally a narcissist can display an intellectual understanding of his or her egocentric ways of relating but is unable to integrate this awareness at a deep emotional level, so permanent growth and change are rare. In addition, he or she often immediately and unconsciously distorts the interaction in his or her own mind, incorrectly believing he or she is the victim instead of the aggressor.

One of the ironies of a narcissist’s detachment from deep emotion is that he or she longs to be perceived as deep. He or she may mimic, copycat, or follow a deep thinker and feeler as a way of displaying his or her depth, but it often rings hollow because the deep thoughts originated from someone else.

In essence, a deep thinker and feeler is someone who readily has access to the complex capacities that allow a person to grow and evolve; to become better as a human. A narcissist, on the other hand, is usually preoccupied with all things superficial; status, power, money, control, or attention. A narcissist is frequently a shallow thinker and feeler due to a rigid and robust unconscious defensive structure that keeps deep and uncomfortable emotions at bay. Also, the narcissist is obsessed with winning the power struggle at hand, so remaining calm and thinking outside of the box is essential. At these times, a person’s best defense is to enact the power of deep and creative thought.

For example, a client, Sally, was dealing with a narcissistic co-parent, Rick. Rick rarely concerned himself with his kids unless it allowed him to hurt Sally. He had not attended any of the kids' doctor’s appointments or emergency room visits. During the marriage, he refused to care for the children when they were sick because he believed it was not his job. After the divorce, he rarely asked how the kids were doing when Sally informed him, they were sick. Yet he insisted on being contacted if a child needed to stay home from school and Sally needed to go to work.

The kids did not want to go to Rick’s house when they were sick. They wanted to remain in their own beds and in their own home. Sally was usually able to work from home to care for a sick child, but occasionally needed to attend an afternoon meeting or two. Despite the knowledge that the sick child desperately wanted to stay in his own bed at home and be cared for by a grandparent, Rick insisted a sick child be brought to him. He threatened to take Sally to court if she did not comply.

The day arose when Sally’s child woke up sick. He pleaded to be allowed to stay at home with his grandpa during the time she needed to attend a meeting. She felt intense empathy for her sick child who was in distress. She was aware Rick had been tracking her via her phone. Despite purchasing several new phones, Rick continued to be able to track her. She realized if she went to work, he would know she was leaving the child in the care of a grandparent instead of utilizing him, as he had demanded. The possibility of incurring Rick’s wrath terrified Sally, so she tried to remain calm. After careful deliberation, she decided to leave her phone at home during the afternoon meeting. She asked her father to contact her at the office if he needed her.

That evening, she received a text from Rick, “Too bad you had to stay home from work today. I hope you don’t get fired.”

Not only did Rick fail to ask about his child’s health, but he also unknowingly confirmed he was tracking Sally, which revealed his true motive. Rick made his own bed. First, he violated Sally’s privacy by tracking her phone without her permission. Second, he was too preoccupied with himself to care for a sick child in the past, which made the child’s resistance to his demand understandable. Third, he lacked insight into this, which stopped him from experiencing empathy for his own child. Instead, he put his self-serving desires in front of what was best for the child. Through his abusive behaviors, he illuminated what his true motivation was, which was to incriminate Sally, not to care for a sick child.

Following a court guideline is essential, yet narcissists often abuse the spirit in which the guideline was written. Also, the court guidelines are created in black and white terms as it is impossible to cover and include the nuances of every different situation when co-parenting. If a person feels like a narcissist is interpreting and utilizing a court guideline to win a power struggle in place of doing what is right for a child, it is important to advocate for the child. Thinking deeply about this situation is paramount. Consulting a therapist, attorney, or court official may also be necessary. A narcissist is no match for a deep thinker. Outsmarting a narcissist is the best defense.

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