How to Protect Yourself from a Narcissist or Machiavellian

Coping with manipulation and deceit.

Posted Sep 27, 2019

Sarah Richter from Pixabay
Source: Sarah Richter from Pixabay

It has been estimated that the number of “subclinical psychopaths” in the United States is anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of the population (Schouten, 2012).  The category of subclinical psychopaths includes those who are malignant narcissists, Machiavellians, and individuals with psychopathic tendencies without the more severe behaviors that would lead to incarceration. In other words, they’re “not bad enough to go to prison, but plenty bad enough to make your life awful." (Baker, 2016). 

Let’s assume you are in daily contact with 100 people, for example, the sum of fellow commuters, co-workers, family members, and/or social media users with whom you interact. It is very possible that as many as 15 of those people are deceitful,  manipulative, and lacking in empathy. This likelihood is chilling on its own but it is significantly worse for someone who is living or working with such a person. Anyone routinely interacting at home or at work with an individual who demonstrates these personality traits would feel taken advantage of, uncared for, and betrayed. You may also find that your job is threatened or your bank account has been emptied. There are usually both emotional and practical consequences in these situations.

Once you are able to identify these feelings and the person who triggers them repeatedly, you can protect yourself from further harm.  The standard advice from any mental health professional is to walk away as soon as possible.

Of course, this may be done quickly in some circumstances (another commuter, a particular “friend” on social media), but It will be far more complicated when the offender is a spouse, close family member, or co-worker. In these cases, there are some steps that can be taken to minimize potential of further harm to yourself. Since this is a complex topic with many different factors, I will try to narrow my focus here to steps one might take when the offender is a spouse or other family member. Following are some “do’s” and “don’ts” for coping with the narcissists, Machiavellians, or other subclinical psychopaths in your life.


Set boundaries and stick to them. Ask yourself “What will I no longer tolerate?” Get professional help as needed to establish healthy boundaries which includes limits of what you can continue to live with as well as limits to what you are willing to do for the offender.

Accept the reality of their character and their behavior.   As expert Martha Stout stated, you might follow the “Rule of Threes." If you’ve been deceived by an adult 3 times, that is a strong sign of their lack of conscience. “Deceit is the linchpin of conscienceless behavior.” (Stout, 2006). Do not assume that s/he will eventually change because "s/he is actually a good person.”

Be aware of your own vulnerabilities, and manage them. For example, if the offender triggers your tendency to be self-blaming or self-critical, seek out other family members or friends who are supportive of you. Perhaps your vulnerability is to be overly sympathetic and fall for the “pity play.” According to Stout, “the most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.”

Build supportive relationships. Turn to your trusted friends, or seek out support groups in order to get out of the grip of toxic people in your life. Talking with others about the problems that have been caused by the offender may also help you to see the situation in terms of the facts so that you can respond more wisely.

Try to establish win-win outcomes, whenever possible. This is especially effective with the Machiavellian  types. The Machiavellian is mostly motivated to get a positive outcome for himself but has no problem with you also having a good outcome. The exchange is very logical for him or her and there is no need to prove superiority, as there might be with the narcissistic offender.


Do not rely on promises made by the offender.  Remember that deception is a common method that these individuals use to manipulate others. They can be experts at appearing earnest and innocent, as well as appealing to your trusting nature or your sympathies.

Do not confide highly personal information which puts your well-being at risk. Do not allow yourself to be emotionally vulnerable to the offender.  S/he does not have your best interests in mind.

Do not try to outmaneuver them. They are experts at their game, particularly the Machiavellian types. They will likely realize what you’re trying to do and then redouble their own efforts to manipulate you.

Do not take their words or their behavior toward you as an indication of your own self-worth. As noted by Malkin (2018), "People with Machiavellian traits are (more) likely to be savvy about how they abuse – and whom they target.” They have a sixth sense for those of us who tend to be more trusting, open, or emotionally vulnerable. These are not negative traits and in fact are wonderful traits in the context of caring relationships. However, they do make one more easily taken advantage of by the master manipulators and in the context of unhealthy relationships. You, simply by virtue of your humanity, are worthy of relationships characterized by honesty and kindness. Do not allow the Machiavellians, narcissists, or other subclinical psychopaths in your life to convince you otherwise.


Barker, E.

Malkin, C.

Schouten, R. & Silver, J. (2012). Almost A Psychopath: Do I (or Does Someone I Know) Have a Problem with Manipulation and Lack of Empathy? Hazelden Publishing.

Stout, Martha (2006). The Sociopath Next Door.  Published by Harmony.