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Self-Help for Narcissists: How to Stop Devaluing People

Learn how to improve your relationships by changing only one behavior.

Artem Bali/Pexels
Source: Artem Bali/Pexels

Are you a self-aware and motivated narcissist who would like to have better relationships with other people? Are you puzzled about what you can do right now without extensive psychotherapy? Here is an answer that can help all of your relationships.


Sorry for shouting. I wanted to be sure that my main point was crystal clear and I had your attention. I recognize that stopping devaluing other people is easier said than done. Devaluing has been an all-purpose fallback coping mechanism for almost everyone with narcissistic adaptations. For most people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, devaluing other people has been the Swiss Army Knife of responses to many situations:

  • Feeling invisible? Make a joke at someone else’s expense.
  • Feeling angry about your day? Vent that negative energy when you get home and devalue your spouse or kids.
  • Feeling bored? Make fun of someone’s weight or taste in clothing.
  • Feeling attacked? Say something harsh and devaluing back that is aimed to hurt, get revenge, and teach the person a lesson.

Once you stop using “devaluation” as your all-purpose interpersonal tool for making you feel better, you will need to come up with other, less toxic ways of soothing yourself and getting attention. I will leave the details of how you might do that to your creativity.

Note: I am using the terms “narcissist,” and “narcissistic” in this post as shorthand for the much longer phrase: a person who has made a narcissistic adaptation to a childhood situation and who now manifests a pattern of responses that is generally called a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. No disrespect is intended.

5 Steps to Eliminating Devaluation

Even with the best of intentions, it is hard to simply stop devaluing other people. Usually achieving this goal requires breaking it down into smaller doable steps:

Step 1: Define Devaluing

Most narcissists do not recognize how many of their statements and behaviors are experienced by the people close to them as devaluing and hurtful. They may think that they are just being honest and everyone agrees with them, as when they point to someone on the street and say:

Can you believe she went out of the house looking like that?

Or: That waiter was so incompetent that I left him a dime for a tip and that was ten cents more than he deserved!

Short Definition of Devaluing: Words or behaviors that point out other people's inadequacies or which are meant to diminish their sense of importance and place them below you on some status hierarchy.

Step 2: Get a Second Opinion

Have an honest conversation with someone whose opinion you trust. Ask them what type of comments and behaviors they have heard you say or do that they consider “devaluing.”

Note: You need to focus here on whether something is devaluing—not if it is true or deserved in your opinion.

Step 3: Make a List

Make a list of the types of comments and behaviors your trusted friend told you are devaluing and keep reviewing it. Carry it with you. Add new things to this list as you become more aware of this issue.

Step 4: Do a Mental Rehearsal

Devaluing other people is a habit. It is something you have been doing automatically without much thought for a very long time. In order to change this habit, you have to slow down your responses.

Before you speak, pause and mentally review what you plan to say. If anything sounds devaluing, rephrase your message in a more neutral or kinder way.

A Good Rule to Remember: Everything we think does not have to come out of our mouths.

If you are not sure if what you plan to say is “devaluing,” check your list from Step 3. You can also ask yourself: Is saying or doing this thing right now useful and necessary? If upon reflection, your answer is “no,” you might consider just not saying or doing it at all.

Step 5: Do an Emotional Empathic Review

The great Hebrew Sage Rabbi Hillel who lived in the 1st Century reportedly said this version of the famous “Golden Rule:”

Do not do anything to others that is distasteful to you.

This translates to doing a second review of what you plan to say or do. In this review, you imagine yourself on the receiving end of your comment or behavior.

Ask yourself: Did I feel devalued or hurt by this? If you felt devalued, then it is the wrong thing to say or do.

Punchline: More relationships are ruined by devaluing words and actions than almost any other narcissistic behavior. If you like immediate results and are ready to make a change, this is the change that I recommend. You do not have to take my word for it. Try not devaluing others for a month, and see for yourself how this transforms your relationships.

Adapted from my post, “What specific modifications in a self-aware narcissist’s behavior have helped them maintain enduring, successful relationships with others? (August 4, 2018).

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